How Doctors Should Manage Negative Patient Reviews

Practis Blog
Angry patient talking to a doctor

It’s no secret that it is impossible to make everyone happy all the time, especially in healthcare. Even the very best practices can suffer from negative reviews from a patient. Nine times out of ten, it has nothing to do with the care you provided. Dealing with health makes people nervous, and when they are nervous, they are more likely to want to channel their frustration somewhere. A common place to go these days is the internet. Even patients who seemed pleasant in the office can later tell everyone else how miserable their experience was, which is bad for the reputation of your practice.

Knowing how to respond to negative patient reviews is one of the key ways in which online reputation management is quickly becoming an invaluable tool. Healthcare listing sites like Google Reviews, Healthgrades, Vitals, and Yelp dominate the search results page, which means any new patients are likely to see your reviews before they ever visit your medical practice’s website.

And because , negative reviews can feel like they will make an outsized impact. So how should you respond to a negative review?

What Causes Patients to Leave a Bad Review?

In order to better understand how to respond to negative patient reviews, it’s helpful to first know how and why they occur. No practice, doctor, or hospital is perfect. If a patient catches you when you (or your staff) aren’t at their best, this can result in a negative patient experience. Even when you do deliver great care, a disconnect between what patients expect and what they receive can leave patients feeling unsatisfied.

Usually, patients have very specific reasons for leaving negative reviews including:

  • Wait times: Long wait times can leave patients feeling unappreciated and undervalued. No patient likes those feelings, and this can set the tone for the entire appointment.
  • Billing issues: Understandably, patients like to know what to expect when it comes to billing. Any surprises can result in a negative review (likewise if patients have trouble figuring out how to pay the bill, that can also cause a negative review).
  • Customer service: Patients like to feel valued and heard–and that starts at the front desk. If your front desk staff is having a bad day (or a bad moment), this can lead to a negative review. Likewise, a miscommunication between your staff and a patient can leave that patient feeling out of sorts.
  • Amount of time the doctor spends with the patient: If a patient feels as though a provider’s attention is divided or the doctor is rushed, this may easily result in a negative experience.

This list is not exhaustive. There are a number of reasons why a patient may leave a negative review. It’s important to resist the temptation to dismiss these experiences. For a doctor, review management means acknowledging that negative experiences sometimes happenand knowing how to respond to negative feedback. 

When to Flag or Report a Review

It’s an understandable reaction. When you see a bad review, your first instinct may be to try to find a way to make it disappear. This is especially true if a single bad review outshines your overall rating or if you don’t know how to respond to bad reviews. As a result, you might find yourself trying to flag a negative review. When you flag a review, you essentially tell the review host (Healthgrades, Google, etc.) that the flagged review is somehow invalid.

Flagging a review is appropriate only in very limited situations. Depending on the site guidelines, these  may include reviews that:

  • contain vulgar language or is inappropriate
  •  target a very specific individual (a doctor or staff member) and may be considered hate speech 
  • are vague, irrelevant, or off-topic (i.e. a review of the wrong business)
  • contain a conflict of interest (for example, an ex-employee leaves a bad review).
  • are spam.

In general, you cannot flag reviews just because they feel shallow or undeserved. It’s important to remember that even if they are uncharitable, these reviews reflect how patients felt about their experience. There, for doctors, it’s important to understand online reputation management and how to respond to reviews effectively.

How to Respond to Negative Patient Reviews

It’s important to remember that negative reviews happen and you cannot always control how or when. There’s no cause to panic or to take these reviews personally. A few unhappy patients will not permanently damage your reputation, especially if you know how to respond to unfavorable reviews.

Step 1: Do Not Ignore Bad Reviews

Anyone in healthcare knows that ignoring a symptom isn’t going to make you feel better. For a doctor, review management is no different. 

Responding to a negative online review in a HIPAA-compliant way requires careful consideration to protect the privacy and confidentiality of the patient. 

Here are some steps you can take:

  • Always acknowledge the review and thank the reviewer for their feedback. Make sure each response is unique.  copying and pasting responses. (New patients can see this and don’t exactly appreciate it.)
  • Be careful. When someone is upset, it’s natural to want to apologize, but you should not say sorry or admit fault. It’s also important to remain vague in your response. Even if the patient has provided details regarding their visit, you cannot confirm a person is a patient or that they visited your practice without their explicit permission.
  • You should respond timely but, depending on the response, responding quickly can seem combative. Typically 24 hours gives you enough time to look into the situation.
  • Emphasize that your practice take patient privacy and confidentiality seriously, and that because you’re unable to comment in a public forum, that you happy to move the discussion  offline. In your reply, be sure to also include  a number they can call or representative name to contact to resolve any concerns.
  • As best as you can, correct inaccuracies or misinformation so other readers don’t get wrong information about your practice. Sticking to policies is a way to combat incorrect information while remaining HIPAA compliant.

The sooner you respond to bad reviews, the clearer it will be to new patients that you care about the outcome. While every response should be unique, you should also avoid addressing the patient directly as any communication of the patient’s individual experience could violate HIPAA rules. So do what you can to take the conversation offline and out of the public arena.

Step 2: Use Negative Reviews to Improve Your Practice’s Reputation

Nobody is perfect. And patients understand that. That’s why negative patient feedback ironically makes you look more credible. When you have nothing but five-star reviews, patients will suspect you of stacking the decThey’ll chalk up your rating to fake reviews whether that’s realistic or not.

But when they see both good and bad scores, it makes your practice appear more honest, more human. And potential patients will instead assess how you’ve responded to negative reviews. 

Get Help Managing Online Patient Reviews

For a healthcare organization or a single provider,  online reputation management can feel like an overwhelming amount of wor Keep in mind that t’s not something you have to do on your own. When you work with Practis to manage your online reputation, you can spend your time with patients–making good impression!