When was the last time you wrote an online review? Was it for a restaurant, a salon, a hardware store, etc.? Was your review positive or negative? Whatever your answer, consider the fact that your practice or place of employment could be added to the laundry list of businesses that are reviewed online by customers every day. Some of your patients will have pleasant experiences, others may leave your office a bit disgruntled.

With your reputation on the line, you may feel the urge to defend yourself, your staff and your practice. But before you do anything rash or unbecoming of a family physician, take a deep breath and review these seven ways you can respond to negative patient reviews.

Responding to patient reviews

Sites like Healthgrades, Vitals, RateMDs, ZocDoc, even Yelp give patients a safe outlet to express their feelings about a particular doctor or practice, and help others make an informed decision about where they should seek quality medical services.

When a patient visits your office or has any sort of interaction with your staff prior to their visit (via phone, email or in-person), here’s what they’ll be looking for:

  • Was it easy to schedule an appointment?
  • Were staff members friendly and professional?
  • Was the office clean and welcoming?
  • How long was your wait time?
  • Was the physician paying more attention to a screen or to you?
  • Did your appointment feel rushed?
  • Would you recommend this physician to friends and family?

These are just a few factors worthy of receiving an online review. And in the unfortunate event that you do receive a negative review, here’s how you should handle the situation:

  1. Stay calm: If you go on the defensive and let your anger do the talking, you’ll appear irrational and further legitimize whatever claim is being made in the review. Having a thick skin will help you avoid damaging confrontations.
  2. Ignore them: In some cases, it may be best to simply ignore negative comments, especially those from anonymous Internet trolls or from reviewers posting irrelevant information about your services.
  3. Be professional: However, if you do choose to respond, it may be appropriate to post a response that is short and sweet. Speak in general terms (never disclose information about the patient if you know who they are) and be polite. But be careful about posting an apology. If you are being accused of malpractice, an apology may look like an admittance of guilt or wrongdoing.
  4. Remember HIPAA:  In relation to #3, as a medical professional, you cannot disclose any private patient information, even if you think it will help refute the negative review. If the patient includes medical information in the review, you do not have permission to elaborate on said information in your response. To avoid violating HIPAA, you want to end the conversation or see about having the response removed.
  5. Read state medical board guidelines: Inappropriately contacting a patient could raise a few flags with your medical board. Whether it’s through a private email or a public tweet, certain actions could trigger an investigation. Remember, anything you post online could threaten your medical license.
  6. Prove that you’re listening: Review sites and social network comment sections are the perfect place to receive honest insights and feedback from your clientele. The best response to unfavorable reviews is a commitment to improving your practice. Demonstrate how you’ll improve certain aspects to better accommodate patients and increase patient satisfaction.
  7. Encourage positive reviews: Most people only write reviews when something goes wrong. To balance out the negativity and to boost your practice’s image, kindly encourage satisfied patients to post their own reviews. This can be done through an automated email reminder or a flyer at the front desk. You may also want to consider adding a review section to your website so patients can find the best, most accurate information about you online.


How reviews can help your practice

Not all reviews are bad. Positive responses can help your practice’s profitability. Make sure those are front and center on your website. In addition, a strong social media presence can benefit your practice as another form of promotion and advertising – all at no cost. By building a vibrant and supportive online community, you can help keep patients engaged and potentially improve patient retention.


Tell us: What advice do you have for responding to negative online patient reviews?

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