Sticks & Stones: How to Safeguard Your Reputation

Sticks & Stones: How to Safeguard Your Reputation

Safeguard Your Reputation


Everyone is allowed a bad day here and there. After all, we are only human. Think of the days when you are booked solid and short-staffed. When technology betrays you, leaving you with billing issues. When your patients are irritable, obstinate, and quite frankly, as uncompliant with your suggestions and wishes as your spouse or children have been at home lately.

Yes, these days are bound to happen, striking as unpredictably as a flash thunderstorm. On these days, you may not show the same degree of temperance and civility toward your patients as you normally would. Will days like this result in a malpractice suit? Likely not. Can they have repercussions that may damage your name? Unfortunately, yes. But there are simple ways of dealing with these potential problems before they even happen, and other measures to take if you’ve unjustly become the object of a disgruntled patient’s ire.

Maintaining a soft “bedside manner”

On those marathon days, pacing yourself is impossible, and time is always at a premium. Long waits are inevitable. Accepting this inevitability can be the key to getting through your day without incident. First, make sure your staff lets patients know up front that they will be waiting longer than expected. Then comes your demeanor. If a patient sees how rushed and harried you are, they are likely to feel unimportant. Once in the exam room, make sure you actually sit down, address them by looking them in the eye, and let them tell their story. After three words, you may think you know their issue, and you may be right. Let them finish anyway, and remember how far a simple apology, a please, or a thank you can go.

Before leaving, make sure a patient knows the potential side-effects of any medication you may have prescribed, and reassure them that the benefits of the drug outweigh them. Take an extra minute or two to summarize and reiterate what you have said. Make sure your patients truly understand your diagnoses or treatment plans. Do your best to “translate” highly clinical terms and abbreviations into language the average person (or anyone not in the medical profession) would understand.

Acting against “type”

As we previously discussed, medicine is probably the most people-facing profession one can practice. The best diagnoses and treatment relies on getting up close and personal with people while they are at their most sensitive, frightened, angry, or delusional. On any given day, you can give them the best, or worst news of their life. Let’s assume you are aware of this fact, and are as tolerant, kind, and sympathetic as possible. You may still be subject to the variety of common stereotypes the average person carries concerning doctors, “rich”, “privileged”, “cold”, and “superior” to name a few.

Remember, you don’t know something a patient doesn’t. You know a lot of things they don’t know, and wouldn’t know unless they went to med school. Convince them that you want them to understand. Replace “you and me” with “we”. You are both part of a team. Remember that standard communication bridges gaps. Find regular common grounds, and make sure you know who you are seeing before you open the exam room door.

Welcome to the (digital) jungle

With the proliferation of review aggregator sites like Angie’s List (or, for the sake of this post, sites like “Rate MDs”), it has never been easier for someone to voice their dissatisfaction over a product or service. Once upon a time, it was easy to dismiss a nasty online rant or two as the stamping and posturing of a lunatic. But many more people have taken to the web in the last several years to voice their opinions. These review sites have evolved from a collection of digital soap boxes to online “communities”. Studies have shown that many people do listen to the experiences of others in their community, and are likely to take their business to another practice in the face of “too many” negative reviews (too many, in some cases, being two or three…).

Part of expanding and maintaining your patients involves a lot of marketing, a lot of which is done online, and damage control is an important aspect. If you are subject to a particularly damaging review, it is wise to respond as quickly, and as disarmingly polite as possible. One bad review can lead to a sea of negative commentary. Stop the “angry mob” before it has time to grow. Read these reviews thoroughly, and be patient. You are likely to encounter many untruths. Dispel these inaccuracies as clearly as possible. Beyond defending your practice, offer potential solutions. No one is an enemy, nor is anyone “wrong or right”.

You should take ownership of your online reputation, literally, and figuratively. Be sure to create your own profiles on the review sites, update, and monitor them regularly. If a satisfied patient ever asks how they can repay you for your service, suggest writing a sparkling review. You did earn it, after all.

You can fight, and you can win

We all have to deal with some criticism from time to time, no matter how harsh it may seem. But when harsh gives way to unjust, and a negative review becomes a case of defamation, there are steps you can take to defend your practice. Even the most damaging reviews are legally difficult to get removed. Have your lawyer contact the site. They may be better able to spot the elements of a toxic review that make it ripe for removal. Some of these elements include: obscenities, threats, and personal information.

If you can prove that the reviewer acted with malicious intent, stated something that is blatantly false about you specifically, and that it has caused you tangible damages, you may have grounds for a defamation lawsuit. When faced with having to pay “damages”, agitated former patients may opt out by voluntarily removing their scathing review. This route, however, can be a costly one. You don’t want to drag an unpleasant situation out. Use your best judgement when determining if this course of action is worth it or not. In the end, every move you make is indicative of not just your reputation as a physician, but as an individual.


Brian Torchin

| HCRC Staffing | |

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