Online Review Sites and Patient Complaints

2017 Alliance sponsor feature article by Medical Mutual

By Anita Linton, RN, MBA, Medical Mutual

The increasing popularity of online review sites such as Yelp offers benefits and risks for physicians. While these sites can be a valuable resource for patient decision-making, they can also host negative reviews that could adversely affect a doctor’s or practice’s reputation.

A new federal law signed by President Obama in December 2016 has the potential to increase the risk from online reviews even further. The Consumer Review Fairness Act (CRFA) protects consumers posting online reviews of goods and services – including doctors’ offices – by making void contracts that contain non-disparagement clauses within their terms and services. The CRFA (also known as the “Right to Yelp” law) also grants authorities the power to bring enforcement actions against businesses that fail to abide by the law’s restrictions.

The law’s protections are not limitless. It allows businesses to still pursue claims for defamation or commercial disparagement. The CRFA also contains exceptions to its general prohibition on non-disparagement clauses. For example, because the act applies only to form contracts, it does not void non-disparagement clauses that are part of negotiated agreements.

This last element gives medical practices some guidance about what they can do in light of this new legislation. Because non-disparagement clauses within negotiated agreements are still permissible, Medical Mutual advises practices to implement Patient Complaint Agreements with their patients. In this type of agreement, practices acknowledge any patient concerns and express their willingness to try and address them in good faith. Typically, Patient Complaint Agreements ask the patient to refrain from making any untrue statements – a reasonable request to simply state the true facts and allow the practice to respond to the complaint.

Another benefit of Patient Complaint Agreements is that they allow practices to terminate patients who become abusive or threatening in any way. Even in an age of federal and state “Right to Yelp” laws, practices should still maintain zero tolerance for this type of behavior toward any staff member.

Medical Mutual members can download our recently revised customizable Patient Complaint Policy Agreement by clicking here.

About the Author
Anita Linton is a Senior Risk Manager based in Medical Mutual’s Raleigh, NC office.

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