Online reviews are word-of-mouth at today’s scale and speed. According to Software Advice, 71 percent of patients begin their search for a doctor by looking at online reviews. Similarly, PatientPop research shows that 73 percent consider positive reviews very or extremely important in their decision-making.
Although many healthcare providers and business owners understandably fear negative reviews, the good news is most patients have only good things to say. Of all patients who say they’ve posted an online review, only 34 percent say they’ve shared a negative experience.
But even one negative review can have big consequences, so it’s important to monitor your online reputation and address any issues right away.
Negative reviews affect patient acquisition
Nearly all websites that feature reviews measure online reputation via a scale of one to five stars. The fewer total reviews your practice has, the higher risk of a few negative reviews — or even just one — bringing down your average star rating. That low rating can then hurt your patient acquisition efforts, as potential patients find your practice online.
Think of it this way: If you receive a couple 2-star reviews among 90 positive reviews, that negative feedback won’t do much damage to your rating. But, if those same 2-star reviews pop up when you have only six total reviews, your average star rating will take a severe hit.
That’s one key reason it’s important to have an online reputation management strategy that not only addresses negative reviews, but encourages patient feedback as a way of continually receiving online reviews.
Six sound strategies for addressing negative online reviews
Responding to negative patient reviews is crucial for both your patient retention and patient acquisition efforts. First and foremost, it offers an opportunity to rectify a situation with one of your patients. Because responses are shared publicly, it also gives you the chance to show prospective patients that you are responsive, and to share important information about your practice.
When it’s time to sit down and type up a response, here are our top strategies:
- Offer your thanks.
The value of this communications best practice can’t be overstated. Thanking the patient, and acknowledging the time they took to share feedback, shows that you value their opinion and appreciate their loyalty.
- Be prompt.
Respond to negative patient feedback within one to two business days. The longer you wait, the worse the situation can get, and the more people who can see the negative feedback without a proper response.
- Respond within the same forum as the initial feedback.
Regardless of whether the feedback was posted on Google, Facebook, Yelp, or another public forum, respond using the same platform, for all to see.
- Be sincere and succinct.
Start with a personable, approachable tone. Keep your response simple and to the point, and refrain from sounding defensive or accusatory. For legal safety, don’t apologize or accept blame — instead, acknowledge the complaint and refer to office policy whenever possible.
- Offer to take the conversation offline.
Always invite the patient to connect with you privately to resolve the issue. By offering that opportunity, you open up the chance to discuss the complaint in detail away from the public eye, and empower the patient to decide on the next step.
- Maintain HIPAA compliance.
Never disclose any details about a visit, especially any protected health information (PHI). Even if the patient mentions particulars such as the date of service, diagnosis, or treatment, you can’t repeat them publicly.* Stick to a consistent format that explains your general approach. This can help you stay on track without divulging personal details. Just be sure your responses don’t end up sounding robotic or auto-generated as this won’t resonate well with patients.
(*Please note: Suggestions are not intended to be legal or regulatory guidance. Speak with your lawyer or regulatory expert with any questions.)
Preventing bad feedback up front: 3 tips for online reputation management
A stellar online reputation should be the goal for every healthcare practice. What better way to mitigate the potential damage of negative reviews than preventing them from occurring in the first place? Here are a few simple practice improvement tips that can help you avoid negative online reviews.
- Streamline your office operations. Since patients often express frustration about long wait times and busy front office staff, automating manual functions like scheduling, appointment reminders, and patient registration and intake can free up employees to help streamline and improve the patient experience.
- Monitor your practice and providers’ reputation. With an online reputation management service, you can easily keep an eye on the variety of reviews sites, to track any incoming feedback that appears. The right service can promptly alert you to any negative sentiment, giving you an opportunity to remedy potentially difficult situations in a timely manner and even make improvements.
- Encourage feedback. The best way to defend your reputation against a handful of negative reviews is by keeping a high volume of patient reviews. The best way to get more reviews? Simply ask for feedback.
Automated patient satisfaction surveys can help your practice make feedback part of the process and increase the number of reviews you’ll receive. PatientPop survey research from 2019 found that patients who are asked for feedback are 50 percent more likely to proactively submit an online review. Not only can more reviews soften the impact of any negative review, but a high number can also improve your search engine ranking — increasing the likelihood that patients searching for a new provider will find your practice.
Standing out as the healthcare practice of choice
Many healthcare practices don’t do what’s best when it comes to addressing negative reviews. In a PatientPop survey, 58.5 percent of patients who shared critical feedback said they received no response from the practice or provider.
This means that practices with an effective online reputation strategy can differentiate themselves from other practices that don’t have a process in place to address negative reviews. In a competitive market, this is just one more way to set your practice apart from the practice, urgent care center, or retail clinic in the area. By addressing critical reviews head-on, your practice will be better positioned to both attract and retain your patients.