Everyone’s A Critic: A Primer for Healthcare Reviews

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In the days before Google (was there ever a day before Google???), business books would claim that every time someone had a bad experience, they’d spread the word to ten of their closest friends (who would then tell ten of their friends and so on). Today, bad news spreads faster than the flu and doctors may be especially susceptible to the pending epidemic!

A patient with a bad experience is likely to tell all 500 of their Facebook friends, their 150 Twitter followers, and then post their feelings on Yelp for good measure. This wouldn’t be such an issue if people didn’t rely so heavily on the opinions of others to make a decision but it turns out that 84% of consumers trust online reviews like they’d trust a friend.  If that weren’t bad enough, 80% of consumers will change their mind about a practice after reading a single bad review, and if you have a rating lower than 3 stars…forget it. You can wave 86% of your potential patients goodbye!

So what’s a practice to do?

You might avoid following the lead of a New York gynecologist who took a woman to court over her less than favorable review on Yelp, or the California dentist that included her patient’s medical information in a reply to a negative review. Nothing stinks more than bad PR and big fat HIPAA violation!

Here’s a list of do’s and don’ts when it comes to reacting to negative reviews:

  1. Never Stay Silent
    • Staying silent on negative reviews implies that you don’t care or that you’d rather ignore the issue. Respond positively with a simple apology and reassurance that you’ll look into it. After you’ve investigated the bad experience, offer the reviewer an insight into your corrective action.
  2. Avoid an Immediate Response
    • Snap judgements and anger can get the best of anyone. Unless it’s a matter of life and death (and most reviews are not), let the review sink in. Sleep on it. Always figure how to respond with a clear head.
  3. Acknowledgement
    • Don’t refer to the patient, but rather to the process. For example, instead of responding with “I referred this treatment to you because it would help your” write something like “At this practice we often will prescribe this treatment for this condition.” By referring to the patient, you are admitting that they are your patient which, by HIPAA standards, is a violation of patient privacy.
  4. Never Disclose Sensitive Patient Information
    • This is a major HIPAA violation, but it turns out that many practitioners have made this mistake in the past. Refer to the story of the California dentist cited earlier if you need a reminder.
  5. Suing Patients is a Bad Idea
    • Sure, it may get the review taken down, but the bad PR alone is enough to put a bad taste in the mouth of any potential patient. Who wants to be known as the practice that silences its patients?
  6. Take Every Review Seriously
    • People feel better knowing that they’ve been heard and that their concerns are being considered.
  7. Get Personal
    • Respond to negative reviews offline and open communication with the patient to allow them to express their concerns in private. In this way you can get in depth about specifics without incurring a potential HIPAA violation.
  8. Ask Patients to Give You a Review
    • There is no better way to dilute bad reviews than by getting other patients to report on positive experiences they’ve had with your practice. Be sure to stay within a site’s terms of service. Practices often send out patient experience survey emails after appointments. Use them to suggest that “if their experiences are good, tell Yelp, while if they are bad, tell us.”
  9. Have a Response Protocol in Place
    • Comments, good or bad, should be referred to the practice administrator for response. At no time should a staff member be given permission to respond, online or off.
  10. Learn About Reviews
    • Not every review is honest. Knowing where these reviewers are originating and learning how to report them is your best defense against fake reviews.
  11. Invest in a Marketing Plan
    • Google everything. 72% of patients use online reviews in their decision-making process when selecting a new doctor. A seasoned digital marketing professional can help manage your online presence. When someone searches for your name, you want the first result to be your website, not a bad review.

Famed author Erica Jong once remarked, “I have forgotten my rave reviews and memorized my vicious ones.” It’s easy to do but resist the temptation. Reviews are a unique outside insight into your practice. Value the opportunity they present.


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