You work hard and smart trying to help people have families all day, and likely think about it a lot when not in the clinic. So when you read a negative online review about you, it may well make your blood boil.
Who does she think she is? you might think. I’ll tell her! No, don’t. First, read the following advice on how not to respond to negative doctor reviews – then have a go at it.
It is important to respond to negative reviews, so you’re right on that. Responding allows you and your practice to provide your point of view and clean up misunderstanding or miscommunication.
Unfortunately, critical reviews don’t go away and they will impact an internet user’s decision about contacting your practice, which is why online reputation management is so important. That being said, your response should be thoughtfully crafted, place value in the negative review and the experience of the reviewer, while also providing your point of view.
How to positively respond to a negative doctor review
Yelp and Google reviews have been a harsh reality for restaurants, hotels and businesses for years. And now medical practices are having their turn in the harsh light of mostly anonymous reviews.
Medical practices are not unlike traditional businesses – they provide a specific service to customers in exchange for money. That makes your practice subject to critical comments on Yelp and Google, just like the BBQ place down the street. There are also doctor specific review sites such as RateMDs and Healthgrades.
Follow these steps to protect your dignity, sanity and online reputation.
Craft a caring response
Start by thanking the reviewer for taking the time to provide feedback, then proceed to comment on your practice’s general policies and procedures. However, in responding to reviews you cannot publicly comment on a patient’s health or treatment without very clear permission in advance from the patient. It’s against privacy laws. You can’t even publicly acknowledge a person is a patient. Tricky.
What you can do is be sure to balance your recitation of policy with empathy. Keep in mind that reviews are constructive criticism and there is something you might learn from them – you can and should acknowledge that in your reply. For more on responding to critical online reviews, please see the last installment of The Wired Practice blog.
Do no harm – to your reputation
You may feel that some negative doctor reviews are unfair, inaccurate or downright insulting. You’re allowed to feel insulted, but it’s important to remain level-headed in your response. Do not openly dispute an online complaint in your response. It’s unprofessional and it makes you appear defensive and insensitive. Think offensive, not defensive.
We suggest countering a complaint with additional, mitigating information. Ever hear of fire mitigation? It’s the process of removing potential hazards that can make wildfires worse, significantly reducing risk.
Rather than fuel the flame, you want to mitigate potential threats, by providing information that lightens the intensity of the complaint. If a patient is unhappy about being sent to another doctor, your response might be to explain that doctors frequently refer patients to specialists with more experience in certain areas because it’s in the patient’s best interests.
What you absolutely shouldn’t do
Threatening to sue over an online review is all but guaranteed to get you nowhere. Don’t even mention the word “lawsuit.” Don’t take our word for it. Take the word of Eric Goldman, a law professor at Santa Clara University in California and a former Silicon Valley attorney.
Mr. Goldman has tracked lawsuits against patients who complained online, and after looking at some three dozen cases, he found that just five were settled and only five were unresolved. Two-thirds of cases were dismissed, and the result closest to a legal victory was when a patient was issued a temporary restraining order to stay away from the doctor. In one case the patient was actually awarded $50,000 under what’s known as an anti-SLAPP statute, which are state laws permitting consumer rights of free expression.
Reviews aren’t all bad news, especially for doctors
Rating websites – and patients themselves – may seem overwhelmingly biased against healthcare providers, but our research at indicates otherwise. We studied nearly 35,000 online doctor reviews and found that 69 percent rated their healthcare providers with either four or five stars out of five possible.
Bottom line, anyone in a service profession – including our own – will always have a few disgruntled customers. Fortunately, we can report that doctors have some of the highest levels of patient satisfaction and remain one of the most admired, respected and thanked professions in our society.
Learn from the experts
For more information on managing your online reputation, visit our website.