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Guest post by SPM member @NickDawson, a former health system executive now focused on patient experience, staff happiness and healthcare innovation. He works for Frontier Health in Richmond, Virginia. 

There’s a moment where something changes direction, irreversibly, because of irresistible forces – like when you toss your keys in the air. There is a split second when they stop traveling up, and start falling back towards you. We’re seeing examples of that moment every day in healthcare. One example is that the traditional doctor patient relationship, like your keys in the air, is changing direction. This week, a very poignant example came from Minnesota:

Dr. David McKee’s defamation lawsuit was the beginning of a four-year legal battle that ended Wednesday when the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled the doctor had no legal claim against [a patient’s family member] because there was no proof that his comments were false or were capable of harming the doctor’s reputation.

Dennis Laurion’s father was ill and in the hospital. Frustrated by what Laurion perceived to be a poor experience, he tweeted his dissatisfaction about Dr. McKee. In the initial case, the trial court dismissed McKee’s defamation case saying:

[the online comments] were not defamation but rather an “emotional discussion of the issues.”

According to Dr. McKee:

“The financial costs are significant, but money is money and five years from now I won’t notice the money I spent on this,” he said. “It’s been the harm to my reputation through the repeated publicity and the stress.”

We all have two options for processing feedback: lean in or run away. Dr. McKee chose to run.

He could have simply said thank you. He could have read the online post with open eyes. Maybe it’s like any other medical intervention – try it and see what works. Instead, he became defensive and sued Laurion.

And here is where the moment occurs, where momentum shifts and things start heading in a different direction. As patients, we need to feel free to express our emotional state —satisfaction, dissatisfaction, wants, needs, fears, and hopes —with our community. Many times that community is online. And that doesn’t have to be a bad thing for doctors and other providers.

Clinicians have a golden opportunity. As patients take to the internet to post about their experiences, they are providing free feedback. They are focus groups, sharing (for better or worse) their experience with physicians. The trick is in the mental shift to seeing feedback, including the good, bad and ugly, as a gift.

According to the Star Tribune, McKee’s lawyer doesn’t see things this way:

”This decision gives individuals a license to make derogatory and disparaging statements about doctors, professionals and really anyone for that matter on the Internet without much recourse,” he said.

That’s not the point – it’s a license to give feedback, to talk about what works and what doesn’t, in the consumer’s view. Some don’t understand this, but some do and are embracing it. Those are the ones on the other side of the moment, the ones who have shifted direction. They understand that the trajectory has changed – the keys are falling – and they’ve begun working with the changing tide, not trying to hold it back.



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