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Patient review platforms like RateMDs can be a blessing and a curse. They may have the power to boost your online reputation—but a few negative reviews can potentially do just as much damage. If you are wondering how to remove a review from RateMDs, we recommend that physicians, plastic surgeons, and other medical providers take the following approach:
Keep Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) confidentiality considerations in mind when responding to a patient review;
Consult your patient records, analyze the review’s language, and investigate the reviewer’s profile to determine if the review is fake;
Ask the poster to remove the review;
If the review violates RateMDs’ Terms of Service, flag the review on the platform by clicking the flag underneath the review’s entry and selecting the reason for its removal; and
Pursue legal action to remove the review(s) by working with an experienced internet attorney.
At Minc Law, we have extensive experience helping medical professionals deal with damaging reviews. Some of these reviews are posted by real patients who intentionally mischaracterize their experience, while others are posted by individuals who simply have a personal grudge or vendetta against the physician. No matter the reason for the review, if its allegations are bad enough, it can have outsized effects on your reputation—which is why it is critical to act quickly.
However, due to privacy regulations like HIPAA, addressing negative medical reviews is trickier than it may appear at first glance. Our experienced internet attorneys help physicians and medical professionals form a thorough plan of response while navigating ethical and legal confidentiality concerns.
In this article, we explore the potential effects of a negative RateMDs review. We also explain how to spot a fake post, respond to reviews, and report a review that violates the platform’s guidelines.
How Fake or Negative Reviews on RateMDs Can Impact Your Business
Today, many popular consumer review sites are dedicated specifically to healthcare professionals, such as Healthgrades, RealSelf, Vitals, and RateMDs. Fake or negative reviews on these platforms can have devastating effects on doctors, physicians, medical professionals, and their practices.
What is RateMDs & How Does It Work?
RateMDs is a free website designed for patients to publish reviews of health care professionals and their practices, including:
Group practices, and
Urgent care centers.
The platform has over 2.5 million ratings and is one of the most trusted consumer review websites for finding a local specialist in the patient’s area, reading current doctor ratings, reviewing healthcare facility information, and learning the latest healthcare news.
How Does the RateMDs Ratings System Work?
To leave a review for a doctor or healthcare facility on RateMDs, users conduct a search using the “Find a Doctor” or “Find a Facility” feature. They can also add the doctor or facility by name if they are not already listed in the RateMDs database.
Once the user is on the doctor or facility’s page, they can rate the doctor’s staff, punctuality, helpfulness, and knowledge from one to five stars, with five being the best. They can then leave a more detailed comment about their experience.
Over time, that doctor or practice’s average star ratings compose their overall quality rating on the platform.
According to the RateMDs’ FAQ and guidelines, only users with first-hand knowledge of the doctor or healthcare facility should leave a review—and only once. Abusing the platform by rating the same doctor or facility more than once can result in all of that user’s ratings being removed.
Are RateMDs Reviews Anonymous?
Yes, RateMDs takes a strong stance on allowing user reviews to remain anonymous. Because U.S. courts have consistently ruled that the right to free, anonymous speech extends to internet speech, RateMDs protects the anonymity of its users.
How Can Negative Reviews on RateMDs Impact Your Business if Left Unaddressed?
Most healthcare reviews are positive. In fact, according to one 2020 survey, only 11% of physician reviews are “somewhat negative” or “very negative.”
But you should not assume that your positive reviews will completely outweigh the negative ones. Disregarding your presence on consumer review platforms like RateMDs can make you vulnerable to the reputational harm negative feedback can cause.
For any business, positive reviews can directly impact profitability while negative reviews can discourage potential customers—and medical practices are no exception.
Nearly 80% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. And 71% of patients use online reviews as the first step in finding a new doctor, so your overall rating on sites like RateMDs is the first impression you make on many potential patients. Reducing the number of negative reviews you receive can directly improve your business’s bottom line.
Why Do Fake Reviews on RateMDs Pose a Serious Threat to Your Medical Practice?
Today’s medical patients overwhelmingly rely on the internet to help them choose a healthcare provider, and as one of the most popular medical review websites, RateMDs can have a great deal of influence on the number of new patients that come your way
In a perfect world, your reviews would reflect the quality of care your patients receive. If you are knowledgeable, professional, and helpful, the overwhelming majority of your online feedback would be glowing—while any negative feedback would be a result of a misunderstanding, miscommunication, or a real error that you can learn from in the future.
But unfortunately, this scenario is not always the case. Some malicious actors post fake reviews on consumer review platforms with the goal of hurting you or your business.
So if you receive fake negative reviews on a site like RateMDs, it can misrepresent your practice by damaging your overall rating. And negative reviews can often compound each other, inviting copycat posters to pile on and add their own negative feedback (whether real or fabricated).
And depending on the nature of the review, it may hurt more than your bottom line; it may even lead to malpractice investigations, fines, and disciplinary action against your medical practice. Due to the delicate nature of medical privacy laws, it can even be difficult to respond to fake reviews without running afoul of HIPAA regulations.
How to Spot Fake Reviews on RateMDs
When a negative review was posted by a real patient, there is a chance you can reach out to them privately and resolve their concern. But if the review was completely fabricated by a malicious actor, reaching out to them with customer service techniques would be a waste of your time.
In this section, we discuss the different scenarios in which an individual might post a fake review. Then, we list a few strategies for distinguishing fake reviews from real ones.
Who Posts Negative & Fake Reviews on RateMDs?
There are commonly three instances where a user might publish a fake review:
Actual patients who had a negative experience,
Competitors in your industry, and
Third parties with a grudge or who are seeking revenge.
We discuss each in more detail below.
Actual Patients Who Had a Negative Experience
These posters are real patients who visited your practice and were dissatisfied with their experience, but they then exaggerate or simply lie in their reviews. Perhaps they feel so angry about their real experience that they think their false version of events is justified.
Some patients even go so far as to create multiple accounts on review platforms and leave several reviews for the same doctor or practice.
Competitors in Your Industry
Unfortunately, some fake reviews are left by business owners in an attempt to get ahead of the competition. They create an account and pretend to be an angry ex-patient to divert potential patients away from you and towards their own practice.
Third Parties With a Grudge or Who Are Seeking Revenge
Finally, some fake RateMDs reviews are left by individuals who simply want to hurt you or your practice. Perhaps they are a former employee or another individual with a grudge against you.
Or maybe they have no connection to the healthcare industry at all—they simply want to hurt you. Someone with a personal grudge against you may feel they can exact satisfying revenge by damaging your professional reputation.
Some other third parties leave fake reviews to extort you for money in exchange for taking their review down.
Learn How to Spot Fake Reviews on RateMDs
Physicians who monitor their online presence can often tell the difference between fake reviews and legitimate complaints from real patients. There is no foolproof method for spotting fake reviews, so the best advice is to trust your gut. Does the review sound like a real patient interaction?
There is more than one good reason to keep detailed administrative and patient records. Not only are they essential for staying organized and complying with regulations; but they can also help you determine if a suspicious online review came from a real customer.
If the reviewer included their name, does it match or resemble a patient’s name? Do your files or complaint records contain any mention of the negative experience described in the review? If not, the review may be fraudulent.
Look at the Timing of the Reviews
If you suddenly receive a spat of one-star reviews—and you are used to receiving mostly high ratings from patients—you may have reason to be suspicious. Perhaps a malicious individual or group is orchestrating an attempt to damage your online reputation.
Also, if you are receiving multiple negative reviews, pay attention to when they are published. Are they being posted at regular intervals, like daily, weekly, or monthly? Are they usually published during the time of night when most of your customers would be asleep? These factors may be cause for concern.
Analyze the Language of the Reviews
Does the review’s wording sound like a real customer wrote it? Signs of inauthenticity include:
Multiple typos and improper grammar,
Provocative rhetoric, and
Direct or indirect promotion of a competitor.
Professional Review Hit Jobs
Occasionally, our firm discovers a case of fake reviews being perpetrated by professional review “hitmen” or agencies. These hit jobs are usually hired by a competitor.
Most of these hitmen or agencies are located outside of the United States. One sign of a hit job is that the reviews are written in broken English and vague language (as if the writer obviously did not have a real experience at your practice).
Some hit jobs are even organized through shady social media forums on which unethical online reputation management professionals coordinate to post positive reviews for each other’s clients—or negative reviews for their competitors.
Steps to Remove a Review From RateMDs
In our experience at Minc Law, RateMDs is easier to work with than similar consumer review platforms. The review team is generally open to removing flagrant terms of violations, which means that you have reason to be optimistic if you need to have a defamatory review removed.
This section demonstrates how to flag a review for removal with the platform.
What Are the Most Common Reasons Reviews Violate RateMDs Guidelines?
The RateMDs team reviews flagged reviews and removes those that are not in line with the platform’s guidelines. Most commonly, reviews that violate the RateMDs’ guidelines either do not reflect a personal outcome or customer service-related issue or are defamatory.
Such reviews might contain:
Out-of-date information (that was out of date at the time the review was written),
Accusations of illegal activity,
Vulgar or profane language,
Details that are irrelevant to the patient’s experience at that medical practice.
The RateMDs platform is also set up to block multiple reviews from the same computer within a short window. This setting is designed to stop a single individual from creating multiple accounts and review-bombing a provider.
If a review appears to violate RateMDs’ terms of service, you can flag it for review to the RateMDs team.
How to Remove a Review From RateMDs
If you receive a negative and damaging review on RateMDs, the good news is that you have a fair shot at having it removed. In our experience, the RateMD team works to consider every request they receive, and they remove reviews that appear to go against the platform’s rules.
In this section, we cover four tips for having a review removed from RateMDs as quickly as possible, and without running afoul of the law.
Keep HIPAA Confidentiality Considerations in Mind When Responding to & Removing a Review
In most cases, we do not recommend that healthcare professionals respond specifically to negative reviews. This advice stems from the complications surrounding HIPAA regulations and the limitations placed on what you as a healthcare professional are ethically and legally allowed to say.
When responding to online reviews, the best course of action is to make general statements about your practice’s services, procedures, and policies. Do not refer to the patient by name (even if they gave their name in the review) or say anything to confirm that they received treatment at your office. Stick to general statements such as:
“We strive to provide all of our patients with the highest quality of care possible.”
“Thank you for your feedback. I work to provide the highest value of service to all of my patients. I welcome all patients to contact our office directly at xxx-xxx-xxxx to discuss any questions or concerns.”
Sometimes, simply making the user feel heard can diffuse the tension and lead to the reviewer taking down their post.
To stay HIPAA compliant and let patients know that you are ethically restricted from responding to their reviews, we recommend claiming your review profiles across all medical sites and adding a disclaimer giving some context to potential patients as to why you are unable to respond. An appropriate, HIPAA complaint disclaimer you can add to your review platform profile may look something like this:
We greatly value all patient feedback and understand that online reviews are a leading indicator and tool that prospective consumers use to educate themselves and select a medical provider. However, please understand, that unlike other businesses that may freely respond to online consumer reviews, as medical professionals, we must, and do, provide complete confidentiality to our patients. That means that we are ethically prohibited from responding to a review in any way that acknowledges if someone has engaged our practice or been in our care. If you have an issue that needs attention, please contact our office directly by calling us at XXX-XXX-XXXX.“
Then, ask the reviewer if there is anything you can do to resolve the situation—and invite them to reach out to you privately to continue the conversation. Opening the door to private conversation enables you to resolve the situation without risking violating the patient’s privacy on a public review forum.
If the user’s review contains enough information for you to identify them, you may want to call or email them directly to find out how you can make things right. But do not offer to pay them to take down their review.
Providing exceptional customer service can prevent a bad review in the first place, but it can also go a long way towards encouraging an upset customer to take down a review once their concerns are resolved.
For a comprehensive breakdown of strategies and considerations when responding to online reviews, read our comprehensive guide explaining how to respond to bad reviews.
Flag and Report the Review Via RateMDs Flagging System
Both reviewers and practitioners must adhere to the RateMDs terms of service. If you suspect that the review was not left by a real patient (or its content is not truthful), you can flag the review for moderation.
To flag a review, click “Flag” underneath the entry.
In the dialog box that appears, select a reason for flagging (Profanity, Private Information, Spam, Wrong Provider, or Other) from the dropdown menu. You can also add more information about why the review should be removed in the box below if you like.
Keep in mind that you cannot identify the reviewer as a patient or share any information with the platform’s moderators that would be considered a violation of the patient’s privacy. Given the difficulty of navigating HIPAA regulations while reporting reviews, it may be wise to reach out to an attorney for assistance.
Additionally, an attorney can help you craft an effective argument in the flagging process to increase the chances that the platform removes the review in question.
Pursue Legal Action Over the Fake RateMDs Review
Some reviews, while untruthful and harmful to your reputation, are difficult to have removed just by flagging them to the platform. In these cases, your best course of action may be filing a lawsuit or sending a cease and desist letter to the reviewer.
But legal action can be time-consuming and costly, which is why it should always be a last resort. If you already have a large number of positive reviews and one negative review is not damaging your overall quality rating on RateMDs, it may not be worthwhile to pursue legal action to remove it.
On the other hand, serious allegations—like malpractice, discrimination, or illegal activity—could do real harm to your professional reputation. These kinds of statements in an online review are worth discussing with a lawyer.
If you do decide to take legal action in response to a negative review, it is worth noting that you cannot sue RateMDs. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects websites like RateMDs from being held liable for defamatory reviews since RateMDs itself is not considered the publisher of content written by third parties.
Who Can I Sue for a Fake Review?
In almost all cases, your defamation lawsuit must be brought against the individual who left the review.
Not all negative reviews are worth pursuing legal action against—and if the review is true, you could risk becoming the subject of a lawsuit yourself. But in situations where the review runs a real risk of damaging your reputation, you may wish to file a defamation claim against the reviewer.
Such instances may include when the reviewer appears to be leaving multiple reviews, or when the reviews include serious allegations like:
Sexual assault or harassment,
Harming a patient, or
An experienced internet defamation attorney can also help you file a John Doe lawsuit to uncover an anonymous poster’s identity.
How to Improve Your Review Profile on RateMDs
In this section, we explore a few ways you can improve your overall rating on review platforms like RateMDs.
Take Control of Your RateMD Profile
Taking ownership of your RateMD profile is an essential first step in monitoring and managing your online reputation. Claiming your profile enables you to:
Add and update information about yourself and your business,
Correct errors already on your RateMD listing, and
Prevent others from claiming your profile on your behalf.
To claim your profile, click “Claim Doctor Profile” at the top of your ratings page.
Improve & Uphold Patient Satisfaction
Just like customers of any other business, medical patients are looking for an excellent customer service experience. They may not rank medical providers using the same metrics as other professions, but they do expect to receive consideration, care, and respect.
While every patient has their own priorities and values, the American Academy of Family Physicians found these five common factors that generally contribute to patient satisfaction:
Communication—Listen to the patient, take their symptoms seriously, and explain their condition clearly and thoroughly.
Timespent—Do not rush through patient appointments; take the time to build a rapport with each patient.
Control—Give the patient room to voice their own concerns and ideas, and let them have a say in what is discussed during your visit.
Clear expectations—Ask the patient what they hope to learn or accomplish during the visit.
Appearance—Whenever possible, wear semi-formal clothing and appear friendly.
How Else Can You Improve Your Reviews on RateMDs?
The best way to improve your RateMDs rating is to take an active approach to managing your online reputation. Take ownership of your profile and monitor what is being said about your practice. And when you see a negative review that violates RateMDs’ terms of service, flag it for removal.
Improving your online reputation also stems from a positive customer experience. Work to create a friendly, supportive office atmosphere that provides the best patient encounter possible. And when you can, encourage satisfied customers to leave you a review on platforms like RateMDs.
Finally, online reputation management (ORM) services should also be a part of your overall strategy. ORM services use a variety of tools and strategies to improve and protect your online presence, including publishing and boosting positive content about you. Sometimes improving your online reputation is more about increasing the amount of positive content rather than simply trying to remove a few negative reviews.
We Can Help Your Medical Practice Remove Fake Patient Reviews
At Minc Law, we are well-versed in working with review platforms to remove fake and defamatory content about our clients. We have extensive experience reporting negative reviews, presenting court orders, and filing defamation lawsuits to identify anonymous posters and remove damaging content quickly and efficiently.
We can also help medical professionals navigate the ethical minefield of managing online reviews while remaining compliant with patient privacy regulations.
“Absolutely phenomenal. Michael took care of every single issue of defamation. I was concerned about wording because of the public nature of all parties involved, but Michael had open communication and approval from me all along the way. I will suggest him to absolutely anyone.”
KD June 20, 2022
If you would like to learn more about your options for handling fake or negative online reviews, reach out to us by phone at (216) 373-7706 or via our online contact form for an initial, no-obligation consultation.