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In today’s world, online reviews have become par-for-the course for business, and this includes medicine. In fact, one recent survey found that 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. So online reviews count, and overall, this is a good thing. Data shows that more reviews translate into significantly more appointments, and this holds true even if some reviews are bad (it is not until a physician’s overall rating drops to 2.5 stars out of five that appointments begin to decline meaningfully).

Nevertheless, it isn’t fun to get negative patient reviews, particularly if you feel it’s not deserved. It can be tempting to do all kinds of things in response. But not all are productive. Working as the medical director of a large emergency clinic, I’ve seen the situation play out in what feels like every shape and form. Invariably, the smartest way to deal with negative reviews is to address them head-on, and turn them into an opportunity for open communication and education. Here, I’ve collected some best practices from the trenches.

1. Respectfully Acknowledge the Review

First, acknowledge the review immediately. Be respectful, even if you think the patient is wrong. This person clearly thinks he or she is right, so if you become defensive the whole situation can quickly degenerate. At this stage, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to commit to a course of action, you just need to commit to showing that you take the complaint seriously and intend to find a resolution.

2. Keep it Private

Next, reach out privately. As much as the patient wants you to pay attention, medical information remains a privacy issue and even if the patient shares personal details, it’s best not to conduct the discussion openly. You can be sued, this person probably can’t. Avoid confirming or denying publicly that the reviewer is your patient, because this can also contravene patient rights. Offer to help the patient resolve the problem, and when it’s been addressed to the individual’s satisfaction, ask him or her to be kind enough to revise the review or to confirm publicly that the issue has been resolved.

3. Learn from the Feedback 

Now, take a moment to learn from the comments. Often,we don’t realize what patients are thinking until they say something, and if it’s said in an online review it might be the first time we hear anything about it. Don’t discount reviews even when they are inaccurate, because patient perceptions are vitally important to your practice. Learn from the comments so you can avoid the situation arising in the future.

The one exception, of course, is when the feedback is fake. Closed-loop sites (among them, Zocdoc), only allow reviews from verified patients, so there you don’t have to worry. But elsewhere online, things aren’t as above-board. Nevertheless, if you have strong evidence that a review is fake, reach out to the site and make your case thoughtfully and and reasonably. If they won’t take it down, make a point of responding online and stating that it is a fake. Moving forward, ask patients to review you on closed-loop sites – having a strong set of reviews on a reputable site where users are all verified offers far more credibility than a smattering of questionable ones across the web.

On that note, there’s nothing that makes a negative review disappear faster than positive feedback rolling in above it. This works because we all typically look for the most recent information.When patients see negative reviews, they check the date to determine whether things have changed since then. Furthermore, most review sites have limited-length pages, so as soon as there are four or five reviews a new page is created automatically. Typically, the newer reviews appear first.

4. Strengthen Your Online Presence

Finally, complement all this with a strong online profile of your own. That may sound like a lot of work, but the more authoritative content you publish online the less likely your negative reviews are to turn up in Google searches. Develop your personal brand by publishing regular blog posts. Share these via social media accounts and actively encourage patients to post reviews and comments. With this, as with all the above approaches, chances are good that the positive will outweigh the negative.

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