As a doctor, your reputation is everything. Patients rely on online reviews to make decisions about their healthcare, and a few negative reviews can have a big impact on your practice. But, it’s not just about the number of negative reviews, but also how you respond to them that matters.
Negative reviews can (and will) happen to any doctor – so it’s important to have a plan in place for how to respond. In this guide, we’ll go over the dos and don’ts of how to respond to negative reviews, and give you some strategies for defusing the situation and improving your reputation.
Why Ignoring Negative Reviews is a Mistake
It can be tempting to ignore negative reviews, but doing so can actually harm your reputation more than the negative review itself. When patients see that a doctor has a lot of negative reviews and no response, they may assume that the doctor doesn’t care about their patients’ satisfaction.
Ignoring negative reviews also gives patients the impression that you’re not willing to take responsibility for any mistakes that may have been made. It’s important to address negative reviews in a professional and timely manner.
There may be a rare occasion, such as when you’re waiting on Google to remove a review that violates their terms of service, that it may make sense to not respond to a review.
The Dos and Don’ts of Responding to Negative Reviews
When it comes to responding to negative reviews, there are a few key things to keep in mind:
- Do: Be mindful of HIPAA Laws that protect patient privacy.
- Do not confirm or deny that a reviewer is a patient of your practice.
- Do not share any identifiable patient information in your response.
- Do not discuss any specific details of a patient’s medical condition or treatment.
- Make sure your staff is trained on HIPAA laws and patient privacy regulations.
- Consult with a lawyer if you’re unsure about how to respond to a review without violating HIPAA laws.
- Do: Be professional and courteous. Even if the review is unjustified, it’s important to respond in a way that is respectful and professional.
- Do: Take responsibility/and or apologize. If there was a mistake made or an issue that needs to be addressed, take responsibility for it and apologize. For HIPAA reasons, it’s best to keep the apology somewhat vague. “We’re sorry to hear about your experience calling our office. We want all of our phone calls to be answered in a timely, professional manner and apologize if that didn’t happen.”
- Do: Offer a solution. If a patient had a bad experience, offer a solution to make it right. Usually, this is asking them to contact a specific person in your office for appropriate follow-up. This takes the problem ‘offline’ and back into a HIPAA-compliant conversation. If you know who the patient is, feel free to contact them directly to discuss the matter. However, be careful about saying you will contact them in your public review response, as this could be seen as a HIPAA violation confirming they are patient.
- Don’t: Get defensive. All of us feel defensive when someone says something bad about us. Especially if it’s not true! It’s important not to get defensive or argue with the patient. This will only escalate the situation and make it worse.
- Don’t: Leave a completely generic response. Personalize your response to the patient’s specific issue. This shows that you’ve taken the time to read their review and understand their concerns. BUT – remember to do this within the context of HIPAA.
- Too Generic: “Thank you for taking the time to provide feedback.”
- Too Non-Compliant: “When you came in for your appointment, we were really backed up”
- Balanced and Compliant: “We’re sorry to hear about your experience. We want all of our patients to be seen as close to their appointment time as possible. We’re currently expanding our front desk and nursing staff to address extended wait times. If you have any additional comments or concerns, please feel free to call Tina at ____”
Strategies for Defusing the Situation
Negative reviews can be stressful, but there are ways to defuse the situation and turn it around. Here are a few strategies for responding to negative reviews:
- Address the issue promptly. Respond to the review as soon as possible. This shows that you care about the patient’s concerns and are taking steps to address them.
- Apologize and take responsibility. Even if the issue wasn’t your fault, apologize and take responsibility for resolving it. This shows that you’re willing to take ownership of the situation and make it right.
- Offer a solution/someone to contact. As mentioned earlier, offer a solution to make it right. Often we don’t have the ability to match a reviewer’s name with a patient name with a phone number. Providing a specific contact person and phone number to address their concerns may be the best option for resolving the issue.
- Follow up with the patient. After addressing the issue, follow up with the patient to make sure their concerns have been resolved. This shows that you’re committed to providing great care and customer service.
Building Trust and Credibility
Negative reviews can be damaging to your reputation, but responding to them in the right way can actually help build trust and credibility with your patients. When patients see that you’re responsive, professional, and willing to take responsibility for any mistakes, they’ll be more likely to trust you and recommend you to others.
Most people are reasonable. They can smell a crazy person from a mile away. Take the high road, be professional, and nearly everyone reading the negative review and your response will be on your side.
Encourage Positive Reviews
Encourage your patients to leave a review on your website or review sites. Most of your patients are happy, but most of them don’t leave reviews. It’s usually the angry minority leaving bad reviews and hurting your online reputation.
Positive reviews can help counteract the impact of any negative reviews, and they’ll help build your reputation as a doctor who provides great care and customer service.
You can encourage positive reviews by providing an easy way for patients to leave a review by sending a follow-up email to patients after their appointment. The key is to make it easy (provide a direct link) and do it consistently. If you want it done for you, we provide full service (with customer service) reputation management for medical practices.
Reputation Management Services
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by negative reviews, consider working with a reputation management service. These services can help you monitor your online reputation, respond to negative reviews, and promote positive reviews. They can also help you develop a strategy for dealing with negative reviews and building your reputation as a doctor.
Q: Can I remove negative reviews from my website or review sites? A: It’s not recommended to remove negative reviews, but it’s possible to flag them for review if they violate the site’s guidelines. Most review sites have a process in place for dealing with fake or defamatory reviews. Keep in mind that removing a negative review may come across as hiding the truth and not addressing the problem. Unless a review clearly violates a site’s terms of service (racism, personal attack, etc.) it’s usually impossible to get the review removed.
Sites like Google will not remove a review for being untruthful because they cannot be the arbiters of truth.
Q: Can I sue someone for leaving a negative review? A: It’s difficult to sue someone for leaving a negative review, as it is protected under freedom of speech. However, if the review is defamatory or contains false information, you may be able to take legal action. The question then is whether it’s worth it – and it usually isn’t for a review. It’s usually best (and cheapest) to just bury the bad review in a sea of good reviews.
Q: How can I monitor my online reputation? A: There are a few ways to monitor your online reputation:
- Set up Google Alerts for your name, practice name, and any other relevant keywords.
- Regularly check review sites for new reviews.
- Use a reputation management service to monitor your online reputation for you.
Responding to negative reviews is an important part of maintaining and building your reputation as a doctor. By addressing negative reviews in a professional and timely manner, defusing the situation, and building trust and credibility with your patients, you can turn a negative review into a positive experience.
Remember to encourage positive reviews and consider working with a reputation management service if you need help.