It's never nice to get negative comments online, but reacting and responding in the wrong way might make a bad situation worse.

When was the last time you were influenced by comments or reviews left by others when buying a product or service online?

Dental services can also be the subject of online comments or ratings, and patients may choose to comment upon their dental experience after seeing you. Many DDU members are already familiar with receiving patient feedback through sites such as NHS choices, but patients are increasingly choosing to also use other online methods such as social media or online forums.

These methods make it possible for patients to criticise dental professionals, either openly or anonymously. Comments posted in this way are unlikely to be the subject of any alert system, unlike NHS choices, and therefore a dental professional may be entirely unaware of the comments, or only become aware after a significant period of time.

Personal and professional

A dental professional may become aware of a comment or rating if they happen to come across it personally, or if they are told about it by someone else. Considering it is widely accepted that users of a service are more likely to tell others when they are dissatisfied rather than satisfied, it is natural to be concerned about the nature of online comments.

If a patient has expressed a negative opinion, it is entirely understandable that you might feel hurt or upset personally, as well as professionally.

Keeping some perspective

It's not unusual for the dental professional, or the practice, to feel that a negative comment appearing on a site is unjustified, or doesn't reflect the level of service the practice strives to achieve. Reading a negative comment about the treatment or service you have provided to a patient can feel frustrating and rather personal, but it's worth trying to keep some perspective.

Rather than focusing on a review made by a single patient, try to put it into context of the website on which it appears. Think about how you use forums and how you view negative comments about services you use. Frequently, readers online understand that a negative review represents a purely off-the-cuff comment or opinion posted by one individual, rather than something more definitive. Remember, a single negative comment doesn't necessarily negate other, positive comments.

Responding to a comment

Because of the specific and individual nature of any patient review, we would recommend contacting us for assistance before taking any action.

In general terms, your options include:

  • responding to the comment
  • flagging the comment to the website and/or asking for the offending information to be removed
  • using the 'right to be forgotten online' to remove the page from search results.

Depending on where the post appears, there may be some value in responding constructively to a negative comment. If managed well this can often put an individual or the practice in a favourable light, particularly if your response contains an apology for the dissatisfaction felt and a helpful way forward to resolve any concerns.

If you do post a response, be aware this could make the original comment and your reply more prominent on the site, so make sure it reads entirely professionally.

A single negative comment doesn't necessarily negate other, positive comments.

Complaints and confidentiality

When drafting a reply it is essential you maintain your duty of confidentiality to the patient. This may limit the content of the response, so it can help to explain that this duty may prevent you from responding in detail, and to invite the patient to contact the practice directly.

The GDC's Standards for the Dental Team says that, 'You must respect a patient's right to complain,' and cautions against reacting defensively. It goes on to say that, 'You should listen carefully to patients who complain and involve them fully in the complaints process. You should find out what outcome patients want from their complaint.'

As detailed within its guidance on using social media, the GDC expects a dental professional to be aware of the reputation of the profession when communicating in any public media; 'As a dental professional you have a responsibility to behave professionally and responsibly both online and offline…Your professional responsibilities, such as patient confidentiality and professional courtesy, are still fundamental when you use social media'.

The DDU can help with responding appropriately to any negative online comment to make sure you comply with the GDC's expected standards of conduct. This includes reviewing the content of a response to check it is entirely appropriate before being posted.

Response or removal?

If you think the content of a review was inaccurate or in some way offensive, you may want to highlight your concerns to the website's moderators with a view to having the comments removed. Although possible, this could risk inflaming the situation and prompt the user to re-direct their comments to other websites or forums, or even to explore an alternative complaint avenue.

The 'right to be forgotten online' judgement applies to EU countries and enables a request to be made to prevent a webpage page being accessed from search engine results. Even if successful, this is not without risk as it may itself attract attention. It also doesn't mean the webpage is removed from the internet and so may not be the end of the matter.

If you're concerned about the content of a less than favourable online review, as a DDU member you can contact our press office for assistance. The team can provide advice on the best ways of dealing with online comments or respond on a members' behalf if things escalate and other media get involved.

This page was correct at publication on 19/06/2017. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.