For healthcare providers grappling with a negative WebMD review, the impact on their professional reputation can be significant. WebMD stands as one of the most popular consumer-focused healthcare websites, so addressing these reviews promptly and effectively is a necessity.
If you are facing negative or fake reviews on WebMD, there are several steps you can take to address and potentially remove them:
- Document evidence of the reviews,
- Familiarize yourself with WebMD’s review guidelines,
- Report the Review to WebMD,
- Take legal action to compel removal of the review, and
- Use online reputation management (ORM) services to suppress negative reviews.
At Minc Law, we assist healthcare professionals, including physicians, surgeons, and medical practitioners, in addressing and removing fake reviews from online platforms like WebMD. We recognize the substantial impact that negative reviews can have on a medical professional’s reputation, especially in the sensitive field of healthcare. This expertise positions us to provide authoritative guidance on mitigating the effects of undeserved negative feedback on medical review sites.
This article will provide practical steps and legal insights for healthcare providers facing negative or fake reviews online.
Reasons Medical Providers Should Consider Removing a Fake Review From WebMD
For medical providers, the importance of maintaining a positive reputation on WebMD cannot be overstated. WebMD is not just a popular destination for health information; its influence on patients’ choices for their healthcare providers and perceptions is significant.
With the high visibility and trust placed in WebMD, a negative review, especially if unjustified, can adversely affect a medical practitioner’s reputation, leading to a decrease in patient trust and, subsequently, patient flow.
Understanding the Impact of Negative & Fake WebMD Reviews
Being such a prevalent platform, WebMD reviews have the power to impact almost every facet of a medical business, affecting its growth, longevity, and reputation in the marketplace.
Statistics highlight the growing importance of online reviews in the healthcare sector. Research indicates that roughly 94% of patients now use online reviews as a primary tool for choosing their healthcare providers. This trend underscores the need for medical professionals to actively manage their online reputation, as negative or fake reviews on a platform as influential as WebMD can seriously harm a doctor’s image.
Negative reviews, whether true or not, can create a lasting impression. They not only affect the immediate perception of potential patients but can also influence search engine results. With the first page of search results garnering the vast majority of web traffic, a negative review on a high-ranking site like WebMD can be particularly damaging. A bad review can distort public perception, influence patient choices, and ultimately impact the financial and operational aspects of a healthcare practice.
Sales & Bottom-Line
The relationship between online reviews and a business’s financial performance is well-documented. According to a Harvard Business Study, a one-star increase in online reviews can result in a 5-9% increase in revenue for businesses. A survey by BrightLocal revealed that 82% of consumers read online reviews, with over half stating they would not consider a business with less than a 4-star rating.
The impact of online reviews extends beyond immediate customer perception to influence profitability directly. Nearly 80% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations and about 71% of patients use online reviews as the first step in finding a new doctor. This indicates that the overall rating on review sites like WebMD is often the first impression made on potential patients.
Therefore, for medical practices, managing online reviews is not just about maintaining a good image; it is directly tied to attracting new patients and improving the bottom line. Reducing or removing negative reviews and fostering positive ones can have a tangible effect on a medical provider’s profitability and market presence.
Attracting & Retaining Talent
Business reviews can also affect a company’s ability to attract and retain talent. A study conducted by Glassdoor found that 69% of job seekers are more inclined to apply for a job if the employer is actively managing its brand. This involves responding to reviews, updating their company profile, and sharing information about the company’s culture and work environment.
Negative reviews, particularly in a healthcare context, can serve as red flags for potential job candidates. They might interpret these reviews as indicators of a problematic company culture, ineffective management style, or an unsatisfactory work environment. This perception can be a significant deterrent for high-quality candidates, especially those with multiple job opportunities.
Search Engine Results
Negative reviews, particularly on prominent platforms like WebMD, can have a cascading effect on user engagement with a website. When a site accumulates negative reviews, potential users may be deterred from visiting, spending time on the site, or linking to it. These behaviors are key metrics used by search engines to determine the relevance and value of a site.
Consequently, a high volume of negative reviews can lead to a decline in search engine rankings, making it harder for users to find the site through organic search.
Additionally, search engines often interpret negative reviews as indicators of a poor user experience or low-quality content. This perception can further degrade a website’s ranking in search results. It is important for healthcare providers to understand this dynamic and manage their online reputation proactively, not only on review platforms but also in the broader context of their digital presence.
When Removing a Bad WebMD Review May Be Necessary
Medical providers may find it necessary to remove reviews in specific circumstances, especially when they are defamatory, false, or violate WebMD’s review guidelines. Key scenarios where removal may be warranted include:
- False Information: This includes scenarios like false accusations of malpractice or providing incorrect details about a provider’s qualifications or experience.
- Defamatory Content: Defamation involves making false statements presented as facts that can harm someone’s reputation.
- Violation of Privacy: Reviews that breach confidentiality norms, including those revealing personal information about the provider or their patients, can be removed. This is particularly sensitive in the medical field due to strict ethical standards.
- Extortion or Harassment: Reviews that include threats, blackmail, or harassment are not only grounds for removal but may also have legal consequences.
- Violation of WebMD’s Review Guidelines: Reviews containing hate speech, profanity, spam, or other prohibited content can be removed for violating WebMD’s guidelines.
It is essential for medical providers to familiarize themselves with WebMD’s review policies and procedures before attempting to have a review removed. For reviews that violate WebMD’s policies, providers can contact WebMD’s customer service team for assistance with the removal process.
For further reading, please see our comprehensive article ‘Can You Sue For a Bad Review?’.
How You Can Identify Fake Reviews on WebMD
Identifying fake reviews is crucial when considering legal action or the removal of bad reviews. While it is common for businesses and medical practices to receive the occasional negative review, the key challenge lies in distinguishing legitimate reviews from those that do not reflect a genuine marketplace interaction, are posted by competitors, or falsely report on the services performed.
Common Traits of Fake Medical Reviews
Identifying fake medical reviews on sites like WebMD can be challenging, but there are certain characteristics that often indicate a review may be disingenuous. Here are some common traits of fake medical reviews to be aware of:
- Vague Language: Fake reviews tend to use nonspecific language and lack detail. Phrases like “great doctor” or “bad experience” without further explanation are common red flags. Authentic reviews usually include specific aspects of the patient’s experience.
- Extreme Tone: Fake reviews often exhibit an extreme tone, either excessively praising or harshly criticizing. They may use superlatives like “amazing” or “the worst” without substantiating these claims with concrete details.
- Lack of Personal Details: Genuine reviews often contain personal information that lends credibility, such as the reviewer’s age, medical condition, or specific experiences with the medical provider. Fake reviews typically lack these personal touches.
- Multiple Reviews from the Same User: If multiple reviews come from the same user or IP address, especially if they only review one doctor or practice, this can be a red flag.
- No History of the Reviewer: Reviews from users with no history on the site or those who have only reviewed a single provider may be suspect.
- Mismatched Language: If the reviewer’s language or tone does not match their claimed location, it could indicate that the review is not authentic.
- Extremely Short Reviews: Fake reviews may be very brief and lack specific details about the reviewer’s experience with the medical provider.
It is important to consider these characteristics as potential indicators, rather than conclusive proof, of a fake review.
Please see our posts explaining how businesses can spot fake reviews and when online reviews are considered defamation for further reading.
Key Strategies to Spot Fake Doctor Reviews
Given the impact of patient reviews on a medical practice’s reputation, it is important to identify which reviews reflect genuine patient experiences and which do not. The following strategies can help spot fake doctor reviews.
Verify Against Business Records
Maintaining detailed patient records is not only vital for organization and compliance but can also help verify the authenticity of online reviews. If a review mentions a specific incident or includes a name, cross-referencing this information with your records can help ascertain if the review was written by a real patient. A lack of matching records could suggest the review is fake.
Assess the Timing of Reviews
A sudden influx of low-star ratings warrants scrutiny, especially if you have a history of mostly positive feedback. The timing of these reviews can offer clues – if they are posted at odd hours or follow a suspiciously regular pattern, this might suggest a coordinated attack on your reputation.
Consider the Language Used In Reviews
Scrutinize the language used in the reviews. Telltale signs of fake reviews include frequent grammatical errors, provocative or overly aggressive language, and any subtle or overt promotion of a competitor.
Look for Professional Review Attacks
In some cases, fake reviews are part of a targeted campaign by professional review writers, often hired by competitors. These reviews may exhibit characteristics like names you have never interacted with, broken English in the review itself, and a lack of specific details, indicating the reviewer did not have a genuine experience at your practice.
Such campaigns are sometimes orchestrated through online forums or networks specializing in unethical reputation management practices.
Ethical & Confidentiality Obligations Before Responding to the Review
Even when faced with fake reviews, healthcare practitioners must handle online reviews with care to avoid crossing any professional boundaries that could lead to legal or ethical violations.
HIPAA & Its Impact on a Medical Professional’s Ability to Respond to Online Reviews
Due to HIPAA regulations, healthcare professionals must be cautious about the content of their responses to online reviews to ensure they do not inadvertently disclose protected health information.
In most cases, it is advisable for healthcare professionals to refrain from responding directly to negative reviews. This is primarily because of the limitations that HIPAA places on what can be ethically and legally disclosed in such responses. Making specific references to a patient’s treatment, acknowledging that someone was a patient, or revealing any personal health information, even inadvertently, can lead to HIPAA violations.
When responding to online medical reviews, it is prudent for medical professionals to stick to general statements about their practice’s services, procedures, and policies. For instance, responses should avoid referring to the patient by name, even if the reviewer has used their name in the post. Instead, responses could include general statements like:
- “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 [phone number] to discuss any questions or concerns.”
Sometimes, acknowledging the reviewer’s feedback in a general and non-specific way can be enough to address their concerns and may even lead to the reviewer removing their post.
Solution For Instances When You Cannot Respond
In scenarios where you cannot respond to online reviews due to HIPAA or wish to err on the side of caution, there are effective ways to communicate this to patients. One recommended approach is to claim your review profiles across various medical sites and include a disclaimer. This disclaimer can inform potential patients of the unique constraints faced by medical professionals in responding to reviews.
A HIPAA-compliant disclaimer could be structured along these lines:
“We appreciate your feedback and recognize the importance of online reviews in helping other patients make informed choices. However, as medical professionals, we are committed to ensuring complete confidentiality for our patients. This ethical obligation restricts us from responding to reviews in a manner that could imply someone’s engagement with our practice or disclose any aspect of their care. For any concerns, we encourage you to contact our office directly at [phone number].”
This statement informs patients of your ethical and legal limitations in public responses while inviting direct communication for any specific concerns they might have. It also reassures patients that their feedback is important, even if it cannot be addressed publicly.
It is also beneficial to post this disclaimer or a similar message on your practice’s website.
Contacting the Reviewer Offline to Resolve the Issue
When addressing a negative review, reaching out to the patient privately can be an effective approach. Here are the steps to do so while ensuring compliance with privacy laws and ethical guidelines:
- Identify: First, identify the patient who left the review. If there is no contact information, it may be necessary to work with the review site to request this information, always adhering to privacy laws.
- Contact: Once identified, contact the patient privately, through phone, email, or an in-person meeting, based on what the patient prefers.
- Address Concerns: The key part of this interaction is listening to and addressing the patient’s concerns. This could involve explaining procedures or policies, clarifying misunderstandings, or offering a follow-up appointment for further discussion.
- Ask for a Review Update: After resolving the concerns, you can politely ask the patient if they would consider updating their review to reflect the resolution. This step is entirely at the discretion of the patient.
Throughout this process, it is crucial to maintain the confidentiality of patient health information (PHI). Even if the patient has given their consent, disclosing PHI during such conversations should be avoided. Also, all staff members involved in contacting patients should be well-trained in HIPAA regulations and fully aware of their obligations to protect patient privacy.
How Doctors Can Remove Bad Reviews From WebMD
In situations where private resolution efforts are unsuccessful, or if the reviews and accusations are particularly egregious, doctors may need to consider legal avenues or other methods for review removal.
Document Evidence of the Fake or Negative WebMD Reviews
The first step is to capture the review in its original form. Take screenshots of the review, including any dates and times shown.
If the review has harmed your practice or reputation, it is important to gather evidence of these damages. This could include patient feedback, a decline in patient appointments, or any other indicators that the review has negatively impacted your practice.
Familiarize Yourself With WebMD’s Review Guidelines
Familiarizing yourself with WebMD’s review guidelines can help you craft an effective request for the removal of a review and provide the necessary documentation. Here are the key aspects of WebMD’s review guidelines:
- Content Restrictions: WebMD has specific content restrictions in place. Reviews should not contain inappropriate language, personal attacks, or other prohibited content.
- Accuracy and Relevance: Reviews must be accurate and relevant to the medical professional’s services. Misleading or irrelevant content may be grounds for removal.
- Privacy and Confidentiality: Reviews should not disclose personal health information or violate privacy norms.
For a complete understanding of WebMD’s review guidelines and the terms and conditions associated with them, it is beneficial to read through the guidelines provided on their website.
Report the Review to WebMD
When attempting to remove a review from WebMD, you must submit a formal request or report the review. Here is how you can proceed:
- Determine the Review’s Violation: Before submitting a request, ensure the review violates WebMD’s guidelines.
- Submit a Request to WebMD: You can submit a request directly to WebMD through their Customer Care Portal. When submitting the request, include specific details such as the date the review was posted and any review ID, if available.
- Explain the Review’s Inaccuracy: If the review contains medically inaccurate information, you should explain this in your request to WebMD. Clearly outline how the review does not reflect a genuine patient experience or provides misleading medical information.
- Be Prepared for Variability in Outcomes: It is important to understand that the outcome of a removal request can be unpredictable. While you can present your case to WebMD, the final decision on review removal lies with them and may vary depending on the specifics of the case.
Remember that each case is unique, and the approach might need to be tailored accordingly. In complex situations, seeking legal advice can help navigate the process more effectively.
Take Legal Action to Compel Removal of the Review
In certain cases, particularly where reporting or flagging the review does not lead to removal, legal action may be necessary. This is especially true in instances involving serious accusations, such as malpractice or discrimination, or when the negative review significantly impacts your professional reputation.
Here are the steps and considerations involved in taking legal action:
- Evaluate the Necessity of Legal Action: Consider the extent of your online reviews. If you have many positive reviews and only one negative review, legal action might not be necessary. However, for severe allegations like malpractice, criminal activity, or discrimination, consulting with a lawyer is advisable.
- Filing a Defamation Lawsuit: For reviews that contain false allegations and harm your reputation, a defamation lawsuit may be an appropriate course of action. This can help in uncovering the identity of the anonymous poster and potentially compel the removal of the review by way of court order.
- Subpoena WebMD for Information: If the reviewer is anonymous or their identity is unclear, subpoenas can be used to compel WebMD to release information like the reviewer’s IP address. This can help identify the individual behind the negative review.
When engaging with a defamation attorney, they will guide you through the legal process, including the evaluation of the review, the viability of a lawsuit, and the best approach to address the situation. The attorney can also assist in drafting cease and desist letters or taking further legal steps as necessary.
It is important to have realistic expectations when working with an attorney. Filing a defamation suit can be time-consuming, and the outcomes may vary. An experienced defamation attorney can provide insights into what to expect and help strategize the most effective response.
For further reading, please see our comprehensive guide ‘How to File a John Doe Lawsuit Over an Anonymous Review’.
Utilize Online Reputation Management Services to Suppress Negative Reviews
Medical professionals can significantly benefit from utilizing online reputation management (ORM) services, especially when it comes to handling negative reviews. These services offer a range of solutions designed to enhance and protect your online image, including:
- Review monitoring and response,
- Implementation of positive review mechanisms, and
- Analytics and reporting.
When selecting a reputation management service, medical professionals should consider providers experienced in healthcare, with a thorough understanding of HIPAA regulations and patient privacy. It is also important to ensure transparency in their methods and that they offer actionable recommendations for reputation improvement.
We Help Medical Professionals Remove Defamatory Reviews
If you are a doctor or healthcare provider and want to explore removing bad and defamatory reviews from WebMD, we can help. We understand the catastrophic effects fabricated reviews can have on your practice’s bottom line and reputation.
We have extensive experience working with healthcare professionals to navigate the ethical minefield of responding to negative patient reviews, reporting reviews for ToS violations to the platform, filing suit, and unmasking anonymous reviewers.
“Attorney Dorrian Horsey at Minc Law represented me in a content removal effort and was successful. She was very open with me about the process, and helped me understand the approach that she took. She was great to work with and very supportive of my effort. Thank you!”
August 11, 2023
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