How To Respond To Negative Online Patient Reviews

Published on: Oct 17, 2019


These days, physicians are reviewed online just like any other service or product – and those reviewers will share everything: the good, the bad, and the ugly.  With 94% of patients using online reviews to evaluate new healthcare providers, according to recent research, they’re more important and more visible than ever.

Even though it might be tempting to react to negative reviews with defensiveness, you might want to reconsider. Not only have healthcare professionals been accused of violating HIPAA when responding to negative reviews (and fined hundreds of thousands of dollars), the right response to a bad review can turn a bad experience into a positive one and earn a patient’s loyalty. If an issue is resolved to a patient’s satisfaction, not only will they most likely return – they may even remove the negative review.

This article will discuss when to respond to negative online reviews and how to do so.

First, take a deep breath and don’t respond emotionally. It’s easy (and understandable) to get upset and react defensively, but remember that your online reputation is more valuable than proving who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s good to take a step back – and wait at least overnight – before responding. Then prioritize trying to change their opinion and making things right.

Don’t take it personally. Negative reviews happen to every business, every service, in every industry. It’s just a part of doing business these days. Focus on the positive. It can be helpful to see them as having long-term benefits towards improving your communications systems and overall patient experience. Any and all feedback has value. And remember, one bad review is not going to ruin your online reputation, especially if responded to properly. Don’t panic either.

Respond promptly, once you’ve taken everything into consideration and carefully planned your response, preferably within three business days or less. Delayed responses cause even more frustration, and other patients may be waiting to see how you respond as well.

[caption id="attachment_1049" align="alignleft" width="600"]Doctor looking at PC Negative reviews happen to every business, every service, in every industry.[/caption]


Keep it short, simple and anonymous. With all the legal tip-toeing healthcare providers are obligated to do around HIPAA laws, you really can’t even acknowledge the reviewer was a patient of yours – so keep your response professional and succinct, only discussing general policies, standard protocols, and desire to improve patient satisfaction. Thank the patient for the time they took out of their day to send their feedback and make sure they (and other patients reading the exchange) know that patient satisfaction is a top priority. Consider creating templated responses to common patient issues any team member can use.

Try to take the matter offline. After posting a brief response to the review online, you should promptly call the patient and invite them back to discuss their concerns in person. Don’t make excuses – just focus on a solution. The personal contact and proactive effort to make them happy can often result in the patient removing their negative review, not writing additional negative reviews on other websites, or at least posting a follow-up review letting other patients know your practice listens and cares about their experience. The personal touch can pay off in many ways and may help set you apart from your competitors.

Worst-case scenario: consult a lawyer. Ignoring a negative review can damage a physician’s reputation.  But responding in the wrong way can result in negative and unintended consequences. In tricky situations, it can’t hurt to consult with a lawyer. Just keep in mind that taking legal action against a reviewer can very often turn around to bite you, bringing unwanted extra attention to the review from a much larger audience.

Finally, don’t be afraid of online reviews. Encourage (but don’t pressure) your patients to write them. They’re key to establishing your reputation and credibility and can be used as crucial marketing tools. The good news is that reviews are overwhelmingly positive: a recent study of 33 physician-rating websites found that 88% of the reviews were positive, with only 6% being negative, and the other 6% being neutral. And remember, many positive reviews will always help “dilute” a negative review and help prospective patients put it in perspective. Most patients use online reviews to evaluate new healthcare providers. This article will discuss when to respond to negative online reviews and how to do so.