Online Reputation Management and How to Respond to Negative Comments

The rise of online reputation managementOnline Reputation Management | Digital Doctor | illustration of doctor with review stars

Online reviews are a hot topic for doctors these days. At Vanguard Communications, 4 out of 5 calls we get from physicians inquiring about our services are about how they can increase complimentary online reviews and reduce critical comments on websites such as RateMDs, Vitals and Yelp.

A recent explosion of online reviews of not just doctors but restaurants, hotels and businesses in general has led to the birth of a new field of specialty in public relations called online reputation management.

Online reviews aren’t going away

According to a study by the accounting and consulting firm Price Waterhouse Coopers, about half of all Americans – more than 150 million – have read healthcare reviews, and two-thirds of those have used digital reviews for decision making in their healthcare. This indicates that approximately 1 in 3 Americans are relying on internet reviews for making choices of healthcare providers.

A second point to make is that online reviews usually show up on page one of search engine results whenever someone Googles a doctor’s name. Therefore, in the digital world, whatever a patient says about a physician on the internet tends to follow that doctor around. This is a good reason to pursue online reputation management.

For these reasons and others, it’s generally a bad idea to ignore critical online reviews. You may think certain patient criticism is unfair and inaccurate. But others reading the complaint will not know any other point of view unless you respond.

Offline and online resolutions

There are two ways to reply to a negative online review. One is to reach out to the patient privately via phone in hopes of resolving the complaint offline. In our experience as healthcare PR specialists, it’s surprising how often this leads to the complainer posting a second, positive review.

The second means of response is on the website where the criticism is posted. To be able to do this, you must register on the website as the physician or business owner being reviewed. You can do this by merely following prompts for claiming your identity on that site.

When you respond to online patient reviews, you should be very careful not to violate patient privacy standards and laws. You cannot publicly comment on the patient’s own health history or experience, even if the patient has already revealed personal details. In fact, you really should not even acknowledge the complainer is a patient. Instead, you should communicate two messages:

  1. Acknowledge that the law prevents you from discussing individual cases publicly, but you nonetheless warmly welcome input in the goal of improving patient satisfaction. Then provide a name and phone number for the reviewer to call and further discuss his or her issues.
  2. When possible, cite general policies in your practice that help give your side of the story. For example, you can say that you ask the receptionist to notify waiting patients if a doctor is running more than 10 minutes late due to a medical urgency, but occasionally a substitute receptionist may not always follow through.


Learn from the experts

For more information on managing your online reputation, visit our website.

Resources for online reviews