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A Derm’s Guide to Handling Bad Reviews

Where does patient care end and customer service begin for dermatology? Neal Bhatia, MD, shared his thoughts on this question and elaborated on how he handles patients, bad reviews, social media, and more in his presentation at the San Diego Dermatology Symposium. Dr Bhatia is director of clinical dermatology at Therapeutics Clinical Research in San Diego, CA, and is associate clinical professor in the department of dermatology at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, CA.

“There is a fine line between customer service and people taking advantage of you,” said Dr Bhatia. He noted that medicine cannot truly follow a customer service model to care as physicians have obligations for their patients that other industries do not have.

According to Dr Bhatia, approximately 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation. This is largely different from the past where patients were referred from a telephone book or by proximity to their home. The word-of-mouth referral or online review have taken the forefront, with many studies demonstrating that the average consumer trusts online reviews and that these reviews heavily influence their purchase decision. Furthermore, 72% of consumers will make their purchasing decisions only after reading a positive review. Therefore, noted Dr Bhatia, reviews can negatively or positively influence your bottom line.

Dr Bhatia then looked at why patients post negative comments, including bad service quality, not happy with products, and patients not convinced with practice policies.

So, how should dermatologists handle it? He discussed several prevention strategies:

  • Being an advocate for patients, including sharing your own frustrations about the current state of health care
  • Accept that you cannot be everything to every patient
  • Not bouncing immediately into the next appointment after a bad encounter, but instead taking a minute to breath and reseat
  • Follow up with patients over the phone routinely about their progress, instead of just by text or email

However, physicians should be aware of a growing practice of social media extortion, in which patients leave bad reviews in order to receive free or discounted service. Dr Bhatia proposed that many patients leave bad or 1-star reviews because they misunderstand how the health care system works, from needing prior authorizations, processing referrals, waiting for pathology stains, and more. He also pointed to a 2017 study in which 200 reviews were analyzed for why a patient gave their rating. Among these reviews were 264 comments, with 152 5-star reviews and 112 1-star reviews. The differences between the 5- vs 1-star reviews were few; in fact, bedside manner was the most common characteristic and costs/fees were the least common characteristic in both categories. So, Dr Bhatia continued, it may truly come down to what physicians do in the room and their interaction with the patient.

When it comes to bad reviews, he suggested physicians contact the reviewer directly, particularly over the phone, with an appropriate tone. He noted that physicians should not get defensive and threaten a lawsuit, which could further damage the relationship and even your overall reputation.

Bhatia N. Dealing with social media and burnout. Presented at: San Diego Dermatology Symposium; September 11-13, 2020; virtual.



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