Just my two cents

Musings on social media and the world as I see it

Patient complaints: To delete or not to delete, that is the question

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When we decided to add social media to our arsenal of healthcare marketing tools, we knew there was an inherent risk in doing so. We understood the potential of negative comments appearing on a Facebook wall, or a disgruntled patient tweeting about how many hours they’ve spent in our busy emergency department. But when it actually happens, it’s unsettling nonetheless.

In my own experience, we sailed along happily on our hospital Facebook pages for quite a while until one day we found a post that identified a doctor by name, and not in a flattering way. Thus began a series of many meetings and discussions and ultimately, the development of a protocol to address such negative postings.

As the hospital’s representative in the social media world, I understand that we need to expect these posts, and part of me feels that deleting a post is simply censorship. Deleting a post goes against the grain of social media, where people expect to have their say and be heard. Another part of me, however, understands that a doctor’s reputation is being called into question by one unhappy patient. And that is exactly why you need a policy for what is acceptable and what is not. But just having a policy isn’t everything. Let me explain.

Our policy contains some very straightforward information that nearly anyone can understand, followed by the more formal, legal jargon. Included is a section that indicates a user should not post anything that is “abusive, harassing, embarrassing, tortuous, defamatory, obscene, libelous,” etc. Seems clear, right? Well, we learned those words are very subjective. In my opinion, the post was none of those. In the doctor’s opinion, however, it was, and the doctor also questioned whether there was a legal avenue to investigate if the comment remained online.

So, what did I do? I listened to our department’s leader, of course, but I also listened to the doctor. Was it right that her name was being smeared on a public social site? Of course not, but the same could be done by a patient writing on a personal blog, writing on his or her own Facebook page, or going to the news with a sexy story about how he or she did not get the care that she felt was required.

In any case, it opened our eyes to the subjective nature of the policy, and it also led to a protocol being developed so that in the future, if a member of the hospital staff is identified by name in a way that COULD be considered as “abusive, defamatory, embarrassing…”, then the post would be removed and the user would be notified that the post was deleted because it went against the policy. The protocol, however, does allow for negative posts about the hospital in general or a particular department to remain online.

It was an interesting experience, and one that happened again just a few weeks later on another of our Facebook pages. This time it was a lot easier to recognize that it wasn’t censorship, but protecting the reputation of an individual physician. And I am quite happy that if I were on vacation, any member of the team who was covering for me would know exactly how to handle negative postings because of the protocol we developed.

But I’d be very interested to hear what other hospitals are doing. So what say you: To delete or not to delete? Do you agree with our approach?

(Written for and originally posted on www.hospitalimpact.org)

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Author: Nancy Jean

I love reading, writing, music, the beach, and being a mom to two rescue dogs. My job is social media for health care.

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