Managing Negative Feedback Online: Five Tips


Every business has frustrated customers from time to time. But today’s ultra-connected society makes it easy and almost instantaneous for those customers to vent their frustrations to anyone who is willing to listen. People feel free to say frank and sometimes even harsh things over the Internet that they would never say face to face or in a written survey. As a doctor, people may choose to direct comments about a negative experience at you personally, your practice, or your staff. So how do you sort the genuine, actionable feedback from the overreactions and maybe even disingenuous comments? And how do you respond appropriately (or not respond) from there? Here are some tips for handling negative online feedback for positive results.

1. Know what people are actually saying

A 2013 ZocDoc study found that as many as 85 percent of doctors are now monitoring their online reviews. If you aren’t already visiting sites like Yelp, HealthGrades, or ZocDoc, you should be. Reviews are important not only because they can affect whether a patient chooses to use your practice, but also how your practice ranks in search engine results — the more positive reviews you get, the higher up your practice will appear in search results. Start by setting up a Google alert, which ensures that you’ll receive an email every time your practice is mentioned, and by assigning someone to monitor your practice’s social media properties on a frequent basis.

2. Be selective about when to respond

Read negative reviews carefully and evaluate what exactly the patient is saying went wrong. Some comments warrant a thought-out response, some require responses to be taken “off-line,” and still others require no response at all. In making these determinations, ask yourself: does the reviewer refer to a specific incident? Does the incident sound like something that has happened in your office before (or do you remember the incident in question)? If yes to any, it’s more likely that they are telling the truth, and you may want to respond. But how?

  • Complaints about lengthy wait times, a lack of appointment availability, or other practice management issues are common. In these cases, the best response is simply one that shows that the complaint has been heard and that you take improvement seriously: “We’re committed to a better patient experience and are trying to improve wait times. We’re sorry about the lengthy wait you recently experienced, and have adjusted our process to reduce wait times in the future.”
  • Complaints about a doctor or nurse’s competence are less common and should be handled much differently, particularly because these incidents, and the associated customer service, may include specific details of a patient’s condition. A response might be, “Thank you for letting us know that this occurred. Please contact our office directly so that we can discuss the situation with you personally.”
  • Complaints that give little information about a specific incident are more difficult to respond to. It’s possible that the person who posted the complaint simply had a bad day and is using the anonymity of the Internet to release their frustrations. Often these posts can be ignored.
  • Reviews that personally attack your colleagues or staff members, use angry or inflammatory language, or are untrue and defamatory should be addressed, but not directly with the reviewer. In the event that someone posts an inflammatory review, you should contact the site administrator immediately. Many sites have policies on having these types of comments removed.


3. ALWAYS follow HIPAA guidelines

No patient data should ever be revealed in a response to a review. The same HIPAA privacy standards must be followed online as when you are interacting with a patient face to face. What you CAN include in a response are your practice’s standard protocols associated with specific situations, as long as you are careful to avoid divulging personally identifiable patient data, for example.

4. Stay calm

We get it. Reading a negative review about yourself online is difficult. The temptation to respond quickly and vehemently to a review you may feel is unjust or inaccurate can be strong, but it’s far worse to fly off the handle and post a potentially angry response than to wait a few hours or even a few days to compose a thought-out and positive message.

5. Fight the bad with the good

For every patient who had a dissatisfying experience, there is one with nothing but good things to say about your practice. The best way to ensure that prospective patients reading online reviews will ignore one or two negative comments is to ensure that there are 5 or 10 good reviews alongside them. Encourage patients, especially longtime or highly satisfied ones, to post reviews. Mention that you’re online and that if they have time to post a review, they should. Put up a sign in your waiting room that says, “You can find us on Yelp!”

Navigating how to respond to various and nuanced complaints can be time-consuming, and receiving negative feedback about your practice can feel disheartening. But investing some energy into managing and responding to less-than-stellar reviews can help improve your customer service, patient retention, and overall reputation—all of which are important to your bottom line. And while word of mouth recommendations still trump online reviews, the number of people reading online reviews jumped nearly 70 percent from 2013 to 2014, according to one survey.

Your rule of thumb should always be that not all negative reviews are created equal. By responding to valid complaints and neutralizing hostile or unhelpful ones, you take back control of the conversation on review sites, make valuable patients happy, and attract new ones at the same time.

To learn more about how doctors are using technology and social media to manage their online reputations, get in touch with us today.

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