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Can Healthcare Providers Sue Over Negative Reviews? How to Handle Online Criticism

One negative review can have a negative impact on a healthcare practice. Here are ways providers can respond to unhappy patients and keep their online reputation glowing.

Like any business trying to attract new customers online, healthcare practices can take a considerable hit to their reputation when people post negative reviews about their services. That risk and potential impact was clearly reinforced in late 2017 when a Chicago hospital sued a review website for lowering its patient safety rating.

Of course, review issues aren’t limited to hospitals and enterprise-size health systems. An Ohio plastic surgeon is taking a patient to court regarding negative reviews she shared online, claiming the patient’s comments equate to defamation of character.

It’s rare that a negative patient review leads to formal legal action, but it does underscore the influence just one dissatisfied patient can have. A recent Bright Local survey showed that a single negative review can cost a business an average of 30 customers.

That’s a loss no healthcare organization can afford, especially smaller practices trying to claim a stronghold in the market. As you request feedback from patients, be prepared to address any issues that arise. It shows that you are listening and want every patient to have an excellent experience with each visit.

The best preparation for negative feedback is to have a process ready to go. You may modify the particulars based on your schedule, specialty, and practice size, but there are three basic tenets we strongly recommend you follow.

Look: The Importance of Online Reviews for Healthcare Practices

1. Be Prompt

If a negative patient review can damage your reputation, consider the fallout if you wait to respond to the feedback — or don’t respond at all. Assuming you have a reputation management process in place and are quickly alerted to negative reviews, it’s important to act swiftly.

After you understand the issue and know how you want to address it, respond directly to the patient within 24 hours. Waiting longer can give the impression that the feedback is not important enough, or worse, is being ignored altogether.

There are two valuable data points related to promptly addressing a patient’s displeasure with your practice. The first, from Harvard Business Review, considers the level of reputation damage poor reviews can cause: Each decrease of one star in your average review rating can lead to a 9% drop in revenue. The second, from a survey about online reviews, says that nearly two-thirds of patients consider it “very” or “moderately” important for doctors to respond to a bad review.

To put it short and sweet: If a patient’s unhappy, make it snappy.

2. Be Succinct

Speaking of short and sweet, make sure your response gets to the point while also specifically focusing on the reviewer’s concerns. Immediately let the reviewer know they are being heard. Preset or canned messages will not do the trick and might even convey a lack of disrespect for the reviewer’s experience or opinions.

Here’s a quick how-to list when writing your response:

  • Thank the patient for their feedback.
  • Show your sympathy by ensuring them you understand their concern or frustration.
  • Quickly reinforce that addressing their issue is a top priority.
  • Make sure your response is unique to them and their situation.
  • Offer to call the patient directly to discuss and resolve the issue.

Related: 4 Ways Healthcare Providers Sabotage Their Online Reputations

3. Be Careful

When communicating with patients, keep in mind that you must not admit fault or ignore HIPAA guidelines.

Admitting fault or apologizing for treatment, care, or a diagnosis can be construed as malpractice. Be sincere and helpful, of course, but stick to assuring unhappy patients that you aim to remedy a situation.

As for HIPAA, the law mandates that privacy regulations must always be followed. Although most healthcare practitioners have a daily familiarity with the law, remember that those privacy protections extend to ways in which you respond to negative reviews — personal health records and information cannot be divulged.

Even if a patient mentions their own health information within a review, healthcare providers are still bound by HIPAA.

Turning a Negative Into a Positive

Think of a negative review as an opportunity to connect with a patient and make them feel better about choosing your practice as their source of care. Your attention when responding to their concerns can keep a strong online reputation intact, and even turn a potential negative review into a positive one.

It’s impossible to address a negative review if you don’t see it coming. Visit this webpage to see how PatientPop can help manage your online reputation.

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