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11 Tips for Responding to Negative Patient Reviews Online

Posted by Teresa Iafolla, Jan 15, 2015

Did you just stumble upon a bad patient review online and are worried it's hurting your practice? Wondering how to respond to online patient reviews and improve your practice's reputation? Don’t worry, we’re here to help.

Even if you’re a stellar physician with a charming bedside manner, you’re going to get a few negative patient reviews. Not every patient will agree with your approach or jive with your personality. Plus, their feedback might have more to do with the amenities in your waiting room or the attitude of your front office staff. The good news is most patient complaints are about bedside manner and customer service, both areas that you can fix.

A negative review that seems unfair to you is still worth a response. Here are 11 tips on how to write a professional response to those tricky negative reviews.

  1. Take five before responding. It’s natural to respond emotionally when reading negative comments about yourself or your practice. Read the review, then walk away and let yourself react. Try talking to a friend if you’re feeling upset. Take at least a few minutes before you write back – or maybe even wait a day or two. The goal is to be calm and respectful in your reply, not to start an online shouting match.
  2. Consider the patient’s perspective. Some negative reviews may be less about you than a bad situation the patient was going through. Other comments might be valid complaints about your practice. Ask yourself these questions to put yourself in the patient’s shoes:
    • Why did this happen and why did the patient feel this way?
    • Is there anything I could have done to prevent these complaints?
    • Is there anything my staff could have done to prevent these complaints?
    • What can my practice do to prevent this from happening again?
    • Is this a common complaint, something I’ve heard multiple times?
    • Should I consider a change or improvement to my practice based on this comment?
  3. Don’t ask the patient to take their review down. Whether you ask politely, or threaten the reviewer with a $500 fine, it’s bad practice to ask the reviewer to take their comments down. Instead, focus on addressing their complaint and resolving any problems. If you’re lucky, the patient will appreciate your effort and consider changing or updating their review on their own.
  4. If the review is obviously fake, try contacting the review site. If the negative review in question is obviously fake, or not about you or your practice, contact the review site and provide your evidence. Review sites don't like fake reviews either.
  5. Protect patient confidentiality. Remember that even though you’re out on the web, you’re still interacting with a patient and need to abide by HIPAA. Avoid confirming that the person is a patient, and do not include any details about the patient’s health. Instead, say “If you are a patient, I apologize for….”
  6. Evaluate whether to respond publicly or privately. If the patient’s complaint was about your medical advice, you won’t be able to respond publicly without breaking confidentiality. However, comments about customer service, office decor, and wait times are all fair game. If the reviewer is extremely upset or needs help, consider sending a private message or asking him or her to call your office so you can work things out. Make it clear you only want to help, not start a fight offline.
  7. Don’t be defensive. A defensive response won’t do anyone good. Don’t argue with the reviewer or try to justify your side. Instead, acknowledge the reader’s trouble and show concern that they didn’t have a positive experience. Address legitimate complaints and correct any inaccurate information in a polite way by talking about your standard procedures.
    • Don’t say: “I’m not sure why you’re claiming our receptionist never called you back because I know for a fact she always calls patients back.”
    • Do say: “I’m sorry you were inconvenienced by our lab test policy. We don’t do lab tests in-office because we find this gives our patients more flexibility and helps keep our patient schedule running on-time.”
  8. Describe relevant changes or improvements. Have you made any changes at your practice that might address the reviewer’s complaint? Mention that you’ve added a few parking spaces if they weren’t happy about the tiny parking lot. Describe your new online scheduling system if they complained about long waiting times or trouble getting an appointment slot.
  9. Thank the reviewer. This is the number one thing to remember: Negative feedback can improve your practice. Although you might not be happy about receiving black marks, an online review site can be a good source of honest patient feedback. Don’t you want to know if your patients are dissatisfied? Thank the reviewer for taking the time to give their opinion and let them know they’re helping you improve your practice.
  10. Stay up-to-date with online review sites. If you check online review sites regularly, you’ll have the chance to respond to negative reviews in a timely manner. A quick reply will show you’re committed to online engagement and may even allow you to catch and resolve a patient’s problem. Take the opportunity to build your own profile on the major review sites, such as Healthgrades.com, Vitals.com and RateMDs.com, and start to reframe your practice’s online image.
  11. Ask more patients to post their opinions online. One negative online review isn’t going to damage your reputation. However, if your entire online presence is a few negative reviews, they could skew your practice image. Try asking more of your patients to write online reviews. Most online patient reviews are overwhelmingly positive. Chances are, the majority will give you great feedback and paint a more accurate picture of your care. Consider offering patients a small incentive or thank you for taking a few minutes to write online feedback.

Responding to negative patient reviews online can be tough, especially when patient privacy is in the balance. Just remember that patient feedback, whether negative or positive, is always a good way to gauge how you’re doing and get ideas on how to improve patient satisfaction. Your job isn’t done when you hit the reply button; you should always take any legitimate patient complaints and use them to rethink office policies and future improvements for your practice.

Other sources we like:
http://www.physicianspractice.com/articles/responding-to-negative-online-physician-reviews-five-considerations
http://www.forbes.com/sites/ericgoldman/2013/11/21/how-doctors-should-respond-to-negative-online-reviews/
http://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2014/08/physicians-respond-online-ratings.html
What are some ways that you've found to address negative feedback in your practice?

Topics: eVisit Blog Posts, doctor reviews, negative reviews, online brand, online reviews, patient feedback, practice marketing, reputation

Teresa Iafolla

About Teresa Iafolla

Teresa Iafolla is an expert writer, researcher, and content wrangler who has previously worked as director of content marketing for a telehealth company and associate editor for a healthcare publishing company.

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