How to Respond to Negative Reviews

It doesn’t matter how wonderful your physicians are or how many people find care and relief at your practice. At some point, you’re going to get a bad 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—fingers crossed—it’s a small issue that can be easily fixed.

No matter the reason for the bad review, one thing is certain—it’s bad for your business and your reputation. 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 important than ever.

If you do receive a bad review, don’t panic. There are a number of things you can do to minimize the damage and make things right.

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 might make all the difference.

Ask for a private conversation.

Because of the restrictions you face as a physician, a public conversation is often 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. If the patient refuses to speak privately or isn’t satisfied by 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 bad review has a good chance of turning into a better one.

Focus on good reviews, and get more of them.

If you consistently engage with your patients on social media, through email, and with 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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  • As a speaker at the first ad hoc meeting of rheumatology practice managers gathered in a single small room at its infancy a decade ago, I’m amazed to see how NORM has blossomed into a high energy organization of depth and professional meetings with parallel break-out symposia between plenary sessions. NORM has truly come of age. This is where the “business” of rheumatology gets learned. The ”guildmanship” for rheumatology practice management is now strong.- Paul H. Caldron, DO, FACP, FACR, MBA, Arizona Arthritis and Rheumatology Associates
  • In a time of demanding changes in the management of medical practices in the US, NORM has been a lifesaver to the community of Rheumatology practices.  NORM has allowed our practice to stay ahead of the many demands of CMS and others payors and has ensured that our practice remains cognizant of new issues that arise in HIPPA compliance, human resources and medical billing to name a few. Sending our Practice Manager to NORM's conferences has been cost-effective and beneficial to our practice because she returns to our office with an abundance of information that otherwise would have taken months to compile. Every Rheumatology practice that wishes to stay on top of emerging issues in practice management should consider sending a member of their staff to NORM's conference.- Michael S. Rosen M.D., Chester County Rheumatology PC
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