How Doctors Can Deal with Bad Reviews… Or Not

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One bad review on Yelp or HealthGrades can stick to a physician’s practice like glue, skewering patient trust en masse before the relationship begins. There are definite steps a doctor can take to nip this problem in the bud.

The first step used to involve Medical Justice, a company that would pursue negative reviewers for physicians, and encourage them to remove or delete their bad review. That service has evaporated in the face of at least one lawsuit. This kind of pressure was largely an unethical way for doctors to fight bad reviews anyway.

The best way to fix negative reviews is to fight fire with fire. Actively encourage your patients to review you. Better still, take a lesson from online marketers. Provide customers with an opportunity to rate your practice on a scale of 1-10. When you get a “10” rating, ask that customer to post a review. A few bad reviews can’t stand up to a flood of good ones.

1. Don’t Try to Get Bad Reviews Deleted

Medical Justice used to offer a service for doctors to go after bad reviews and get them removed. They’ve since abandoned that service since a lot of internet users found it unethical. In fact, fighting negative reviews with litigation or other means will almost always cause even more negative press while costing the physician money and stress.

2. Don’t Fight Negative Reviews Either in Public or in Private

There’s a big temptation for doctors to argue against negative reviews in online forums like Yelp or HealthGrades. Approaching the reviewer in private also has its allure. Public conflicts drag the physician down to the reviewer’s level and magnify the bad press. They could even ensnare you in HIPAA violations. Private conflicts can be made public when the reviewer posts quotes from your conversation online. Neither gets the bad review removed or deleted.

3. If You Can, Make Amends

As much as it may stick going down, doctors can fight bad reviews by making amends either in public or in private. Check with counsel to make sure you won’t tangle with HIPAA, then publicly offer to fix the problem in the forum where the reviewer attacked you. Private offers of a discounted or free teeth cleaning or a gift certificate can also salve a bad review, or get it removed.

4. Follow Neil Patel’s Advice About Bad Reviews

Doctors struggling with bad reviews can find solace in the words of marketing guru and bestselling author Neil Patel: Leave it alone and don’t talk about it. “When you deal with it, it just adds more fuel to the fire,” says Patel. Podcast co-host Eric Su concurs. “It really is better to ignore it because the more you address it, the more people start talking about it, the more it grows.” The best way for a physician to deal with a negative review is to let it die a natural death.

5. Focus on Telling Your Story through Social Media

Rather than fight bad reviews, doctors should focus on positive actions like social media promotion. There are dozens of ways to tell your story on Facebook and other platforms, and doing that can create enough positive buzz to remove the power of bad reviews. Don’t have time? Consider hiring or contracting out to a competent, tactful social media manager or intern. That won’t delete your negative reviews, but it’ll render them less important.

6. Work on Patient Respect to Generate Good Word of Mouth

Negative reviews are bad for a doctor’s business, but they can’t stand up to good word of mouth. To generate positive buzz that removes the sting of bad reviews, adjust your practice to fix speed issues and reduce waiting. Listen to patients with empathy, and make sure your employees are trained in the same skill. Positive chatter will overwhelm any bad online review.

7. Encourage Good Reviews

A bad review can stick to a doctor like glue, but the best way to fix it is to create a flood of positive reviews. Think you can’t do it? Use a simple patient survey with a Net Promoter Score to identify your biggest fans. Do it with an email campaign or with a paper handout in the waiting room. When you get a 9 or 10, reach out and actually ask for an online review. The patient will be glad to do it, and you’ll be well on your way to fighting bad reviews without removing them.

8. Embrace Bad Reviews

Bad reviews are your best source of positive change ideas for your practice. Rather than fight them or try to have them deleted, mine them for inspiration about how to improve. Use a Net Promoter Score to identify detractors before they leave a negative review, then approach them and ask how you could be better. They’ll love you for it, and you’ll gain valuable insights to fix recurring problems.

9. Fight False Reviews

Negative but honest reviews aren’t pleasant, but you can’t fight them or have them removed. False bad reviews are another story altogether. Review sites like Yelp can get into serious legal trouble for hosting fake reviews. Beyond that, it’s bad for their own PR. If you suspect a review of being fake, contact Yelp (or the other review site) with a complaint and a request to delete.

10. Move on and Do Good Work

Above all, don’t get bogged down trying to remove bad reviews. Doctors are in business to help people, and you can’t do that as long as you’re embroiled in fighting bad reviews. Get back to being a physician and practice medicine. As hard as it is to face negative PR, know that time will ultimately fix the problem.

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