Legal Advice: Employed Physicians Dealing with Negative Patient Reviews

To:       Georgia Academy Members

From:  GAFP Congress of Delegates Speaker, Carl McCurdy, MD

Congress of Delegates Vice Speaker, Samuel Le Church, MD

As a follow up to one of our Congress of Delegates resolutions passed last year, we are providing education on how to deal with negative patient reviews and dealing with an employer.  The Georgia Academy thanks partner Southern Health Lawyers, for the development of this article.  Rich Sanders is an attorney in Atlanta representing family physicians throughout Georgia. He can be reached at (404) 806-5575 or

Limiting the Effect of Negative Patient Reviews on Employed Physicians

In accordance with patient-centered healthcare, patient satisfaction metrics not only affect physician reimbursement levels, but are also a growing component of physician compensation formulas. Further, an employer may use a physician’s low patient satisfaction metrics to initiate adverse actions. Utilization of patient satisfaction metrics raises several concerns. Specifically, patient satisfaction metrics measures are based on patients’ expectations of care as opposed to objective measures of experience. Patient perceptions also may not be correlated with technical quality. Additionally, there may be selection and recall bias in the responses of those patients with very positive or negative experiences that inadvertently skew patient satisfaction metrics. Because patient satisfaction metrics may not accurately quantify a family physician’s skill, technical ability, or clinical outcomes, GAFP requested that we draft the following language that may be incorporated into Academy members’ employment agreements / employee handbooks:

Employer may not take adverse action(s), including reflective penalties, against an Employee that receives negative patient surveys, patient satisfaction benchmarks or online reviews, in the absence of formal procedures comporting within the minimum common law requirements of procedural due process. Employer shall notify an Employee, in writing, of its proposed adverse action(s) within five (5) business days of its decision. Employee notification must include information detailing the proposed adverse action(s), basis for the proposed adverse action(s), and formal procedures available to Employee to appeal the proposed adverse action(s). Formal procedures available to an Employee shall include but are not limited to: (i) review documentation Employer considered prior to proposing the adverse action(s), (ii) request an informal in-person meeting with Employer to appeal and negotiate the matter in good faith, (iii) petition the Employer to correct erroneous information submitted by the Employee or a third-party, and (iv) provide a written explanation, including supporting documentation, to Employer challenging the basis of the proposed adverse action(s). All formal procedures available to an Employee to appeal the proposed adverse action(s) must be received by the Employer within thirty (30) days of the notification.

While this sample language may be modified to fit a particular proposed employment agreement for family physicians, we also recommend that Academy members review their current agreements to determine if similar language is already included. If not, it may be appropriate to look for an opportunity to add it in the future.