Dealing with online comments

 John Makin explains how you can handle negative online comments.Basic RGB

An increasing number of patients are turning to websites such as NHS Choices to rate their dental experience. But when does patient feedback cross the line from constructive criticism to unpleasant abuse? This is a question that the Dental Defence Union (DDU) is being asked more and more.
NHS Choices provides a forum for patients and others to rate and comment on their experiences of NHS services in England, such as dental treatment and GP and hospital services. Patients, family members and friends are encouraged to share their experiences, but the terms and conditions of use warn that patient feedback comments are moderated and should be ‘constructive, truthful and not abusive’. They also state that patient complaints should be directed through the NHS complaints procedure. Users who fail to comply with the terms of use may be denied access to patient feedback or have their comments edited or removed.

Responding to comments
It is always disappointing to read negative comments, particularly when they can be seen by colleagues and other patients. Some practices have taken the step of replying positively to posts on the NHS Choices site – thanking patients for their comments, apologising if they are not happy with the service or treatment they have received; and encouraging them to get in touch to discuss any concerns so the practice can try to improve their services. This is in line with the NHS complaints procedure that emphasises that practices must be open and honest with complainants and learn lessons from complaints that can be used to further improve services. It’s important to remember your duty of confidentiality when replying to posts.
If you are concerned that a post on the NHS Choices site is ‘offensive or unsuitable’, you can report it to the site moderators using the link provided. NHS Choices does not promise to remove such comments but says it will investigate as soon as possible.

Managing abusive comments
Members often ask what can be done about abusive comments online. If posts are clearly untrue, abusive or obscene, it may be possible to ask the internet provider to remove them. However, in complaining about a post, you must avoid disclosing any information about the patient.
The GDC’s Standards for the Dental Team includes advice to dental professionals on publishing information in the media. Standard nine states: ‘You should not publish anything that could affect patients’ and the public’s confidence in you, or the dental profession, in any public media, unless this is done as part of raising a concern… In particular, you must not make personal, inaccurate or derogatory comments about patients or colleagues.’
It explains that public media includes: ‘Social networking sites, blogs, and other social media.’ There is always a risk that trying to have a post removed may further inflame the situation and may even prompt the person to re-post their comments on another site.
The understandable desire to have an unflattering or inaccurate post removed needs to be balanced against recognition that achieving this may not be the end of the matter and may itself attract unfavourable comment.

Private dentistry
While the website is specifically meant for patients to comment on NHS services, the DDU is aware of cases in which patients have also commented on private treatment provided by dental practices providing a mixture of both NHS and private services.
NHS Choices’ policy is to allow patients to comment on any practice listed on the website as providing NHS services, even if the treatment in question was provided privately as these comments may be relevant to patients thinking of joining that practice.


MDU_Logo_CoatedSpotMembers who would like specific advice about this subject, can contact the DDU’s advisory helpline on 0800 374626.

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