Online reputation management for doctors is pivotal for new patient recruitment and overall success of your practice. Doctors need to continuously monitor what patients say about them. Patients generally want to write about their positive experiences and doctors should make the necessary adjustments to make sure they motivate those patients to go online and leave a review.
But sometimes bad reviews happen to good doctors. What should you do? First, calm down. Do not take the review personally and don’t respond when you’re angry. Once you’ve let the criticism rest for 24 hours and talked it over with someone else, estimate how valid the person’s concern is and take one of the following appropriate actions.
- Remove the review. If you feel the review is baseless, disparaging or false, complain to the review website about the review. Review websites do not always intervene and are not legally obligated to do so. However, occasionally review sites will make amendments if the doctor has substantial evidence that the reviews are false. Review websites do not want fake reviews either as they become less trusted by their users.
- Login and update your account. Many review sites, like Vitals.com allows doctors to respond and even mark false reviews to be reviewed by the web site. Login and become acquainted with all your options.
- Choose your battles. Determine whether the review is worth responding to. If the reviewer sounds bizarre and irrational then it is unlikely responding to them would elicit a positive response. Don’t get drawn into any discussion where it’s unlikely to be resolved. No one wins a back and forth battle about who did what to whom.
- Respond privately. If you know who wrote the negative review, it is worth trying to reach out to the patient privately. Doctors should show sincerity and sympathy when speaking to patients. Doctors frequently turn their worst critic into their most loyal ally. However, use the telephone as many states do not allow for electronic communications via email with patients.
- Respond publicly. Never publicly discuss patient specifics. Although a patient can post anything they want about their visit with you, it is a major HIPAA violation for you to respond by saying anything about them. You can’t even confirm or deny that the reviewer is your patient and certainly can’t talk about their treatment or condition. You can, however, describe your general protocols. If there is some legitimacy to the complaint, you can publicly apologize and let the patient know what you’re doing to resolve future problems. Patients don’t expect perfection, but they do expect doctors to listen and react to their complaints. Owning up to a mistake will build patient rapport.
- Encourage happy patients to write positive reviews. If the number of patient reviews is large enough, any outlier negative review will be overwhelmed by the positive reviews. Call patients 24-48 hours after their visit and encourage them to let you know how you’re doing. Happy patients will often come to the defense of a doctor and will rebut and correct misinformation from the negative reviews.
- Avoid lawsuits. Lawsuits are almost never a good option. Suing patients is a categorically bad idea, even if they’ve lied. A lawsuit calls more attention to the patient’s assertions and looks like the doctor has something to hide. Also, most of the time doctors rarely win in court and can end up paying for their patient attorney fees as well.
Learn from the review. Negative reviews offer doctors valuable feedback, including feedback that patients are too afraid to tell their doctors directly. Improve your services based on patient feedback and let your patients be aware of the improvements. Many times negative reviews are not even about the doctor but about the practice. Responding to a review is a great way of keeping patients informed about enhancements you made to your practice.