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How to: Deal with Negative Online Reviews


Online reviews are being utilized by patients more than ever before, both to provide and receive feedback about physician experiences.

Online review sites are becoming increasingly popular platforms for patients to provide feedback about their experiences at a physician’s office. Moreover, this input is influencing the choices prospective patients make about their care. A recent survey showed that nearly half of respondents would go out-of-network to receive care by a doctor who had more favorable online reviews.

Clearly, reviews matter. Here are the best practices for dealing with negative online reviews.

Don’t delete, respond instead.

Being in business today, even healthcare, leaves you exposed and vulnerable to public criticism. When that first negative review pops up, you might be tempted to delete it and move on. But experts say that would be a bad move.

“No one is perfect; even the best caregivers have a less than stellar review,” said Hilary Hamblin, CEO and advertising and marketing consultant at Momentum Consulting in Saltilo, Miss. “Don’t delete unless the review uses offensive language or is spam.”

Instead, address the reviewer’s concerns with professionalism and kindness. Thomas McClintock, COO of NSI Partners, a Colorado Springs-based consulting company specializing in online marketing and business strategy development, says to avoid going on the defensive.  

“Resist the temptation to be defensive, even in outrageous cases, like when the physician has never treated the patient,” he said. “Most people reading the exchange will be reasonable, especially if you are gracious.”

Move the conversation offline.

It’s best to move the conversation offline as soon as possible, before HIPAA-protected information is unwittingly exposed. “If you can identify a reviewer, reach out to them by phone,” said McClintock. Express your appreciation that they took the time to leave a review, even if it was negative.

If you can’t definitively identify the person who left the negative review, leave a comment on the review, encouraging them to contact the office. “You could say, ‘We’re sorry you had a bad experience with us. We'd like to hear more about it so we can improve our level of care and make things right. Would you call [specific person] at [direct line]?’” said Hamblin.

This way, you’ve acknowledged the complaint publicly and others can see that you’re trying to rectify the issue.

Ask for reviews.

Asking patients to leave an online review can be helpful in combatting any existing negative ones. The further down the list that a negative review goes, the less likely it will be seen by readers.

“Do not incent patients to write positive reviews, because it’s a violation of the Terms of Service on Google and other [review] sites,” said McClintock. “Instead, hand out sheets with easy directions for each review site.”

Besides handouts, post reminders around the office and on social media accounts too. Use every opportunity you can to encourage patient participation, and let them know how much you value their honest input.

Track reviews with alerts.

Reviews can only be addressed if you have a way to monitor and track them. “Physicians should absolutely track online reviews,” said Hamblin. For her clients, she sets up Google alerts so that notifications are received each time the physician or practice is mentioned online. The alerts allow physicians to respond to negative reviews quickly.

“We set up alerts for mentions of the business name as well as names of the physicians and other key employees,” said Hamblin. “Claiming your listing on the major sites like Google and Yelp allows you to receive updates when someone reviews you also.”

Don’t let the feedback go to waste.

While it may seem like a lot of work to track and respond to online reviews, it’s really time well-spent. Not only are you showing your patients that you truly care about their experiences, you’re also sitting on a goldmine of suggestions. “Use the feedback to improve your practice,” said McClintock. “It’s like a free focus group…a source of good ideas.”

Steph Weber is a freelance writer hailing from the Midwest. She writes about healthcare, finance, and small business, but finds her passion for the medical field growing in sync with the ever-changing healthcare laws.

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