Dentist Review Websites: Get Used to It

Dentist Review Websites: Get Used to ItLast week we told you about the latest controversy on the consumer review website Yelp: a California dentist who’s suing because of a negative review.

It’s easy to see why the dentist was frustrated by an unflattering and inaccurate review. But she’s received lots of bad press from free-speech advocates for her lawsuit.

It doesn’t seem like legal action is necessarily the best way to deal with a bad review.

There’s no turning back the clock. A pre-Internet mentality is no longer relevant. Like it or not, customer review websites do exist, and they’re only getting more popular.

“Litigants have this pre-Internet mentality where they think they can control messages about themselves in public,” Matt Zimmerman, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, recently told the SF Weekly. “But the online community will see this as a slap in the face and retaliate. … It blows up in [the litigant’s] face.”

Managing your reputation online

Even if you’ve never submitted your business information anywhere, chances are excellent that you’re already listed with one or more of these websites. You can find out what patients are saying about you by searching for your name and geographic area on any of these sites.

Most of these sites allow business owners a degree of control over their listings. A good listing should include your name, dental practice name, address, phone number, hours, and treatment specialties. You should correct any inaccurate information.

Uploading photos to your listing is also a great way to give prospective patients more insight into your practice. A photo of the lobby offers a sense of ambiance, while a storefront photo can make it easier for new patients to find your location.

What do you do about a bad review?

Well, you can sue, but that won’t necessarily solve the problem, and you could end up getting a lot of bad press.

Or you can decide not to worry about it. This is certainly the easiest thing to do! Don’t waste too much brainpower on one unhappy customer who wants to complain publicly.

But some business owners just can’t ignore the one-star reviews. either because they’re personally upset or because they feel it will hurt their business.

Reaching out to the owners of the review website will not always be effective. Yelp, for example, will not remove a review unless it violates their terms of service. Moreover, the site does not permit business owners to directly respond to any reviews, comments or allegations.

The most effective strategy for removing a bad review seems to be to convince the reviewer to change their rating. While this is great for unhappy customers, it’s frustrating to business owners.

“The power for [Yelpers] to put a bad remark can crush us,” said a San Francisco florist in an interview with the SF Weekly. “So we have to do 10 steps above everything. We literally overdo customer service.”

Dentists: Can Copyright Law Protect You from Negative Online Reviews?

dentists and copyright lawOnline dental reviews can be a problem for dentists when negative reviews appear, especially when they feel the review is possibly retaliatory or bogus.

A few thousand doctors have taken matters into their own hands by working with a company called Medical Justice, that created a way to use copyright law to go after negative online reviews.

For about $100.00 a month, Medical Justice protects its doctors by going to online review sites and demanding any bad reviews be removed due to “a breach of copyright.” The company instructs doctors to have their patients sign contracts that assign away the copyright in any future review the patient might be compelled to write online.

Techland Times reports that Medical Justice claims what they’re doing is not only protecting the doctors from unfair bad press, but also from bogus reviews. “Some sites say, we don’t know if you’re telling truth, and we don’t know if they’re telling the truth — it’s the Internet, so deal with it,” contends Shane Stadler of Medical Justice.

Moco News writes that by having patients assign copyright in any reviews to their doctor, Medical Justice is hoping to help doctors get around Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (an “arcane nuance of cyberlaw,” according to Medical Justice’s website), the law that protects web services from getting sued over content posted by their users.

It is being reported that Yelp has refused to honor a doctor’s take-down notice based on copyright infringement, and another online review website called RateMDs created a “Wall of Shame” to identify doctors who are using the copyright contracts.

Sound unreasonable? Do you think it’s irrational to demand dental patients sign a copyright assignment form when they visit a dentist office?

For more on this story see Doctors Now Using Breach of Copyright to Quash Bad Online Reviews and Can Doctors Use Copyright Law To Get Rid Of Negative Reviews?

Dentists: Fake Negative Online Review Nets Business Owner 150K

Dentists: Fake Negative Online Review Nets Business Owner 150KOver the past three years The Wealthy Dentist has covered stories regarding negative online reviews and how dentists should handle them as part of an overall dental marketing strategy.

We’ve agreed that no one should be allowed to post an anonymous reviews against a dentist, because the costs to a dental practice can be high, and the dentist has little hope of investigating the circumstances to turn the situation around.

Not to mention the real possibility that the dentist might be dealing with an anonymous derogatory review that is actually fake.

The best a dentist could do was soften the impact of the negative review online is by responding with positive attributes about his or her dental practice. Any attempt to sue over a negative review always seemed to favor the poster of the review — not the recipient.

But it seems the courts are finally starting to take notice.

Recently, the Missouri Court of Appeals upheld a $150,000 putative damage reward to a plaintiff for defamation caused by 3 fake online reviews.

In 1999, Peter Mitchell and Michael Hosto co-founded a property damage restoration company. Their restoration business was so successful that in 2003 they created BoardUp, Inc., a lead generation service for restoration companies covering five area codes that encompassed significant portions of central and eastern Missouri and the southwestern portion of Illinois.

The partners successfully ran the companies for 4 years until a deterioration in their relationship and the commencement of litigation forced Mitchell and Hosto to dissolve their business associations by entering into a Settlement Agreement in 2007. As a result of the agreement Hosto ended up with BoardUp and Mitchell ended up with the restoration company.

But Hosto was apparently not happy with how the settlement came down.

Hosto went online and posted 3 fake negative reviews about Mitchell and his restoration work. According to court records the first two reviews were posted on March 31, 2008, on Google and Yahoo, respectively. In those fabricated reviews, Hosto used the names of prior customers of the restoration company to create detailed accounting of dealings with Mitchell that encouraged potential customers to avoid contracting with the company.

Here are 2 of the fake reviews:

1. 1st Review on Google (there were 2) –
Grade: F. Dealing with these people was the single biggest mistake I have ever made in my whole life. I[t] was a miserable experience and the job was done so poorly we decided to sell the house. They were great salesman [sic] but their workman [sic] were idiots and the owner was not willing to help in any way. I was so happy just to get them out of my life I paid them much more than I should have because their law firm threatened to lien my house if I disagree[d] with any part of their bill. All I can say is if they show up in your front yard in the middle of the night after your house catchs [sic] on fire, RUN! Do yourself a favor and call your insurance company and get a referal [sic] for legitimate business people.

2. Review on Yahoo –
They were a pain in the neck when I least needed one! Like the other guy [,] The Fire Works Restoration Company showed up in the middle of the night while the firemen where [sic] still putting out the fire. Their emergency board up guys were great. I liked them so much I decided maybe they weren’t so bad when a salesman from the Fire Works Restoration Company showed up the next day. Then they offered to do a “Free Estimate.” So [F]ire [W]orks was a lot higher than the other company. [T]hey got into a long drawn out fight about 1) the cost to remove the water and 2) the cost to dry out the house and 3) the cost to rebuild the house and 4) the cost to clean our stuff. The whole thing turned out to be such a nightmare that I figured it was just easier to deal with the insurance company contractor (the one these guys told me was gonna rip me off!!!!). [S]o when I told them I was not going with them then they sent me a bill even bigger than the first that the insurance company already said they didn’t want to pay. [T]he [F]ire [W]orks guy said it was a “supplement” and the first bill was not complete. [T]hey wanted an additional $1,700 more than the first bill (which was already too high!!!). Moral of the story–––people that seem nice usually are nice but not always.

As soon as Mitchell discovered the negative reviews, he initiated a “John Doe” lawsuit to ascertain the identity of the poster of the online reviews. Yahoo identified Mitchell’s ex-partner, Hosto as the person who posted the negative review on its website. Ultimately Hosto emailed Mitchell admitting that he had posted the negative reviews. Mitchell then brought a defamation suit against both Hosto personally and his company, BoardUp. In response, Hosto filed a counterclaim alleging defamation against Mitchell.

A jury agreed with Mitchell in his personal defamation claim against Hosto and only awarded him $1.00 in actual damages, but awarded him $150,000 in punitive damages. In addition, the jury rejected both Mitchell’s defamation claim against BoardUp and Hosto’s counterclaim against Mitchell.

At first review it might be hard to understand why the jury only awarded Mitchell $1.00 in actual damages, but this may be because it is difficult to prove that a potential customer who Mitchell has never done business with actually decided not to employ the services of his company based on a negative online review.

But the $150,000 in punitive damages does send the message that online posters are responsible for the negative reviews they leave online.

In a research study by Cone, Inc., they found that 80% of consumers have changed their mind about purchases based on negative information that they found online and 87% claimed that positive reviews reinforce their purchasing decisions.

In the future a dentist may very well be able to prove that his or her dental practice was adversely affected by a false negative review and will receive a more sizable actual damages amount.

Have you ever experienced a fake negative online review? How did you handle it?

For help in handling negative online reviews, see The Wealthy Dentist’s dental marketing article, Dental Marketing: A Guide for Avoiding Negative Online Reviews

Negative Online Review Allowed To Stay by Supreme Court

Negative Online Review Allowed To Stay by Supreme CourtIn December, The Wealthy Dentist reported on a story that first appeared in the New York Daily News which told the story of Virginia contractor, Christopher Dietz, who was suing his former customer, Jane Perez, for negative online reviews she wrote on Yelp and Angie’s list.

At the time, a judge had granted Dietz a temporary injunction against Perez and ordered the ex-client to change her online reviews, especially the part where she accused Dietz of stealing jewelry.

It seemed reasonable and encouraging to many small business owners and most especially dentists, who have been dealing with questionable tactics by some negative online reviewers for several years now.

Then Public Citizen and the American Civil Liberties Union stepped in. Late in December they filed a 21-page petition calling the judges prior decision “censorship.” What followed was a quick decision by the Virginia Supreme Court to reverse the injunction against Perez.

All is not lost, the ruling only specifically addresses whether a judge can order a revision or censorship of online speech while a lawsuit is pending. The ruling says no, and the libel lawsuit is moving forward. A jury trial will decide if there are damages.

The Wealthy Dentist has advised dentists to not sue in these cases but instead use the money to initiate an aggressive Internet dental marketing campaign to counter the review. Immediately addressing the review in a calm manner can also help quickly counter what the reviewer has said.

Typically, the general public does not search past page two of online search results and this is where a dental practice’s online engagement can help bury a negative review. Facebook Pages, Twitter pages, YouTube videos, and Pinterest pages all show up high in search.

If a dental practice has taken the time to develop an Internet dental marketing plan for their online presence (using the dentist’s name and the dental practice name) they can fill the first page of Google with their own social media presence.

The Wealthy Dentist continues to argue that no business should have to deal with slanderous, vindictive online reviews and believe that eventually online review sites will have to find ways to deal with the libelous reviews, regardless of anti-SLAPP. Eventually a business owner will win big over a slanderous review and online review sites will be forced to set stricter review guidelines.  In the meantime, everyone is watching how the Dietz- Perez will play out.

What are your thoughts on this latest ruling in favor of keeping the review as it was written until the libel case is settled?

For more on this story see: VA Supreme Court: Judge Can’t Force Yelp User To Redact Review 

Internet Savvy Dental Patients Create Great Opportunities for Dentists

Internet Savvy Dental Patients Create Great Opportunities for DentistsIn this month’s edition of the Economic Journal features a study performed by U.C. Berkeley Professors Michael Anderson and Jeremy Magrude looking at the relationship between online ratings and customers’ purchasing decisions.

The professors studied the effects that positive online reviews had on 300 San Francisco restaurants on Yelp.com.

Their research found that restaurants with higher ratings, or that saw an improvement in a star rating were more likely to be busy at peak dining times. This would only stand to reason, but what they found interesting was that if a restaurant’s rating went up by even half of one star, the restaurant saw in improvement in patron visits.

One restaurant saw a review improvement cause their 7 p.m. reservations to sell out for more than a third of the evenings they were open for dinner.  Which meant that many restaurant customers used real-time local search data when deciding where they wanted to eat.

The study points to an ever-increasing fact that more people are using online review sites and the Internet to influence their decisions about where they will spend their money. And if they discover that the online restaurant review was relatable to their experience, then they are more likely to believe subsequent online reviews about other businesses as well, including their local dentist.

A recent German study asked 287 doctors about the Internet’s impact on their practice and their online-connected patients. 80% of the doctor respondents felt that dealing with Internet-informed patients increased their need to be better-informed, Internet savvy doctors as well.

Doctors see that younger patients who access the Internet as part of everything they do in their daily lives are much more involved in their healthcare choices and are generally better informed.

This growing demographic, known as “Generation Y” was born between 1978 and 2000 and places their age in the 12 – 34 range. Their passion for using technology as part of their every waking moment is only going to increase over time as technology advances make this easier and easier to do.

In the past, dental patients gathered all of their information about a local dentist from neighbors, co-workers and Yellow Pages advertisements. They often naturally accepted the idea that their dentist was the best dentist in town — without question.

Now, dental patients can research their local dentist online, explore different dental treatment options, and compare the average cost for those treatments with dentists across the U.S. They can also look up what people are saying about their dentist online — from complete strangers – not just their family and friends and relate that information to the experiences they’ve had with your dental practice.

And as much as some dentists want to resist Internet advances, it is better to accept this ever-increasingly, Internet-savvy next generation and jump into the fray by insuring that you are optimizing all the different social media channels and managing your reputation with online review sites.

I would argue that the main reason dental patients look to the Internet for information is because they are not certain about their decision and are looking for more reliable data. Your dental practice website, your social media presence (especially with Google + Local) and your management of your reputation with online review sites can be the place where they find the information and reassurance they are searching for online.

Don’t leave their decisions to random Internet search results. If patients can go online and find out about their dentist, their symptoms and the information they are searching for from your dental website and various social media channels, then you’ve already developed trust before they pick up the phone to make an appointment.

You’ve made their life easier and you’ve let them know that you are a dentist who is up to date on the latest dental treatments and you are reaching out to where they are hanging out to let them know that you are the best dentist in town.

Economists predict that the availability of healthcare information online will actually cause people to reach out and schedule more health maintenance appointments, which should actually increase the demand for healthcare providers such as dentists.

As this demand continues to grow, dentists should be prudent in their engagement with patients online, providing them with the information they are seeking and establishing that doctor-patient relationship before they ever step into your waiting room.

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