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Turning a negative online review into a positive experience

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June Messenger 2024 | Posted June 13, 2024
Read time: 2 minutes

Introducing Professional Conduct Corner

By Dr. Gordon Giddings, CPSA Assistant Registrar

Most regulated members in Alberta are dedicated to providing high-quality patient care. But an important part of profession-led regulation is holding each other accountable. Most physicians will receive a complaint at some point in their careers and while this can understandably bring about anxiety, it can also be a learning opportunity. The complaints process does not have to be a scary experience, but rather an opportunity to improve the care you provide for the next patient.

As CPSA’s Complaints Director and Assistant Registrar of Professional Conduct, I am pleased to introduce our new series in The Messenger, Professional Conduct Corner. This quarterly article will be written by members of our team who have regular interactions with the complaints we receive and will focus on issues that often come up in complaints and the investigation process. We hope that by sharing this information, we can mitigate some of the concerns we often see brought forward by complainants, and physicians and physician assistants can learn more about the complaints process.

Negative online reviews

For our first column, I’d like to talk about managing negative reviews online. There are many websites (such as Google Reviews, RateMyMD and Facebook) that patients can use to share, rate and sometimes complain about their experiences with their physicians. These statements and reviews are often publicly available and readily accessible to anyone with an internet connection.

Even the very best practices and intentions can suffer from negative reviews from a patient, and I can understand the desire to respond. But first and foremost, a patient’s privacy must be respected, which is why I would not recommend engaging online and responding publicly. Concerns and complaints brought forward online should be resolved by contacting the patient directly, not online or through social media. Responding directly to an online post in a public forum puts you at risk of disclosing protected health information. Your response may not contain any identifying statements, but even acknowledging an existing physician-patient relationship can be grounds for a complaint.

Opportunity for improvement

Instead, try to look at negative reviews as an opportunity for self-assessment. If you are certain it is your patient who posted the review and are comfortable doing so, consider contacting the patient directly to advise that you take patient privacy and confidentiality seriously and so are unable to respond publicly but are happy to move the discussion offline. Suggest connecting by phone or invite them to come in for a sit-down conversation to discuss the concerns they shared online and hear about their experience with an open mind.

If the discussion is positive and you reach a resolution to the patient’s concerns, the patient may take down their initial posting, or add another review letting readers know that their concern has been addressed.

Support if you need it

We understand the detrimental impacts of negative reviews cannot be overstated—the effects on clinician wellbeing are well recognised. Beyond drawing on individual social supports, professional peer supports and treating health practitioners, there are also various resources (such as the Alberta Medical Association’s Physician and Family Support Program and advice from the Canadian Medical Protective Association) that may be of significant benefit.

Questions about CPSA’s complaints process? Visit our website or email

*This article was updated on June 26, 2024.

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