HomeLearnGive Your Patients the Opportunity to Have Their Voices Heard

Instead of learning about a patient’s dissatisfaction from reading a negative online review, physicians should take steps to prevent the patient from posting such a review in the first place, urges Molly Farrell, vice president of operations for MGIS Underwriting Managers, Inc., in Salt Lake City, UT.

“It’s all about how you communicate with a patient and giving them an option to give you that information first,” says Farrell. “Patients post on sites because they don’t feel like they can communicate directly with the physician.”

Physicians can survey patients via email to ask the question, “What are three ways you think I can improve my service?” and give patients an option to be called back, for example. “And if the patient gives their information, for crying out loud, please call them back,” says Farrell.

Various studies over the years have shown a significant link between litigation and a breakdown in communication, according to Elke Kirsten-Brauer, chief underwriting officer for MGIS.1-6

If a negative review is posted, an office manager might contact the patient to say, “We understand you had a bad experience and we’d like to see what we could have done better,” says Kirsten-Brauer. “Many patients would never speak up directly to the physician,” she adds. The goal is to give the patient a chance to get a complaint resolved before it goes any further, says Farrell. “Negative reviews are available to everyone to see — including your underwriter, who might take a look and say, ‘Here’s a bad communicator,’” she adds.

Patients generally are much more critical online than they would be in person, notes Farrell. “The biggest thing you can do is address the situation before it ever becomes a negative review or malpractice suit,” she says.

Farrell recently spoke with the head of a provider of medical liability insurance who said that if he could do one thing to reduce risks, he’d send a shirt to every physician stating, “Just Be Nice.” If a patient suggests an improvement and the physician implements it, he or she is much less likely to file a lawsuit, adds Farrell. “Ask for feedback so you can be better,” she says. “Then, take the input and actually do something with it.



1. Roter D. The patient-physician relationship and its implications for malpractice litigation. J Health Care Law Policy 2006; 9:304-314.

2. Hickson G, Federspiel C, Bost P, et al. JAMA 2002; 287(22):2,951-2,957

3. Beckman H, Markakis K, Suchman A, et al. Arch Intern Med 1994; 154(12):1,365-1,370.

4. Moore P, Adler N, Robertson P. West J Med. 2000; 173(4):244-250.

5. Levinson W, Roter D, Mullooly J, Dull V, Frankel R. JAMA 1997; 277(7):553-559.

6. Melonas J, McNary A. Neurology 2010; 75(18):Supplement 1 S45-S51.


Source: Physicians Risk Management newsletter, published by AHC Media in Atlanta

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