Negative Online Physician Reviews ... Bring 'Em On!

April 28, 2011

A negative online review could be one of the best things that can happen to your practice.Maybe you were having a bad day, or maybe you had one too many emergencies to fit into your schedule. Regardless, someone has had the audacity to leave a nasty comment on the Internet. Maybe ... you deserved it.

What to do with negative online reviews and comments?

A negative comment online about you, your staff or the office ... stinks. It usually isn’t fair, certainly wasn’t deserved, and was probably a result of a complete misunderstanding. A disgruntled patient writing a negative comment online, short of a lawsuit, is just the worst ... or is it?

A negative online review could be one of the best things that can happen to your practice.
Maybe you were having a bad day, or maybe you had one too many emergencies to fit into your schedule. Regardless, someone has had the audacity to leave a nasty comment on the Internet. Maybe ... you deserved it.

In any case, what do you do now?

1. Do not erase the comment. If the comment was made on your website, leave it alone. Hopefully, this is but one of many comments and, once in a while, a negative comment proves you are human, and best of all, it shows your readers that you actually post all comments, not just the glowing ones. Erasing criticism, to me, shows a greater weakness. Take the opportunity to show some transparency.

2. Respond to the comment. Take a further step and answer the comment, but do it positively, even if the problem was caused by the patient. Take the opportunity to show your readers that you are willing to engage, communicate and that you care.

Complaint: “The waiting room was packed and I felt like I was cattle! That doctor just wants to make money!”

Positive Response: “Thank you very much for taking the time to alert us of your recent visit. While we do our best to respect your personal time by minimizing your waiting times, sometimes unexpected emergencies develop with our patients. We do respect your time and appreciate you as our patient. If there is anything we can do......”

3. Be Proactive, Start Writing ... Form a Tribe. If you haven’t already, start a website, or even better, start a blog. I started my blog about retinal diseases two years ago and have received and answered almost 1,000 comments/questions. By doing so, I have a reputation of being a doctor that is willing to have a dialogue and communicate. Any visitor to my website can read, and see, all my responses. I try to answer all my comments twice a week. This encourages more people to write or comment.

By engaging your patients and followers, you will develop a so-called “tribe.” Your tribe consists of your followers, or your patients, or your fans. Your tribe will support you.

A negative comment will likely initiate a response, not only from you, but from your “tribe” and in doing so, the negative comment gets neutralized and at the same time shows the rest of the world how many people like you, your practice and/or your staff.

If you aren’t ready for a blog, this would be a great time to start a Facebook page. Fans on Facebook love to leave comments!

4. Beware Anti-Review Contracts. There are companies that are trying to eliminate online patient reviews. The companies sell to doctors, a “contract” that either prohibits the patients from writing online reviews, or, allows the doctor to remove them from the respective website.
I’m not a lawyer (but my wife is) and I wouldn’t spend my time or money looking into this. Apparently, there is no legal merit (ask your lawyer friends about legalese called “consideration”) and more compelling, lawyers themselves do not buy these types of contracts.

5. Lawsuits. There are probably times, though hopefully rare, that a lawsuit is needed. There are probably times where life gets a little too serious between one competitor and another, that is, it is possible that your competition can post erroneous comments just to get a leg “up.”

Overall, it is much too easy to deal with negativity. Take negative comments and turn them into an opportunity to make you shine by showing that you engage, communicate and care.

Also, remember that we’re just talking about “negative” comments. Don’t forget the power of “positive” comments. More and more patients will be looking for the docs that get rave reviews about their care and service versus the guys that don’t even have a website and don’t bother to engage.

Learn more about Randall Wong and our other Practice Notes bloggers here.