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29 July 2019

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How should I deal with negative comments about our practice on social media?

Reporter Costanza Pearce asks a panel of experts how practices should respond to negative feedback on social media
Kieran Doddridge, digital marketing apprentice, Beacon Medical Group, Devon
When used correctly, social media can be an invaluable resource for the surgery. However, its downside is that it gives patients a quick, easy and public platform to voice their frustrations.
When this happens, it is important to address the patients’ issues, being as open and honest as possible. A lot of the time patients will be grateful that you have read their comment and taken the time to respond to them. If a patient is sharing personal details, remove the post and ask them to contact you in a more appropriate manner.
Another essential for managing social media comments is to monitor community pages as these pages can be a haven for negative comments. Finding these posts as they are published can stop a multitude of additional comments being made.
If this doesn’t work, most community pages have rules in place to stop hate being spread. Don’t be afraid of contacting the admin of a page and getting a negative post removed or the comments disabled.
If you are finding a lot of your feedback is about similar issues or struggle to find time to reply, create some stock responses.  These stock responses will allow you to send a detailed response even when you are short of time.
Finally, take on board the comments, learn from them and don’t hesitate to share your positive feedback.
Marc Schmid, director, Redmoor Health
My first piece of advice for this is don’t just delete without considering the nature of the comment.
While negative feedback can be difficult to accept, there may be an underlining issue which the patient is unhappy about. In fact, it may be something you are dealing with already so a simple explanation can offset similar criticism from others.
However, if the comment is offensive or personal, then you are perfectly entitled to remove it immediately. If it is a complaint you feel should be made through proper channels then simply message them privately to that effect and then remove it.
Practices need to remember – if you have no official Facebook page that you manage, it is likely you already have an unofficial one created when patients ‘check in’ to Facebook from the waiting room. These unofficial pages are more often than not negative and you will struggle to remove the comments as you don’t own the page.
The fear of receiving negative feedback can often put practices off from using social media, which is a shame. The benefits of using it to send out health promotion messages or business continuity messages if the phones are down far outweigh the odd negative comment.
Liz Price, senior risk adviser, Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland (MDDUS)
Not all negative social media comments warrant a response. Carefully assessing the extent and seriousness of the issue is crucial.
Before acting, the practice should first consider:

  1. Where are the comments being posted?
  2. What is the nature of the comments?

No one enjoys being the subject of negative comments but the worst thing you can do is to fire off an angry, ill-thought out response, especially on a public forum. This will not only very likely escalate the situation, it also risks breaching patient confidentiality – something that can have serious contractual, legal and/or regulatory consequences.
Remember that, while the patient has every right to openly discuss the details of their care, GPs and the practice team are bound by a duty of confidentiality.
Assuming the negative comments are posted on a patient’s personal social media site, it is often better to ‘publicly’ do nothing. In our experience, the trail of comments will stop if not fuelled and may even be countered by positive comments from satisfied patients.
When considering the nature of the comments themselves, try to take an objective view.
Comments on social media are often worded poorly and remarks about individuals involved in the patient’s care can cause personal offence. However, when you look past the style of language, could the patient have valid concerns?
If so, it may be beneficial to contact the patient directly and (gently) invite them to discuss their concerns more fully in a more appropriate way, perhaps in the practice face-to-face or by phone.
In extreme cases, you could consider contacting Facebook, Twitter etc to ask for a post to be removed from their site, but this is only likely to be successful for comments that are substantially inaccurate and could be considered defamatory/libellous.
It can be incredibly hard to undo your actions online, so contact your medical defence organisation for advice promptly – before the situation escalates.