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How To Handle Negative Patient Reviews

It’s not surprising to hear that some doctors get angry about patients leaving negative reviews online.

A great online reputation and practice success can seemingly hinge on a few ill words posted on Yelp.

Doctors may ask themselves, since when did a review site become an expert on how to run a private practice?

They’d be right but there are reasons why even negative reviews can be helpful.

Here’s how to deal with them.

Being Online is Great (Or, Is It?)

Being online is a great thing for a doctor’s office.

Patients can easily find you in a local Google search, get directions to your office, check hours and days that you’re open, read some FAQ’s you’ve posted on your website, and log in to online portals to send a message to their primary physician and check their medical history.

The downside to being online is that you’re opening yourself up to negative reviews that may whether or not a potential patient decides to visit you.

Many reviews can be positive. You’re in the business of helping people and when you solve a problem for them they’re likely to be grateful.

A Learning Opportunity

Despite their sting, negative reviews offer a learning opportunity.

If a patient doesn’t have kind words for how they were treated, your staff may not be following your office protocol.

Patients can also point out things that you may have overlooked such as parking issues, confusing billing practices, medication instructions weren’t clear enough, magazines in the waiting room are two years old, etc.

Even if the complaint seems silly to you, if it’s a simple fix (like getting new magazines) it could make a difference in the patient’s experience and perception.

How to Respond

If you’re able to respond to a negative review, it’s best to reach out to the person directly and keep the details private.

Some reviews are anonymous so responding directly may not be an option.

A simple public response example would be, “We’re sorry to hear about your experience, we’ve sent you email to see if there’s anything that we can do to resolve this issue.”

Explain Your Policies

If you see a complaint that is related to a policy that you’ve clearly stated in your communications, you can leave a polite response that acknowledges that.

For example, when a patient complains about being billed for a missed appointment you respond with a link to the policy page on your website, explain that you include this policy in your appointment confirmations (phone messages, emails, text), and find a way to remind them in the nicest way possible that missed appointments delay other patients.

Fake Reviews

Negative reviews that are fake are the spam of the review realm. Don’t engage these if you know for a fact that they’re fake. Instead try to get them removed by contacting the review site. Fake reviews don’t do any good for you or the review site.

Own Up to It

When you’re wrong, you’re wrong.

If a patient leaves a negative review and they’re right, own up to it. A sincere public apology that doesn’t make excuses and speaks to you making a change to make sure that it doesn’t happen again can win over more people than simply ignoring it.

Opinions vs Facts

Ultimately when you’re responding to reviews you don’t want to get into an online shouting match and you certainly don’t want to sue over negative reviews.

People are opinionated but they’re not always factual so if you can suspend your emotions while reading a review, you’ll be in much better shape.

Be as kind and empathetic as possible when writing a response.

And have faith in your loyal patients. They’ll be able to see right through a negative review that is rude, grossly inaccurate, or one that resorts to name calling. They may even come to your defense without you even saying a word.

Garrett Smith

Garrett is the Founder, and Chief Marketer at InboundMD. Garrett has been successfully leading internet marketing campaigns for health care practices across the US for almost a decade. He's a frequent speaker at events, and author of "Book Now! Internet Marketing for Healthcare Practices", and the host of The Practice Marketing Podcast that details how successful practices are winning online.

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