The ADA is asking the Federal Trade Commission to help protect dental practices from dishonest or misleading reviews on social media sites.
In a Jan. 5 letter to the agency regarding its Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on deceptive or unfair uses of reviews and endorsements, ADA President George R. Shepley, D.D.S., and Executive Director Raymond A. Cohlmia, D.D.S., called it a “critical step” towards ensuring that online reviews “are fair and honest.”
“We are particularly concerned about reviews by people who are not actually patients of the dental practice, or who are misrepresenting their experiences with the dental office,” Drs. Cohlmia and Shepley wrote. “A common problem that dental offices face with these deceptive or unfair reviews is that, unlike businesses that can respond specifically to negative reviews, dentists, as health care providers, may be constrained by federal and state privacy laws from disclosing patient information even if the review is deceptive or misleading and even if the reviewer discloses their patient information in the review.”
They shared data from a recent survey by the ADA Health Policy Institute that found that while 88% of surveyed dentists reported ever receiving patient reviews online, 39% said they were unable to respond due to HIPAA regulations.
“The constraints on responding to these reviews cause injury to the business, to competition, and to consumers,” Drs. Cohlmia and Shepley wrote. “Dishonest negative reviews are unfair to the dental practice, which could lose business to a competitor for false or misleading reasons. It can also be very upsetting to the dentist to see incorrect information about their hard work posted online for anyone to find.”
“These types of dishonest and misleading negative reviews can even affect the valuation of a practice that is currently in the process of being sold,” they continued. “Such reviews are also unfair to potential patients of the practice who may decide to go elsewhere (or delay care) due to the review.”
The ADA is urging the FTC to create an exception to enforcement and regulations under the FTC Act “that would permit health care providers, including dentists, to disclose patient information in response to a review without violating the prohibition against unreasonable and deceptive trade practices, provided the disclosure is limited to the scope of the topics addressed in the review.”
“This would help dental practices respond to reviews to the extent permitted by other federal and state law,” the ADA letter said.
The ADA is also urging the FTC to include in its rulemaking a requirement that the reviewer self-identify, as well as a requirement for the social media site to verify that identity because this could help the dentist to determine if the review is fraudulent. In the case of a legitimate review, it would also assist the dentist in responding to and addressing the patient’s concerns by reaching out to the patient either on social media or directly, as appropriate.
“These regulatory provisions would protect the dental practice from misleading and deceptive reviews, ensure fair competition between dental practices, help consumers to choose the right dental practice for them, and assist dentists in addressing the questions and concerns of their patients,” the ADA letter concluded.
Follow all of the ADA’s advocacy issues at ADA.org/Advocacy.