■ Safety of care:

Improving patient safety and reducing risks

Online physician reviews: How to manage your virtual presence

Person using tablet to provide satisfaction rating

5 minutes

Published: April 2019 /
Revised: March 2024

The information in this article was correct at the time of publishing

If you are a practising physician in Canada, there is a good chance that reviews about you and your practice appear on rating websites and social media. Comments posted online can range from glowing accolades to mean-spirited attacks. They may also express frustration on issues such as wait times, and offer suggestions for improvement.

Like all social media, online reviews are generated by individual users and may often be anonymous. Reading unfounded criticisms of your practice or hurtful remarks about you is understandably upsetting. It can also be frustrating when there is no meaningful way to respond.

Reflecting on negative comments

You may consider periodically monitoring what is being said about you online and, if needed, address false or misleading information. While it is generally not possible for you or others to remove existing user comments, there are a few other steps you can take to help manage your virtual presence.

  • You may be able to correct your profile information. On some platforms, you may be able to gain some control of your online presence by “claiming” your profile. If your existing profile contains factually incorrect information you may choose to edit or add information about yourself and your practice.
  • You can take limited actions to correct or remove objectionable comments. If you disagree with a user’s review and think it should be removed, you may alert the ratings website company of your concern. For example, RateMDs allows you to “flag” a user review, which prompts the company to re-review the objectionable comment. This process is aimed at addressing fake or potentially libelous comments. However, if re-approved, the objectionable comment will remain online.
  • You may request the website company to remove defamatory comments. While such a request may be successful, it does not necessarily compel the website company to remove the objectionable content. As a CMPA member, you may contact CMPA to assist you in preparing such a request. However, in keeping with its approach to defamation matters, CMPA will not generally assist members with initiating a civil legal action alleging defamation against a ratings website company or an individual who has posted comments online. Alternatively, you may consider contacting your own legal counsel for advice. (Limitation periods in defamation actions may be very short; the duration may depend on the jurisdiction and the characteristics of the website in question.)
  • Avoid responding publicly to online comments, and especially if reacting out of frustration or anger. Posting a poorly considered response might only escalate a situation unnecessarily or create medico-legal issues, such as if you breach doctor-patient confidentiality. If you feel it necessary to respond publicly to repeated critical comments, keep the response general in nature. For example, multiple negative comments about wait times could be mitigated by you replying with general information about system-level efforts to reduce wait times.
  • Refrain from speculating about who might have posted comments. While the source of an online review may be apparent, you should never assume a specific patient wrote a particular comment. Accusing a patient of posting comments could lead to other difficulties in the doctor-patient relationship. You should be absolutely sure that a specific patient posted the comment before speaking to the patient and attempting to alleviate the patient’s concerns.

Reflecting on your practice

While a single critical review might reflect an isolated incident, or stem from unrealistic expectations or a misunderstanding, multiple critical reviews may reveal an area genuinely in need of improvement. Consider looking for such patterns and assessing whether there is an issue in your practice that warrants closer attention.

  • Foster a positive patient experience. Many online complaints relate to medical office issues such as wait times, staff friendliness and interaction with patients, continuity of care, and so on. It may be beneficial to review complaints with a goal of improving the patient experience.
  • Encourage an open dialogue with patients. Ideally, patients should feel comfortable discussing their concerns directly with you or your staff. Fostering an environment of honest and open communications can improve patient satisfaction and reduce the potential for negative online reviews.
  • Develop formal mechanisms to obtain patient feedback. Formal feedback or complaint mechanisms can be an effective way for you to hear from patients who may not feel comfortable discussing such issues in person. Patient satisfaction surveys can help you identify areas for improvement in your practice, but it’s also important to make reasonable efforts to act on relevant suggestions.
  • Do not try to restrict the rights of your patients to speak online. You should not ask patients to provide positive reviews or to sign agreements that they will not write negative reviews. Any attempt at restricting the rights of patients to speak is generally counterproductive to fostering a trusting doctor-patient relationship, and may not be enforceable.

Physicians who have concerns or questions about online physician reviews may contact CMPA and speak with one of our physician advisors.

Additional reading

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this learning material is for general educational purposes only and is not intended to provide specific professional medical or legal advice, nor to constitute a "standard of care" for Canadian healthcare professionals. The use of CMPA learning resources is subject to the foregoing as well as the CMPA's Terms of Use.