How to respond to negative patient reviews and other feedback

Addressing negative feedback online is critical to providers’ healthcare reputation management.

Doctor replies to patient reviews

These days, patients use online reviews to help them pick out their next mobile phone, plan their dinners out, and even choose their healthcare providers. In a recent PatientPop survey, online patient reviews were listed as the top factor affecting patient decision-making, relied upon by 59 percent of people.

For providers, this makes their online reputation management a critical component of their patient acquisition strategy. This also means negative feedback — an unavoidable aspect of running a business — is something practices can’t afford to ignore.

The impact of negative feedback

According to BrightLocal, 78 percent of people trust online patient reviews as much as personal recommendations. Thus, enough negative feedback can hurt your online reputation and overall brand.

Your online reputation is most often measured by a star rating system that measures customer satisfaction on a scale of one to five stars. Receiving negative patient reviews will impact your average star rating, which is considered the most important review factor among consumers, according to a survey by BrightLocal. That same survey revealed more than half (57 percent) of all consumers said they won’t patron a business with fewer than 4 stars. This figure is up 9 percent since 2017.

Receiving less-than-flattering patient reviews can be worrisome to many providers because they can deter patients from choosing their practice. In fact, 76.1 percent of healthcare providers worry about receiving negative reviews from patients, and two in five providers say they’re extremely concerned, according to PatientPop.

Look: Can doctors sue over negative reviews? How to handle online criticism

Why respond to negative feedback

Among providers who choose not to respond to negative feedback, 52.4 percent say it’s because they do not believe it will make a difference, according to PatientPop. But research shows this is not true; patients expect their providers to address their concerns.

According to Software Advice, 70 percent of patients say that it is important that healthcare providers answer negative reviews. A report by Sprout Social reveals that 46 percent of consumers have used social media to call out brands, and more than half of that group did so in order to get a resolution. Consumers want to know that their concerns are not falling on deaf ears.

The quality of your response can help strengthen your online reputation, despite having received negative feedback. About nine out of 10 consumers say they read local business’s responses to reviews, according to BrightLocal, and almost one in five people will disregard a negative review if the provider has responded in a thoughtful manner, according to Software Advice.

Among those who have used social media to call out brands, 45 percent said they would go back to highlight a positive interaction when given a response, according to Sprout Social. And PatientPop research shows that when a provider responds to negative feedback, the rate of satisfied patients almost doubles, increasing 99 percent.

Take control: Online reputation management for doctors

Tips to respond to negative feedback

Another reason providers choose not to respond to negative feedback is for fear of accidentally violating HIPAA. Among those who choose not to respond to patient reviews, 46 percent of providers said they did not out of concern for HIPAA compliance. Although it’s important to address all negative feedback, providers must take special care not to accidentally reveal protected health information (PHI) in their response.

Review: What is protected health information? Quick guide for healthcare providers 

The best preparation for responding to negative online feedback is to have a process in place. This ensures negative reviews are not ignored and that your patients receive a thoughtful response. Additionally, it should protect you from accidentally violating HIPAA. You may modify the particulars based on your schedule, specialty, and practice size, but there are three basic tenets we recommend you follow.

  • Respond quickly. Preferably, you should reply within 24 hours. Patients generally expect to receive a resolution and the longer you wait, the more it may appear you do not care.
  • Be concise. The longer your response, the more likely you are to share PHI. Offer to move the conversation to a private and secure place, so you can freely understand and address patient concerns. If you know this is a patient that you’ve seen recently, you can also reach out to them privately.
  • Be respectful. You want to keep calm and not appear defensive. Although it’s natural to want to apologize, you should not say sorry or admit fault. It’s also important to remain vague in your response. Even if the patient has provided details regarding their visit, you cannot confirm a person is a patient or that they visited your practice without their explicit permission.

A good rule of thumb is to speak in general terms and reiterate an office policy, so you’re not speaking to a specific experience.

Addressing negative patient reviews: an example

Let’s take a look at an example. Say someone leaves you the following one-star review:

“I had a terrible experience at this doctor’s office! I waited over 45 minutes to be seen, the staff was rude, and no one was able to answer my questions. Plus, there’s nowhere to park. I don’t think I’ll return.”

When we reply, it’s imperative we do not confirm or speak to this patient’s specific experience. Just because they have identified themselves as a patient does not allow the practice to do the same. It helps to mentally identify the broader issues the patient is referring to. The reviewer mentions a long wait, poor customer service, and difficulty finding parking. In our response, we’re going to address these issues from a general standpoint.

Our suggested response:

“Thank you for your comment. The patient experience is important to us, which is why we aim to see all patients within 10 minutes of their scheduled appointment.

We also offer valet parking behind the office building. Please give us a call at (800) 555-5555 so we can better assist you.”

Here, we thank the reviewer for taking the time to share their concerns. Then, we mention our commitment to a positive patient experience, which includes short wait times. We also clarify parking information. This helps address the reviewer and inform any other prospective patients who may be reading the response. Finally, we offer to move the conversation offline, so we can discuss the particulars of the visit in a secure and private place.

Check out: The top online sources for patient reviews, according to patients

Monitor for patient reviews and feedback

It’s impossible to address negative feedback if you don’t know you’re receiving it. To jumpstart your online reputation management efforts, claim your online profiles on prominent patient review websites and set up alerts so you never miss feedback. Healthcare reputation management software can also help aggregate all your online patient reviews in one place, so you can get a better view of your overall online reputation. A good online reputation management software can also send patient satisfaction surveys following patient visits to ensure you’re receiving timely feedback on the regular.

Need a more comprehensive guide to addressing negative feedback online? Download The doctor’s guide to responding to patient reviews and other online feedback.”

This blog post does not constitute legal advice. Be sure to run your process as it relates to HIPAA by your lawyer or legal team.

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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.