A few months ago, baseball’s National League MVP award winner, Ryan Braun, was suspended for 50 games after testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone, which is a violation of the league’s drug policy. The suspension immediately clouded his achievements from the previous year, during which he led his team to the playoffs.
About a month ago, the suspension was lifted due to a technicality involving the collection of the sample. Braun is the first player to have a positive drug test overturned; but to many, he’s still guilty. And while he might eventually recover, for now, his reputation is shot.
But in Braun’s case, if indeed he did intentionally take performance-enhancing drugs — and to anyone who isn’t a Milwaukee Brewers fan, it looks suspiciously like he did — then the battle he’s fighting is different from those being waged by physicians and health systems whose reputations have taken a hit through no fault of their own.
Over the past few years, a growing number of physicians have had to contend with online criticism from patients and their family members that is, in some cases, causing irreparable harm to their businesses; their livelihood. All it takes is one bad review, and a physician office can lose patients, and along with that, revenue.
But what can physicians do? Don’t patients have the right to alert others if they’ve had a particularly negative or positive experience with a particular physician’s office? They do, but the problem is that patients, for the most part, aren’t rushing to the computer to talk about their great encounter at Dr. X’s office. They’re going public with the bad stuff — and telling only one side of the story. As a result, physicians are being forced to fight back.
In an online article, Eric Goldman, associate professor at the Santa Clara University School of Law, stated that physicians and dentists have filed more than a dozen defamation lawsuits since 2004 over online reviews. In response to the spike in online critiques, some practices are asking patients to sign forms preventing them from posting comments about a physician online.
In a case that is pending before the Minnesota Supreme Court, a neurologist is suing the family of a patient for $50,000, claiming that the facts were distorted in online comments that criticized his bedside manner. The patient’s son, however, contends that the comments are “constitutionally protected.”
It’ll be interesting to see what happens in this case, but in the meantime, it brings up some very serious issues. As health systems continue to acquire physician practices, it will become critical that parameters are in place to protect both individual physicians and the entire health system. And it can’t be limited to online reviews — comments posted on Facebook and Twitter can also be extremely damaging to an organization. In a webinar presented by Social Media Today and HealthWorks Collective earlier this year, a handful of experts — including Texas Health Resources CIO Ed Marx, and social media guru Ed Bennett — talked about the importance of protecting an organization’s online reputation.
It all starts with knowing what people are saying about your hospitals and physicians, said Marx, who relayed an experience in which a member of his staff saw a negative comment posted on Yelp and contacted the patient to discuss the negative experience, with the hopes of seeing what steps the organization could take to improve the situation. Two things here were key, according to Marx: 1) immediate action was taken, and 2) the organization had a ‘rapid response’ plan in place.
“We have a social media policy that every employee has to be trained on and will be tested on,” said Marx. “We’ve educated our organization. You can’t stop social media, but you do want to manage it well, and one way to do that is to make sure you have a good policy in place.”
The bottom line is that things beyond your control are going to happen that can damage your reputation. You can’t stop that, but what you can do is be ready and have a plan in place to limit the damage.
After all, your reputation is everything.