medical care in the age of social mediapost by Stephanie Nelson

Back in July, a report came out of Lee County, Florida about eight families being dropped from a pediatric office’s care after family members made negative online posts about the office. According to NBC 2, one mom posted about a negative experience at Island Coast Pediatrics within a closed Facebook group called Supportive Moms of SWFL. Dozens of other moms commented on her post. About a week later, several of these moms received letters informing them that they were being dismissed as patients of the office, saying: “We find it necessary to inform you that Island Coast Pediatrics is withdrawing further medical care for your family… This decision is final and will not be discussed further or reversed under any circumstances.”

As a social media expert is quoted as saying in the NBC 2 report, ” Our online reputations now can make or break a business.” With the popularity of sites/apps such as Yelp, the prominence of Google reviews within Google searches, and Facebook reviews showing right on a business’ page, this is very true. A bad review here or there may not make a huge difference, but enough of them can sink a business. And while each outlet offers opportunities fight negative reviews, it takes time and resources to know each outlet’s rules…and to fight the reviews or respond, especially if you want to respond properly.

This practice didn’t break any laws in effectively banning these families from seeking medical care there. So how should one approach medical care in the age of social media?

  • Patients should not trust that online conversations are private, no matter what. Even if your account is locked down, your group is private, etc, screenshots can and will rat you out every time.
  • Medical practitioners should know and accept that not every patient is going to like every doctor in your practice, and social media is the new word-of-mouth. Outside of the potential reach, a Facebook post, tweet, Google/Yelp review or whatever is no different than our Grandmas telling their neighbors, sisters, brothers, church comrades and other people they knew about bad experiences 50 years ago. It happens. Is it really worth the bad press for denying someone – especially kids – treatment?
  • Everyone involved – patients and medical practitioners – should think before they post. My advice for years has been that if you don’t want your mama to hear it or read it, you shouldn’t post it. And think about what good will come of posting whatever it is; will it actually help or is it something that should be taken up offline and discussed via phone or face-to-face?

If I had been the social media consultant to the medical office in this particular case, my advice (based on what’s being reported) would have been to reach out to the moms in question and say “Hey. We’re getting reports that [whatever was said] has been posted online. Can we set up a time to chat about your experience?” In that meeting, it may come out that it was a one-time thing and that all other interactions with that doctor had been perfectly lovely; it may come out that this doctor and this patient/mom just don’t get along and that appointments shouldn’t be made with that doctor. But a whole kerfuffle could have been avoided.