5 tips for tactfully combatting negative patient reviews

October 22, 2016

The troubling reality is that review sites like Yelp and Healthgrades often attract patients who are more likely to air grievances, rather than praise. In other words, it’s a near certainty that every physician and medical practice will encounter a fair share of negative patient reviews.

Editor’s Note: Welcome to Medical Economics' blog section which features contributions from members of the medical community. These blogs are an opportunity for bloggers to engage with readers about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform. The series continues with this blog by Alex Membrillo, CEO of Cardinal Web Solutions, a healthcare marketing agency in Atlanta, Georgia. The views expressed in these blogs are those of their respective contributors and do not represent the views of Medical Economics or UBM Medica.

 

Alex MembrilloAccording to a survey by Software Advice, 77% of patients use online reviews as their first step in finding a new doctor, with nearly half of respondents saying they would even go out-of-network for a doctor who had more favorable reviews than an in-network doctor.

 

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The troubling reality is that review sites like Yelp and Healthgrades often attract patients who are more likely to air grievances, rather than praise. In other words, it’s a near certainty that every physician and medical practice will encounter a fair share of negative patient reviews.

How you handle these negative reviews will determine how your current and prospective patients will view your practice. By adding a bit of tact-and strategy-to your responses, you can turn negative reviews into positive actions that will help grow your practice.

Here are 5 effective tips for tackling negative patient reviews with tact.

1. Respond quickly

 

The old adage “silence is golden” is not an appropriate strategy for reputation management. Not only does ignoring a negative review further anger the patient, but it also makes prospective patients question your professionalism.

In fact, 60% of Software Advice’s survey respondents said it’s very or moderately important for doctors to respond to online reviews.

Your first instinct might be to ignore negative reviews so that you avoid exasperating the problem. However, through quick and well-thought-out responses, you can actually turn these negative reviews into a positive.

 

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The key to providing fast-and appropriate-responses is to create several templated responses, all of which are HIPAA compliant. While you’ll likely adapt each template slightly for each review, these templates allow you to post a response quickly, without fear of making matters worse.

2. Validate the reviewer’s opinions

If a patient criticizes your practice (for long wait times, as an example), the most destructive thing you can do is deny the accusation.

An example of a truly harmful response would be something along the lines of: Actually, our wait times are below the average experienced in other locations.

Next: Avoiding the vitrual finger pointing

 

This statistic might be true, but this is neither the time or place to state this fact. The fact alone doesn’t negate the patient’s belief he/she had to wait a long time to be seen. By offering up a counter-explanation to disprove the comment, you’re invalidating the patient’s opinion.

That is a losing battle.

 

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Denying a comment made within a review not only further infuriates the patient, but it detracts other prospective patients from wanting to come to your practice.

No matter how far-fetched or wrong a review might be, your first step should be to find a way to validate the reviewer’s opinion. Something along the lines of: We’re sorry you experienced long wait times,” or “It is our goal to meet the expectations of each of our patients, and we’re truly sorry we failed to do so with your recent visit” will go a long way toward putting out the fire.

By opening up your response with this type of validation, you’re avoiding the virtual finger pointing that no one wants to experience.

3. Rely on We/I statements

“You” statements are extremely accusatory. You don’t listen. You’re mistaken. You don’t care. It’s human nature to feel defensive by these statements. When a person is defensive, they struggle to listen to what you have to say.

 

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I (or We) statements make the speaker take on responsibility. For example, saying: You may have experienced long wait times due to the time of your appointment” is far from helpful. This places blame on the reviewer. Perhaps that was the only time the patient could schedule an appointment. So, it’s their fault they had to wait?

Hardly.

You could flip the script by taking on more of the responsibility, without taking the blame: We often see a spike in appointments during certain hours of the day, which we’ve been working to improve.

The less often you use You in your responses, the more likely your responses will come across as open and friendly.

Next: Showing how negative reviews help fuel change

 

4. Outline your action

Don’t just talk the talk in your responses. Simply acknowledging the reviewer’s comments isn’t enough. You have to demonstrate your willingness to take some sort of action, otherwise, your audiences will quickly realize that you’re not really taking these reviews to heart.

 

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Again, let’s focus on the patient unhappy with his long wait time. Within your response, you could state something like: We’re currently testing out a few new strategies to decrease wait time, including [describe a specific strategy you’re implementing].

This type of transparency helps to humanize your practice and shows the reviewer-and prospective patients-that you actually read through, and process, these reviews. In other words, you value what your supporters and detractors say.

5. Show how negative reviews helped fuel change

No practice is perfect. Each office has the opportunity to make changes to improve the patient experience. In fact, your negative reviews could shed light on areas of your practice that need improvement.

 

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When you do make changes-based on negative reviews-let your prospects know. If, for example, you implemented a change to decrease wait times, include this change in all related responses.

Negative reviews are inevitable – how you respond to them is up to you

Physicians have always been the beneficiaries-and victims-of patient reviews. However, with the popularity of online review sites, it’s never been so easy for prospective patients to formulate an opinion on doctors in a matter of a few minutes.

While it’s important to establish a reputation management strategy that encourages more positive reviews, it’s just as important to know how to handle inevitable negative reviews with tact.

How and when you respond to these critiques could help you attract more patients to your practice.