“It’s been a year since my trial, and five years since the elderly man came into the ED in shock… The trial itself is best described as life-changing: six days of humiliations and accusations, all the while being told it was nothing personal,” recounts George Hossfeld, MD, Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Illiniois-Chicago.
Hossfeld continues, “It felt personal when they didn’t miss a chance to accuse me of recklessness, stupidity, arrogance, and laziness.”
Even though the jury favored him—the defense—at the end of the trial, Hossfeld felt bad and scared. The plaintiff asked for an award exceeding his insurance’s limit. If he was found guilty, he’d have lost his house, savings, and practically everything.
Not all bad reviews lead to a malpractice lawsuit. But that doesn’t mean a negative review can’t make you feel terrible, or doubtful of your skills.
You’re a highly trained medical professional, and you hold yourself to the highest standards. Ever since you graduated medical school all those years ago, you promised to do the very best you could for every patient that walked into your clinic.
But once in a while, you get a patient that clashes with you. He (or she) just doesn’t see eye to eye with you, and questions your every recommendation. Then something bad happens after he goes against something you strongly believe in, or perhaps despite your best efforts, you were wrong.
Then your assistant hears this patient telling another medical professional, a friend, or associate that he had a bad experience with you. He’d never consult you again, according to your assistant. Worse still, he wrote a negative review of your clinic and posted it online. How many potential patients and business leads will you lose because of this?
It’s no wonder ‘malpractice’ strikes a physician’s heart with terror. Even its less-evil cousin, the negative review, stresses physicians and healthcare professionals more than it should.
You’re hurt. You don’t know what to do. You’re confused and a little bit afraid. How would this affect your reputation? Will word (unfairly) get out that you were a terrible doctor and that you gave bad service?
Will other insurance providers and business leads severe their ties with you? Will other patients catch wind of this and leave you for some other doctor?
First of all, malpractice lawsuits aren’t uncommon. Negative patient reviews are even more rampant, so don’t feel singled out. Many of these complaints aren’t even the doctor’s fault. CRICO, a medical liability coverage provider, analyzed 8500 malpractice cases in their nationwide database. Five percent of those cases mentioned non-compliance of patients as a contributing factor, even in cases claiming diagnostic errors.
Stop worrying, breathe deeply, and relax. Given enough time in practice, even the best doctor will get a bad review.
For now, you should concentrate on damage control.
What caused the negative review? Was it actually your fault, or was there a communication gap somewhere along the line?
Sometimes the patient really wants someone to blame, not necessarily get treatment. According to a Medscape article, doctors had trouble with patients who ‘had been involved in several other lawsuits,’ and experience with a patient’s “family known to be extremely litigious.”
Then sometimes, it’s a miscommunication error gone wild:
A doctor told the patient she had to mix a ¼ tablespoon of salt in a quart of water, and then use it to conduct an enema before their next appointment. The doctor wrote 1/4 on the prescription but it could’ve looked like 44 tablespoons, depending on who’s reading it.
In the end, the patient used 44 tablespoons of salt for his enema procedure.
What does this story tell you?
You might think your instructions are clear, but that’s just you. People understand and see things differently. Sometimes, people will just nod and say they understood things for whatever reason, too.
What Matters is What the Patient Processes and Remembers When You’re No Longer There
Almost 50% of 90 million adults in the US sometimes don’t understand what their physician is explaining to them, including the reason for their ailment and medical recommendations. Of that, 42% mistakenly take medicine on an empty stomach, and about 78% misunderstand prescriptions and their warning labels.
So as the consultation ends, gently ask your patient what he remembers from your recommendations. Have them repeat the steps and dosage instructions. Once the patient repeats it back, you can either confirm they’re right or correct possible misunderstandings.
The point of this exercise is to learn how best to communicate with your patients.
But if it was indeed your fault and not a communication error, what went wrong? Is the patient disgruntled because you didn’t spend enough time listening to his symptoms? Were your instructions unclear? Did you fail to build rapport before rattling of a diagnosis? If this is the case, a one week crash course in customer service training for doctors will improve your patient-socialization skills.
Talk to the patient in private. Ask what you could have done differently, and if anything can be done now to rectify the situation.
With some patients, all it takes is a willingness to listen, to hear their side of things. You’ll be the ‘caring doctor’ who really looks after his patients, not just someone who rattles of a prescription after a few questions and tests. You can turn this negative review into more business leads and referrals.
Challenging patients that contest your diagnostic aptitude, and request unnecessary tests can be tiring to deal with. But they’re not necessarily non-compliant patients. You still have an opportunity to gain their trust, just patiently explain why each test and recommendation is important. And to protect yourself, always keep documentations of your recommendations and disagreements during consultations.
If you have to, be blunt in explaining the risks of not following the recommendations. This is a common cause of negative reviews and lawsuits—patients claim they weren’t told of the risks.
Leverage the power of digital display advertising. You know how some clinics have a TV screen in their waiting hall that plays ads of different brands? You can have one like that, too.
Contact a digital display advertising network and ask if they’d be willing to install one in your clinic. In most cases, they can install the screen for free, they’ll even give you a few minutes to play ads of your own. Use this time to show your clinic hours and services, or to display positive testimonials from your current patients.
Maintain a detailed list of patients, including the following:
You can use all these information to counteract negative reviews and baseless criticisms. That way, other people who read the review will know that you did your part as a healthcare professional. You can even put up an infomercial on your digital display advertising screen about the commonly un-followed prescriptions, and the risks associated with it. It’s a good way to warn patients early.
You can do a few things counteract the damage that has been done to your practice and self-esteem. Encourage your many happy and satisfied patients to leave good reviews for you online.
The important thing is not to obsess. If you can honestly say that you did everything in your power, then your conscience is clear.