It doesn’t matter how excellent your physicians are or how many people find care and relief at your practice. At some point, you’re going to get a negative patient review on a site like Vitals, RateMDs, or Yelp, or alerted to public complaints on someone’s social media account. Maybe it’s because this particular patient likes to complain and was having a bad day. Maybe they had a legitimately bad experience. Or perhaps, it’s a small issue that can be easily fixed.
No matter the reason for the negative patient review, one thing is sure—it can be damaging for your business and your reputation. And in the medical world, we know that reputation is everything. This is troubling because most patients find new doctors through reviews and word-of-mouth. Referrals are falling by the wayside, which means your reputation, online and off, is more critical than ever.
If you do receive a bad review, don’t panic. There are many things you can do to minimize the damage and make things right. Follow these guidelines for responding to negative reviews and turn them into something that attracts new patients.
Respond when possible—but tread carefully.
When you see a negative review online, especially one you feel is unfair or inaccurate, it can be tempting to leave a response, explaining yourself and defending your honor. However, due to HIPAA and privacy laws, this isn’t always a legal recourse.
If you respond, you must do so in a way that doesn’t reveal any personal information about the patient, such as what medical services were performed, which can be tricky. In these cases, stick to general information that shows you’re listening and that you care. “I’m sorry you felt our staff was rude. Please contact us directly so we can learn more and make this right.” It might not feel like enough, but anyone who sees the negative review will also see your response and that you tried to make it right. That just might make all the difference.
Ask yourself some tough questions.
Given that over a good portion of people say bad reviews will affect their physician choices, a negative review or two can, unfortunately, be a big deal. Instead of stressing about the potential losses, think of them as a wake-up call to review and improve the patient experience. Ask yourself and your team the following questions:
- Was there a miscommunication?
- Is this an isolated complaint or one that’s part of a pattern?
- What could have prevented it?
- What changes, if any, should you make?
Request a private conversation.
Because of the restrictions you face as a physician, a public conversation is virtually impossible. In these cases, move the conversation offline. If you can identify the patient who left the bad review, contact them directly and ask them about their concerns. If you’re able to fix the problem or straighten out the issue, do so.
Suppose the patient refuses to speak privately or isn’t satisfied with your efforts; at least you know you’ve done all you can. In most cases, however, the effort you put in will be noted and appreciated, which means your negative review has a good chance of turning into a better one.
Don’t ask them to remove their review.
Asking or threatening a reviewer is not only a bad idea but can result in a fine to your practice or worse. Instead, focus on empathy and understanding while trying to resolve their complaint. Have a goal in mind of turning them from a negative experience into a delighted patient. Do that, and more often than not, they’ll not only remove the negative review on their own but replace it with a positive one.
Focus on the positive reviews and work to get more of them.
If you consistently engage with your patients, whether through social media, email, or face-to-face conversations, they’ll become more active on your social media pages and pay closer attention to what others have to say about your practice. You might see your most loyal patients defending you, which is always gratifying. Even better would be if they wrote positive reviews about your practice. That way, even if you get a few bad reviews, they’ll be outweighed by all the good ones.
As a physician, you can and should ask your patients to post reviews on various sites. Make it easy by including direct links in your emails and newsletters and posting your request on your social media pages. Remember, however, that it is illegal to provide anything of value in exchange for good reviews. The only thing you can offer is stellar service and the highest level of medical care—but you’re already doing that, aren’t you?
No matter how you feel about online reviews, one thing is clear—they’re here to stay. Instead of fearing them, ignoring them, or fighting them, look at them as an opportunity to learn more about your patients, connect with your community, and improve your services. Do these things, and you’ll be getting great reviews in no time!
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