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How to Respond to Negative Reviews and Fix Your Online Reputation

Getting a negative online review can put a ding on your reputation, but the way you respond to it can turn that relationship around... and actually improve your image in the process.

In a moment of curiosity, you decide to Google your name, and, lo and behold, there’s a new result that you’ve never seen before: Someone has reviewed you and your practice. Great… free publicity! But upon reading it, you realize that the review is less than flattering, and that old adage of ‘all press being good press’ doesn’t seem to apply in this situation.

Before you hyperventilate or fire off an angry rebuttal, take a deep breath and understand that a negative review is actually an opportunity (in disguise) for you to manage your reputation and engage with your patients. Now that you know what someone thinks about your office and your services, you can make necessary improvements that you didn’t know you needed to, explain your way of doing things, and, most importantly, show that you care enough to listen to what is and isn’t working for your patients.

So now what do you say?

DO always reply.

Sometimes when patients post a negative review, the most important thing to them is that they are heard. Never ignore feedback. If you do, it appears to them — and other readers — that you don’t care or take their needs and opinions seriously. Instead of burying your head in the sand and pretending that a negative review will go away if you don’t address it, acknowledge its existence and prepare a thoughtful – read: personalized, not automatic – response.

DON’T get carried away.

It isn’t necessary, or always a good idea, to post a lengthy reply. It might come across as defensive and you risk giving away information that isn’t yours to share with the public. When answering a negative review, keep your reply short and simple, polite and to the point. Offer to take the conversation offline, so you and the patient can discuss the issue in more detail and in private.

DO follow HIPAA guidelines.

Another reason to move the conversation offline is to avoid revealing any of the patient’s personal or private information in a public forum. Never disclose any of the patient’s personal health information, even if the patient mentions specific or personal details in their review. It’s challenging to discuss a complaint while remaining vague, so explain this in your answer and say you can better address the specific situation one-on-one, where you don’t run the risk of revealing their private health information.

DON’T feel like you always have to apologize.

Apologies are tricky due to potential malpractice and liability issues. While you want to address their feelings, you don’t want to find yourself entangled in a legal mess because of something you said online. If it’s a relatively minor transgression — say, the patient complains that you seemed to rush through the appointment and didn’t spend adequate time with them — you could certainly apologize for giving the patient the impression that you were too busy or hurried.

You could also explain that you were moving quickly in order to keep other patients from having to wait long. Offer to make yourself available offline for a follow-up discussion or to answer any questions that may not have been addressed during the patient’s exam.

DO thank the patient.

Wait, what? Someone says something bad about you online and you’re supposed to show gratitude? This may seem like a stretch, but in reality, the patient has done you a favor and deserves recognition. They’ve provided you with valuable feedback that will help you avoid a similar negative situation with another patient.

Tell the reviewer that you appreciate them taking the time to tell you about their experience, rather than bashing you privately and/or never visiting your practice again. Other potential and current patients will take note of your graciousness and view you in a more positive light.

DON’T give up.

For better or worse, online reviews and social media sharing are the norm these days. Instead of feeling intimidated, think of social media as another tool at your disposal. During appointments, regularly ask and encourage patients to post reviews and feedback. If patients thank you in person or tell you how you’ve helped them, ask if they would be willing to take a few minutes to share this in an online review.

Always follow up by email with patients again post-appointment to ask for feedback and include links to reputable review sites in case they’d like to take their review public. You can also include these review requests in appointment reminders in the mail or simply ask as they walk out the front door.

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