How to Respond to a Negative Review

It’s likely you have a plan for a variety of the “worst-case scenarios” your practice might encounter. For instance, insurance to protect you in the event of anything from fire to theft, malpractice and equipment damage.

But do you have a plan in place to deal with an inevitable bad online review?

Even the best doctors run into curmudgeonly patients who just can’t be pleased no matter how perfect your diagnosis and treatment.

The customer may always be right, but that doesn’t mean you have to let them tarnish your reputation online. Just like for any other calamity, you need a plan to deal with the potential fallout of a negative online review.

You should be regularly searching your reviews to see if there are any glowing testimonials you can grab to put on your website, or to nip any problem comments in the bud. Finding them is as easy as searching for your practice on Google, Yahoo or Bing. Reviews from all the major review websites like Yelp or ZocDoc will appear in a search engine query – so don’t worry about visiting multiple sites to track down reviews.

When you find bad reviews, it’s tempting to just ignore them and hope they’ll go away. While it’s important to avoid engaging in a public debate with your detractors, there are some steps you can and should take to mitigate the damage a negative review can do.

What kind of damage? Well, according a survey by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) 59% of people surveyed believe online reviews are “somewhat important” to “very important” in their decision to choose a doctor.  

One or two negative reviews aren’t likely to ruin your practice, but how you deal with them could make a big difference in how you’re perceived by potential patients.

Here are some guidelines to help you come up with an action plan:

1. Don’t take it personally. Your unhappy patient might be cranky, (and maybe a little childish) but you’re the professional – so you need to put their perception into perspective.

If the review is legitimate and it seems like the complaint is reasonable, consider posting a response – something like, “I’m sorry you had a bad experience at my office. I strive to provide professional treatment and service to all of my patients. I have a standing guarantee that if you have any questions, concerns, complaints or problems to contact my office so we can address your issue and get you the care you need.”

2. Know when to ignore. If the review is a jumbled mess of expletives and personal attacks, it’s probably best to report or flag it if it’s on a site like Yelp, or to simply delete it if it’s on a platform you control like your website or your Facebook account. Don’t ever get in a shouting match with someone with nothing to lose when you have a reputation and a practice weighing in the balance. It’s not worth it. Winning an argument on the internet with someone who is “wrong” might be cathartic, but it’s not a good use of time or energy.

3. Know when to make a change: Not all internet criticism is without merit. If you’re noticing a trend of people complaining about a specific employee, procedure, policy, expense or other feature of your practice – you should consider addressing it internally.

Some things, like insurance co-pays, are not completely in your control. Even in those cases, you can have a better communication strategy so that your patients are informed.

Fix the issue – and then reply to the negative comment and present yourself as the advocate for change they were asking for. You worked with the employee to be less crotchety on the phone, or you got rid of the annoying easy-listening muzak in the waiting room.

You can post something like, “I noticed many of my patients complaining about X – so I looked into this problem, and I took these 3 steps to fix it. I apologize for not realizing it was an issue in the first place, and I’m deeply appreciative to those of you who called me out on this problem. I appreciate your feedback and thank you for helping us become a better practice.”

Being friendly, professional and courteous is free – but it can have a positive impact on the way patients and prospective patients view you and your practice. The good news is that there’s almost always a large gulf between a legitimate complainant and someone who’s just trying to tear you down.

It’s easy to know when to apologize for perceived slights and when to address real issues. Use your best judgement to know the difference.

Make changes and/or write out a thoughtful response when necessary, and you might even turn your practice’s worst weakness into an authentic and effective marketing opportunity.

Have you ever received a bad review? How did you respond? Let us know in the comments below!