Doctor Patient Relations

My Step-by-Step Guide to Managing Negative Online Reviews

By Keshav Bhat, OD

March 15, 2017

It is not uncommon for a practice to receive negative online reviews. It’s not a fun experience to get negative feedback, but it is one that needs to be addressed. In most small-sized practices, it is the doctor who is left to respond to these comments.

It is important for the practice owner to collaborate with other team members who worked with the patient who posted the review, prior to responding.

Here are the key steps my team and I take before responding to negative reviews.

TAKE A MOMENT AND A DEEP BREATH
Walk away from the keyboard if need be. You do not need to respond immediately, though a timely response is crucial – within 24-48 hours.

READ THE REVIEW – ALOUD, IN FULL, 2-3 TIMES
Make sure you pick up on any nuances, such as a comment by a staff member that was misunderstood, or missed information about the patient’s vision, or prescription, given by you in the exam room.

INVESTIGATE
If you don’t remember this patient, look up their chart and any notes you may have. If the review calls out any other office employees, make sure you gather information from them, as well.

STEP OUT OF DEFENSIVENESS AND INTO SELF-REALIZATION
Try to be impartial. Take a step back from the immediate need to defend yourself, your business, and the patient’s observations/accusations. With all of your information, take a moment to see what you could have done differently. Sometimes the answer is nothing. Sometimes the answer may result in a shift or change in the way things happen at your office. This could be process, procedure, staff, language or another improvement.

Billing and financial frustrations are the leading generator of negative reviews. Make sure you protect yourself by communicating clearly to patients and setting expectations. Keep in mind that you are not answering the review to provide an explanation, or defend your practice. Sometimes, doing the right thing for your business is not always the thing you want to do, or feel is fair.

CALL THE PATIENT
Any time someone raises concerns about you or your practice, the most thoughtful approach can be to reach out directly to address their concerns. But make sure you solidify your approach before picking up the phone. Calling a patient who is upset is the best course of action. Be a good listener and see if you can professionally settle the matter.

BE AN ACTIVE LISTENER
This is the most important and hardest to do. Acknowledge their review. Apologize for their negative experience and let them know it’s certainly not what you intended or how you like to run your business. **To be clear here: you are not apologizing for anything you did wrong, but for their experience. Wording here is everything! Provide additional context where necessary, without violating HIPAA compliance. Don’t detail in a public forum like Yelp the specifics of the patient’s treatment plan, even if they do.

OFFER TO MAKE IT RIGHT
This doesn’t mean giving away the farm, but what it does mean is extending an invite for them to come to the office to see a better side of you and the practice, if they are up for it. Even if you gave them the best side to begin with, they obviously don’t feel that way. Sometimes this may mean offering a full or partial refund. That’s OK, too, even if it doesn’t feel great to your pocketbook.

GENTLY ASK FOR RECONSIDERATION, IF APPROPRIATE
If a disgruntled patient takes you up on making it right, you may want to say something like, “I’m a small business owner and reviews have a big impact on me and my business. I hope you can see my desire to right this. Will you consider updating your review to reflect that?”

As my mom says, you can’t make everyone happy all the time. Negative reviews are going to happen, so be ready when it happens, and make sure you also have a plan in place to generate positive reviews.

 

Keshav Bhat, OD, is the owner of Austin Village Eyecare in Matthews, N.C. To contact him: drbhat@austinvillageeye.com

 

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