If you’ve been in the healthcare industry a while, you’ve had a front-row seat to see how technology is changing the landscape - everything from EHRs to carrying tablets to patients diagnosing themselves online. One aspect of changing technology that has both positive and negative effects is the online review. Think about it: where do you go when you want to learn something? A search engine...and your patients are no different. Whether they’re searching for a nearby Chinese restaurant or trying to find a new physician, the ability to read reviews from other customers/patients can be a force multiplier for good or bad...would you go to a one-star buffet with bad reviews if there were a 3-star restaurant on the same block? Let’s take a look at how private medical practices and individual physicians can address online reviews and boost their online presence positively.
First order of business: do you even know what your online presence looks like?
In many cases, someone can create a profile for you on popular doctor-rating sites, even without your knowledge. Get in the habit of running a Google search on your name every so often, so that you’ve got a handle on what’s out there...you can’t fix the problems you don’t know about, right? Even if there are zero to few reviews, you’ll want to check that your office and specialty information are correct - that way prospective patients will have accurate contact data (which is a win).
I’ve got a negative online review; what do I do?
First, don’t panic...and DON’T fire off a reply right away. That is a potential recipe for future disaster! If you can identify who the patient is (either from their name or specifics in their post), it’s possible to contact them directly through other means and try to solve the problem at the lowest level. In those instances in which you can rectify a perceived wrong or injustice, do so. In those cases where a patient is completely out to lunch (or there is a previous contentious relationship), it may not be worth the time and energy to contact them directly. In either case, you’ll want to proceed with caution should you decide to reach back with an online reply.
One of the silver linings to reading a negative online review is that there may be useful feedback for your private medical practice. Take the information with a grain of salt and dash of humility. If someone writes that they consistently have to wait 15-20 minutes for regularly scheduled appointments, perhaps there is something your office can adjust. Or perhaps you learn that a lot of your patients have a problem with the same front-office staffer, and some counseling or personnel changes are in order. Regardless of what you read, keep your eyes open for opportunities to improve; raw, unfiltered feedback is hard to come by!
Posting a reply to the negative online review? Read this first.
One of the best ways to defuse a situation and protect your reputation and practice online is to respond to reviews directly. Should you decide to address a negative online review in the same forum it was published in, here are a couple of guidelines to keep in mind:
Do not violate HIPAA. This should be fairly obvious, but remember that even if the patient disclosed protected health information in their post, you are bound by different rules. Don’t jeopardize your licensing to make a point.
Be polite, direct, and neutral. Be sure to address the primary issue that a reviewer brings up, without going into granular details. Regardless of how hot-headed you may feel, keeping a polite, neutral tone conveys that you’re in control and will leave a positive impression for anyone else that is reading.
Keep it concise. Don’t let yourself get into tangents, or leave a paragraphs-long tirade. This will be viewed as defensive...and whatever you do, don’t use the ‘all caps’ technique when responding!
Consider getting feedback, or waiting 12 hours before you post. Ask a colleague or coworker to review your response, or give yourself a designated waiting period before publishing a reply. That way, you can read it one last time before you make it public and make sure you’re sending the message you intend to.
One last tip for physicians to consider is actively managing their online presence. This means having a professional social media presence, sharing relevant information with followers, and making sure your practice is well represented. Don’t solicit reviews, but feel free to ask patients to submit one if they’re pleased with your care. Combining all of these tactics can be very beneficial for your online presence, and make the impact of one negative online review a lot smaller.
We’ve discussed a lot in this blog - online profiles you need to be aware of, and tactics on how to respond to a negative online review and maintain a positive digital presence. For more physician-specific tips, check out our blog, or contact us to see how we can help improve your private medical practice.