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John W. House, M.D.

John W. House, M.D.

Posted: January 26, 2011 10:55 AM

I recently arrived early for a meeting with the other physicians in the House Clinic practice. I decided to go online while I waited for my colleagues to arrive.

I went to a popular online review site and looked up House Ear Institute and House Clinic. This wasn't something I did often, in fact, that was the first time I had been on the site and looked up my own organization.

I wasn't greeted with glowing reviews. Several of the reviews were very good, but one review caught my attention.

The review was from one of my patients and it started by saying:

"This is a hard review for me, because I actually really do like Dr. House and I think he is the best at what he does in the world."

Even I knew there was a very large BUT coming.

To sum up the rest of the review: The patient had a complication from surgery, was not able to get an appointment to see me, when seen by other colleagues or fellows the patient felt rushed, his followup appointments were lost by the front desk and for one appointment he had to wait three hours to be seen.

I shared the review with my colleagues at the meeting. I showed the review to House Clinic fellows, our office manager and the front office staff. I said to them, that we need to address these issues. It is important that we take whatever time a patient needs. We have to explain any delay in being seen, be polite and work with the patient.

I understand the clinic can get backed up. I understand that maybe on that day too many urgent patients got booked and then the doctor he was scheduled to see took extra time with a couple of patients so things were really running behind. But, no patient should have to wait three hours to be seen without some explanation or someone offering to reschedule their appointment.

Fortunately, the patient who wrote the review had an appointment scheduled with me the following day. I told the patient I had read the review and I thanked him for writing it. I think he was surprised that I was thanking him. I explained that I had shared the review with my colleagues in a meeting the night before and I had already met with the front office staff.

I took the negative experience my patient wrote about in his review very seriously. I gave this patient my private phone number and told him to contact me immediately if he needed to be seen. The patient appreciated that I read the review and addressed his concerns.

In his original online review, my patient stated that he would probably not return for surgery on his other ear. After addressing the patient's concerns, the patient wrote an unsolicited update on the review. In the update, he wrote he will now "definitely be doing his other ear at the clinic."

I am glad my response to his review kept this patient from leaving. But, I am equally happy to have had the opportunity to find out what was not working well in the clinic that holds my name. His review will improve every patients' experience at the House Clinic.

It's true, negative online reviews can damage a clinic's or a physician's reputation, but these sites can help doctors improve their patient care.

Dr. Zachary Meisel wrote in Time Magazine last week about patients Googling their symptoms before coming in to an appointment. He wrote:

"But to debate whether patients should or should not Google their symptoms is an absurd exercise. Patients already are doing it, it is now a fact of normal patient behavior, and it will only increase as Internet technology becomes ever more ubiquitous."

Online reviews are the same as Googling for a diagnosis. The online review sites are not going anywhere. As physicians, we need to embrace online review sites as tools of the trade. As long as patients feel their concerns are not being heard then their only outlet to caution other patients from having a similar experience is to write an online review.

If, as doctors, we haven't listened when the patient was in the exam room with us, then we have another opportunity to hear loud and clear what the patient is saying in an online review.

I hope none of my patients or any House Clinic patient ever has a need to go on a review site to write about a negative experience. I hope my patients will talk to me about an issue first so I can meet their needs.

If you find yourself in the same situation that I was in, reading a negative online review of your services, then I recommend addressing the issues, contacting the patient or customer to say thank you for the review. You might be surprised what happens next.