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Increasing number of doctors upset by ‘Trip Advisor’ style online ratings

Numbers relatively small, but definitely on the rise, says medical defence body

Caroline White

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Increasing numbers of doctors are becoming distressed by ‘Trip Advisor’ style ratings posted online by their patients, says medical defence body, the MDU.

Over the past year, the MDU has assisted 24 doctors, worried about critical comments made by their patients, the organisation has revealed.

While the numbers are small, this is a growing area of concern among callers, says the MDU.   

And a recent US study* of 828 doctors and 494 patients from four hospitals, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, shows that over three quarters of doctors are stressed by online criticism.

The research found that most (78%) of doctors felt that the possibility of being criticised online added to the stress of their jobs, and almost half (46%) said that online rating websites could harm the doctor-patient relationship.

In an anonymised case study, the MDU describes what happened when a patient posted a negative review of a GP practice on a public online review page.

The review said that it was impossible to get an appointment and that when the patient was seen, the GP, who was named, was very rude. The practice initially ignored the comments but other comments were posted over a number of days culminating with a person saying he ‘wanted to punch’ the named GP for how he had been treated.

The MDU advised the practice that they could post a comment inviting the patient to raise concerns directly with the practice via its complaints procedure. The GP who had been threatened in the later post felt understandably upset about the comment and reported it to the website. It was later removed, although the original discussion remained.

NHS England recently launched a new free, confidential mental health service for GPs, and the MDU has issued some guidance for doctors on how to deal with negative online reviews.

This includes responding positively to the comment, and asking the person to get in touch directly to raise concerns, while respecting patient confidentiality.

Other options include complaining to the website and/or asking for the offending information to be removed, and using the ‘right to be forgotten online’ to remove the page from the search results.

But Dr Ellie Mein, MDU medico-legal adviser, sounds a note of caution. “You must not overlook patient confidentiality when engaging with unhappy patients via social media. Responding to critical comments or attempting to have them removed can often be risky, counterproductive, and add ‘fuel to the fire’,” she said.

* Holliday AM, Kachalia A, Meyer GS, et al. Physician and patient views on public physician rating websites: a cross-sectional study. J Gen Intern Med, 2017. DOI:10.1007/s11606-017-3982-5

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