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The risks and potential rewards of negative patient reviews

When dissatisfied patients share their experience online, your healthcare practice reputation can potentially suffer. Here’s how to address feedback so it works in your favor.

Running a private healthcare practice comes with challenges that most small business owners don’t have to worry about. As a healthcare provider, you have your “customers’” health in your hands, often literally. As any physician or dentist will attest, the responsibility is great and so are the rewards.

But one aspect of business exists across all industries and categories: the unhappy customer. If you own a business, dissatisfied customers come with the territory. Online reviews have become an available tool for people to amplify problems and grievances, whether it’s for a new car, old restaurant, or local plumber. Everything and every place is being reviewed, every day.

This was illustrated to humorous effect on an episode of the radio show This American Life that shared real-life negative reviews of experiences like The Great Wall of China (“One star. Too crowded.”) and the National Park at Gettysburg (“Three stars. Really, it’s a field.”) 

The ubiquity of online reviews can seem funny. But in the healthcare world, their content and influence is not. We know from two years of survey research that patient reviews are the most influential online resource. Considering the level of anxiety a person can feel seeing the doctor and contending with medical conditions, you should review, consider and, most important, respond to patients’ feedback.

Doing so is more valuable than just giving extra attention to an unhappy patient. It’s a commitment to turning a potentially damaging situation into one that actually works in your favor — for both patient retention and new patient acquisition.

The likelihood of a negative patient review

Good news. In our 2nd annual patient perspective survey, two of three patients who’ve posted an online review said they only had positive things to say about their healthcare providers. So, if you request feedback from your patients — a necessity for practice growth — you can count on the majority sharing good experiences.

As for the dissatisfied patients, the focus of their negative feedback is most often related to how they perceive the quality of care or what they think of their provider’s demeanor (as we detailed in a blog post about the survey results). The reason for their displeasure is important for your insight, but it doesn’t change how you need to react.

The cost of ignoring dissatisfied patients

Not responding to an unhappy patient is a surefire way to lose them.

We asked patients who’d shared negative feedback if they’d been contacted by their practice, and how that response affected their level of satisfaction.

When healthcare providers or practices respond, things change. Fifty-nine percent of patients who were contacted said they were satisfied.

Remember: In many instances, a patient who’s had a disappointing experience just wants to be heard. This is a basic tenet of customer service. Often, acknowledging the issue or complaint can be just what that patient needs to feel better. 

On the opposite end, what happens when the patient is ignored? When a provider or practice does not reach out to address negative feedback, patient satisfaction is at 3.6 percent. That unhappy patient remains an unhappy patient. They’re practically immovable. 

That’s a 59 percent vs. 3.6 percent patient satisfaction rate. Considering patients’ willingness to leave a practice, that’s a more significant difference than you might think. In our survey, 37.1 percent of patients said they’d be willing to switch doctors for one that provides a prompt response to questions or concerns.

Responding to negative patient reviews: a checklist

Don’t think of responding to negative reviews as a necessary chore. Think of it as a business opportunity.

Beyond the obvious patient retention, showing your concern and care online can have a positive effect on patients getting their first impression of your practice. Your response is there for all to see. 

To make sure you see every review of your practice, positive and negative, it’s best to use an online reputation management service. When you come across a negative review of your practice, begin a fixed process to address the situation. By sticking to these points, you’re more likely to earn that patient’s satisfaction, and the interest and admiration of prospective patients.

  1. Be prompt. Answer back within 1-2 business days. 
  2. Respond within the same forum as the initial feedback. This way, everyone can see the complaint and your response. Also, if a patient appears to be unusually angry, your calm answer can really help set the tone. 
  3. Be sincere and succinct. This combination lets the patient know you want to help remedy any negative situation, while preventing you from trying to over-explain or sounding unprepared.  
  4. Thank the patient. Be sincere here, too. This person took time out of their day to share something that was bothering them. Their insights may also be valuable to your practice and inspire change.
  5. Offer to take the conversation elsewhere. Tell the patient they can reach out to you directly to discuss the situation in detail. This can move the interaction away from the public eye, and empower the patient with deciding on a next step.
  6. Be HIPAA-compliant. Under no circumstances can you mention information about a visit (including date) and, of course, PHI. Here’s a good way to remember how careful you need to be: Even if the patient mentions details about an encounter, diagnosis, or treatment, you may not repeat them. (This is not intended to be legal or regulatory guidance. Speak with your lawyer or regulatory expert with any questions.)

As we’ve mentioned before about negative patient reviews, a good rule of thumb is to speak generally and reiterate office policy. That will keep your responses standard and safe, but still give you room to add your personal tone.

Making a difference in your market

Taking the time to monitor and respond to patient feedback presents opportunities that others are not taking advantage of. In the patient perspective survey, 58.5 percent of patients said they did not receive a response from their provider after sharing critical feedback.

For those providers, the negative reviews are there to be seen — followed by an empty silence from the practice. For people looking online to find out about a provider or care (74.5 percent of patients), that blank space denotes a lack of care, and has them looking for another 4- and 5-star provider.

PatientPop
PatientPop is the leader in practice growth with the only all-in-one solution that empowers healthcare providers to improve every digital touchpoint of the patient journey. As experts in the healthcare technology space, PatientPop makes it easy for providers to thrive in the consumerization of healthcare and promote their practice online, attract patients, and retain them for life.

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