'Negative ratings are an opportunity,' Swiss Medical Association eHealth lead says

An interview with Dr Reinhold Sojer, head of the digitalisation/eHealth department at the Swiss Medical Association.
By Anna Engberg
06:56 AM

Social platforms are making online ratings popular in many industries. For doctors, these are also on the rise, and professional handling of them is in demand. At the Swiss eHealth Summit 2019, Dr Reinhold Sojer will present the most important communication guidelines in a workshop organised by the Swiss Medical Association.

HITN: Only 2% of Swiss people rate their doctor's visit online so far. Why are online ratings still relevant from your point of view?

Sojer: The Swiss Medical Association came to this conclusion by asking an additional question within the framework of the Swiss eHealth Barometer. We asked the Swiss about their use of doctor evaluation portals. Although only 2% stated that they had evaluated their doctor online within the last year and three quarters found that online evaluations were not decisive when choosing a doctor, we still consider this to be a strong statement.

Doctor rating is currently still at the beginning, but we see the trend strongly in other areas such as the tourism industry, where entire social media networks are being set up and all stakeholders are being involved. A pioneer, for example, is Tripadvisor as an exchange medium for hotel operators and hotel guests. The same will happen in the healthcare sector.

HITN: Why should doctors today in particular focus on the topic of online rating?

Sojer: In the medical field, online evaluations of treatment services are still extremely difficult. The question is what exactly is evaluated. In Switzerland, we currently have several platforms such as Medicosearch, okdoc and Comparis, which offer evaluation options now or in the near future. We also see that patients doctors evaluate via Google. Although this is a slow development, we have to react. Negative ratings can especially have a strong emotional and even economic impact on doctors.

HITN: What tools would you like to give participants at the workshop organised during the Swiss eHealth Summit?

Sojer: In the workshop, we will develop communication guidelines and provide doctors with tools for dealing with online evaluations so that they are able to create their own guidelines. First, we analyse the spectrum from neutral and positive patient feedback to negative-objective and negative-injurious assessments using case studies and develop standardised responses together.

In principle, we advise physicians to remain friendly and not to react personally to negative ratings. You should give the patients the opportunity for a personal conversation and show them how the problem can be solved.

A standard process that can be developed clarifies, among other things, who is responsible for the reaction to online ratings, what significance the rating and the rating medium have, what an appropriate response time looks like and whether the rating is acceptable. The physician must also consider where and in what form he wants to reach, such as on the same platform, by email or via personal exchange.

HITN: What is the core message of your workshop?

Sojer: It is important to us that doctors today perceive online evaluations as an opportunity. A negatively perceived situation of a patient can be transformed into a positive experience if the doctor's office reacts appropriately. The goal should always be to maintain the doctor-patient relationship. Patients are not always able to assess medical information well and understand the doctor's way of assessment. This happens, for example, when certain therapy options are not offered and the patient does not know the background of sensitive cost consultations. Other sensitive fields are inability to work or the assessment of fitness to drive, where patients can react very emotionally.

HITN: Not every negative assessment is objective and constructive...

Sojer: Yes. We will therefore also clarify the legal situation within the framework of the workshop. Compared to other industries, doctors cannot defend themselves easily because they are subject to professional secrecy. That's why we also look at Swiss case law in connection with unjustified or violating online ratings. There is a legal lever in this country with regard to personal injury, so that doctors have the possibility of deleting entries on Swiss online rating portals.

This is more problematic abroad and with Google as an international corporation. That's why we also show doctors what they can do on their own: such as through Google Alerts, in order to be able to see what is written about them at all and to be prepared if an unjustified assessment is made.

HITN: As a guest you have invited a representative of Google Switzerland and a doctor concerned. What is the plan?

Sojer: In February 2019, we contacted Google with a view to evaluating doctors. One of the triggers was the case of a doctor who was published in the Swiss medical journal. He felt treated unfairly and did not know how to defend himself. Experience shows that contacting Google initially leads to long waiting times.

For this reason, we at the Swiss Medical Association talked to those responsible at Google Switzerland in principle about possible procedures for doctors, such as deleting entries in Google MyBusiness and reporting inappropriate content and illegal ratings. The results of these discussions will be presented in the workshop.

HITN: At the Swiss eHealth Summit 2019, you will moderate not only the workshop on the Community Day, but also the "Health & Care" session the following day. Can you give our readers a preview of this?

Sojer: The idea of the block session on the actual conference day is to look at digitisation in healthcare from an interprofessional perspective. The Swiss Medical Association is involved with other professional associations in a working group on the EPD [Swiss version of EHRs]. There we are developing exchange formats based on an interdisciplinary perspective in order to strengthen semantic interoperability and thus the usable data for all medical professional groups.

HITN: Thank you very much for the interview, Dr. Sojer.

Further information can be found here. Anna Engberg is a Wiesbaden-based freelance journalist specialising in health and technology. Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS media publication. 

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