If you think online reviews are reserved for restaurants and hotels, think again.
In fact, the latest statistics indicate that 77 percent of people say they use online reviews as a starting point when searching for a new doctor and 84 percent say online reviews help them evaluate a physician’s quality of care.
For a practitioner with great reviews, this is excellent news.
Unfortunately, the longer you practice, the greater the chance that someone will take to the internet to share comments that don’t necessarily paint you in the best light.
So, how should you approach this inevitability?
While you can’t control what others think, say or do, you can control the way you respond.
And that response, if handled properly, can potentially turn a negative situation into something positive for your career.
If you’ve been on the receiving end of a thumbs-down review online (or if you’re trying to be proactive), here’s a guideline for the best, most effective way to take control of the situation.
The Importance of Transparency
Today’s patients demand more than just compassion and convenience from their doctors.
They also demand transparency.
While it’s impossible to please all of the people all of the time, demonstrating accountability can take much of the sting out of a negative review.
The challenge, of course, lies in walking the fine line between transparency and compliance with HIPAA regulations.
With the right strategy, however, it is possible.
How to Deal with Negative Reviews
Patient complaints can involve a wide variety of circumstances.
As such, there’s no cookie-cutter response that will work across the board.
Instead, you should be prepared with a number of different approaches upon which you can draw.
Below are just a few such transparent ways that you can protect your reputation.
Always Observe HIPAA Guidelines
First and foremost, the privacy of your patients must always be respected and HIPAA guidelines be adhered to whenever you are publishing anything online – including responses to negative reviews.
There are certainly ways that you can respond to a complaint using general terms that do not reveal the patient’s identity.
For instance, you could explain the general policies of your office or standard operating procedures – basically anything that would apply to all patients.
Obviously, this approach may not be suitable for every situation, but it’s a good starting point for determining whether an alternative option would be better.
Acknowledge the Situation
In many instances, simply letting an upset patient know that he or she is being heard can be enough to diffuse the situation.
As such, acknowledging that you’ve read the review is essential.
For instance, let’s say a patient takes to an online review site to complain about the long wait times in your office.
Thank them for bringing it to your attention and acknowledge that it’s an area of your business that needs work.
Not only will this assuage the person complaining, but it will demonstrate to anyone else reading the reviews that you are listening and you care.
Provide an Action Plan
While acknowledging negative comments is important, whenever possible, it’s also a good idea to present a plan of action for correcting the situation at hand.
Using the same scenario of the long wait times, you might respond with the steps your office is taking to address and correct the problem.
Doing this not only deescalates the situation, but it also paints you in a more positive light.
Rather than simply seeing a problem with your practice, a prospective new patient will instead see a willingness to listen and initiative to resolve issues promptly.
Be Prepared to Go Offline
Unfortunately, not every negative review will be as simple and easy to deal with as a complaint about wait times.
When the topic at hand is more delicate or complex, you should be prepared to move the conversation offline.
Let the reviewer know you’ve seen the complaint and then offer to contact them directly to discuss the situation further.
Then, follow up with a phone call or invite the patient in for a face-to-face meeting.
If you are able to reach a resolution, ask the patient to either remove the review or post a follow-up comment acknowledging that the matter has been resolved.
Encourage Positive Reviews
In most cases, a prospective patient will look at your overall practice rating before delving into individual reviews.
Obviously, the more positive comments you’ve got in your favor, the better your rating will be.
Additionally, a bunch of good reviews can really drown out a few negative comments.
You can proactively tip the scales in the right direction by encouraging your existing patients to post their positive comments online.
To find good candidates for this, have patients complete a survey and rate your practice on a scale of one to ten.
Anyone who gives you a nine or ten rating is someone you want to share their experience online.
Put Feedback to Use
Try to view negative comments not as a slight to you or your practice, but rather as an opportunity to make improvements.
When you approach negative reviews from this perspective, you can put a positive spin on things.
When reading a complaint, resist the urge to become defensive and instead be objective about it.
Does the reviewer make valid points?
Have you noticed any patterns with several patients making similar complaints?
What steps could you take to ensure that those issues are corrected moving forward?
And remember to post a response whenever you’ve taken measures to resolve a problem.
Take Control of Your Online Reputation
You don’t have to simply wait for people to leave reviews about you.
To the contrary, you should be taking proactive measures to build and strengthen a solid online presence for yourself.
This gives you more control over what prospective new patients will find when they search for you online.
There are a variety of different ways you can accomplish this, including a website for your practice, an engaging blog and active social media profiles.
Whichever path you choose, the goal should be to influence your online reputation in a positive way.
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