What Should a Doctor Do When They Get a Poor Online Review?
Bad physician reviews happen, even to the best of doctors. Someone on the office staff may have a bad day, miscommunications are real and people are human. When patients have a bad experience, they often use sites like Vitals, RateMDs or Yelp to vent (which is one of the reasons we recommend patient satisfaction surveys. It gives patients the opportunity to be heard before broadcasting online). Unfortunately, these venting reviews can do some significant harm to a practice (see how much doctor reviews affect your bottom line).
So what do you do when you inevitably receive a negative review?
1. Don’t panic, don’t fight back. One of the first instincts is to challenge the reviewer. Trust us, this is not a direction you want to go. Confrontation only makes you look bad and has the potential to escalate the situation. While the review may be unfair, there are other ways to deal with it that wind up placing you in a better light.
2. Act reasonably quickly. While you don’t have to respond the minute there’s a bad review, you don’t want to let it linger either. Responding in a timely manner shows that you’re actively listening to your patients, which can go a long way. If a future patient is looking at your reviews online and sees that there was a response to a complaint within a day, it indicates that you care and that’s highly important to patients. Think of it as an online bedside manner. Now, because we know that healthcare professionals are very busy and do not usually have the time to actively monitor online review sites, we have also put together 5Star-MD as a free service in order to create one place for physicians to monitor their online presence and receive text/SMS or email updates when new reviews come up. This will help you manage your online bedside manner.
3. Dispute the review if it is not legitimate. This step will vary from review site to review site. Some sites have relatively simple processes for disputing reviews while others are very complicated. In most cases, there are ways to have a review removed if it is not valid (e.g., meant for another practice, has incorrect information, is written as slanderous instead of a valid review, not a valid patient, etc.). Realize that the number of reviews you can remove will be limited in most cases, so this cannot be the core of your strategy. However, it can be highly effective in removing some damaging content. Also note that while text reviews can be disputed, in many cases the “star” rating associated with the review will not be removed. Note: Matt Rasmusson just wrote an excellent site by site guide to getting reviews removed that is worth checking out if you want to dispute a review.
4. If the review is legitimate, write an honest response. If there is a negative review that you can not or have decided not to remove, respond to it. Stay away from any negative and/or attacking phrases and focus on the patient’s concerns. Apologize for a negative experience, explain how you strive to create a positive experience for patients and then focus on what you’re doing to either investigate the problem and/or ensure it doesn’t happen again (if applicable). What you’re doing here is letting the patient know that he/she has been heard and that you are concerned about the negative experience. This is your opportunity to explain where the breakdown happened (e.g., We have a new patient scheduling system that had a bug on the first day, which has been addressed. We are terribly sorry for the inconvenience). However, make sure you do not come across defensive or inadvertently disclose any information that would be in violation of HIPAA. Keep it short, sweet and sincere.
5. Work to bring in more positive reviews. One of the best defenses against a negative review is a stream of positive reviews. A negative review stands out by itself, but a negative review in-between 10 positive reviews falls in the shadows. Unfortunately, it’s usually a disproportionate number of people with bad experiences that leave a review. This means that you have to use a little elbow grease and work to have positive reviews come in – verbally encourage your patients, send a follow-up email after an appointment, have a flyer/handout in your office. Whatever you do, don’t collect and upload reviews yourself – this is a policy violation on almost every review site.
6. Learn from what patients are saying. The worst thing you can do is simply ignore what patients are saying. Negative online reviews do provide beneficial information about what patients are truly thinking. Use this as a learning session. Do people perceive the doctor as cold and uncaring? It may be totally unintentional, but now you know to make a concerted effort to make patients feel more at ease. Is there an issue with the office staff’s efficiency? You may never have known otherwise, but now you can take a look at process improvements for your practice. Don’t simply respond to patients and forget what was said – see what you can truly learn about their collective experiences.
Negative reviews are a reality for all medical practices at some point. That’s why it’s so important to monitor what people are saying about you and preparing to deal with negative posts when they come. Of course, if you need additional help managing your reputation, give us a call. We’d be happy to help you put your best foot forward and grow your practice.