- Patients turning to social media to comment on dental services.
- Comments can be made about private treatment on NHS Choices if dental practice also provides NHS services.
- Members advised to respond positively to criticism.
NHS Choices provides a forum for patients and others to rate and comment on their experiences of NHS services in England, such as dental treatment and GP and hospital services.
Comments on private dentistry
While the website is specifically meant for patients to comment on NHS services, the DDU is aware of cases in which patients have also commented on private treatment provided by dental practices providing a mixture of both NHS and private services.
NHS choices has explained to us that it is its policy to allow patients to comment on any practice listed on the website as providing NHS services, even if the treatment in question was provided privately. It explains that these comments may be relevant to patients thinking of joining that practice.
Responding to patient comments
Of course, it is always disappointing to read negative comments, particularly when they can be seen by colleagues and other patients.
Some practices have taken the step of replying positively to posts on the NHS Choices site - thanking patients for their comments; apologising if they are not happy with the service or treatment they have received; and encouraging them to get in touch to discuss any concerns so the practice can try to improve their services. This is in line with the NHS complaints procedure which emphasises that practices must be open and honest with complainants and learn lessons from complaints which can be used to further improve services. It's important to remember your duty of confidentiality when replying to posts.
If you are concerned that a post on the NHS Choices site is 'offensive or unsuitable', you can report it to the site moderators using the link provided. NHS Choices does not promise to remove such comments but says it will investigate as soon as possible.
Managing abusive comments
Members have also asked us what can be done about abusive comments online. If posts are clearly untrue, abusive or obscene, it may be possible to ask the internet provider to remove them. However, in complaining about a post, you must avoid disclosing any information about the patient.
The GDC's Standards for the Dental Team includes advice to dental professionals on publishing information in the media. Standard 9 states: 'You should not publish anything that could affect patients' and the public's confidence in you, or the dental profession, in any public media, unless this is done as part of raising a concern.... In particular, you must not make personal, inaccurate or derogatory comments about patients or colleagues.'
It explains that public media includes: 'social networking sites, blogs, and other social media.'
There is always a risk that trying to have a post removed may further inflame the situation and may even prompt the person to re-post their comments on another site. The understandable desire to have an unflattering or inaccurate post removed needs to be balanced against recognition that achieving this may not be the end of the matter and may itself attract unfavourable comment.
Members who would like specific advice about this subject, can contact the DDU's advisory helpline on 0800 374626.
This guidance was correct at publication 20/06/2014. It is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.