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How to respond to negative patient reviews

A 2013 survey by health care technology organization Digital Assent found that 72 percent of patients reported that finding bad reviews online might prevent them from seeing a particular provider. This trend can significantly affect a practice's financial wellbeing if they are not aware how to respond appropriately to a patient's online complaints. 

First, it is important for providers and practice owners to understand that patients will always feel more comfortable voicing their concern anonymously over the internet than bringing them to the attention of your staff. To help these professionals understand how to react appropriately to finding negative review, medical marketing consultant Michael Woo-Ming shared some of his insight with Physician's Practice, an industry news source.

  • Respond quickly: Woo-ming warns that one negative review can often spawn more if it remains unaddressed. That is why it is important for providers or practice owners to respond quickly to a negative review. The response should always be professional, polite and respectful, even if it seems off base. Becoming defensive only entrenches the complainer further in their beliefs, and can cause others to perceive your practice negatively.
  • Address inaccuracies: Unfortunately, patients can often embellish the negative aspects of their experience to help validate their opinions. It is important that if a review includes incorrect information, your practice respectfully provides the truth of the matter. Do not make value judgments against the reviewer, but simply provide the facts necessary to address the false claim. Failure to do so can cause false information about your practice to spread, and cause long-term damage to reputation.
  • Be HIPAA-conscious: Woo-ming urges that the responder to a negative review keep in mind the importance of patient privacy. When responding directly to a complaint, begin by phrasing your message with something like "If you are a patient, we apologize…" It is crucial that the response neither confirms nor denies that the reviewer is a patient of the practice.
  • Offer a solution: Practice owners and providers responding to negative reviews should do more than sympathize with the poor experience. Ideally, the response should include detailed information on how the problem is being addressed by the practice, or could be avoided by the patient in the future. For example, if a patient is complaining about long wait times, the response could explain that the practice's new electronic health records will help reduce wait times.

It is crucial that responses to negative reviews express that the practice takes patient satisfaction seriously, and is willing to work to provide an improved patient experience. Even if the cause of the negative experience is outside of the control of the practice, apologizing and sympathizing with the reviewer can help show others reading the reviews your practice takes patient needs seriously. 

If someone at your practice believes they know which patient may have made the complaint, it is important that they refrain from contacting the patient directly via email or other online source. In many states, providers need written consent to communicate with patients electronically. Also, if they offered the critique anonymously, they likely do not want to address the concern in person.

It is also worth keeping in mind that some reviews simply do not warrant a response. If a particular review seems outlandish or makes the poster seem unreasonable, a response is not always necessary. 

The most important thing your practice can do in response to a negative patient review is to use the feedback to improve the patient experience. Most often, negative reviews are based on the management of the practice, and not the technical competence of the provider. By explaining to staff how online reviews can negatively affect their place of work and how every patient interaction needs to be handled with care, negative reviews can be avoided.