The Dos and Don'ts of Responding to Online Reviews About Your Practice

POSTED IN: Mobile/Wireless, Privacy and Security

Google your name. The first results will likely be physician finder sites like RateMDs.com, Health Grades or Vitals, or broad-based service finders like Yelp or InsiderPages. The reviews can be critical to your success as a doctor in today’s world, regardless of whether they are true or not.

Since visitors tend to focus on the bad reviews more than the good, it’s important to look at all the feedback and address it appropriately. These all play a part in your overall online reputation. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to know exactly how, or if you should respond. Make the wrong move and you risk causing more damage.

To get a handle on the dos and don’ts of managing negative reviews in the healthcare field, Software Advice contributor David Fried talked to Deborah C. Hiser, a specialist in HIPAA and Partner at law firm Brown McCarroll, and Joey McGirr, an online marketing expert with McGirr Interactive Communications.

The Absolute Can’ts

  • Never publicly discuss patient specifics. A patient can post anything they want about their visit with you, but it is a major HIPAA violation for you to say anything about them in a response.
  • Never email patients without their consent. In many states, doctors need a patient’s written consent to communicate with them electronically. Unless you’re certain you’re not in one of those states or have consent, use the telephone instead.

The Suggested Shouldn’ts

  • Don’t respond when you’re upset. We get it. You take your business personally. It is natural to want to respond on the defensive. However, McGirr suggests that you should first follow a 24-hour rule. Respond a day so the wound is less fresh.
  • Don’t get into drawn-out he-said/she-said discussions. No one wins a back and forth battle about who did what. Plus, search engines and review sites generally give more weight to newer content. This means that you draw more attention to a negative review every time you reply. Also, a response from the owner of the business validates the original comment in the eyes of the review site, making it much harder to have that review removed later.

The Cans and Shoulds

  • Pick your battles. First, determine whether the review is worth responding to. Figure out how valid the person’s concern is and take the appropriate action.
  • Use the feedback to improve your practice. Most negative feedback has nothing to do with the doctor’s technical competence but rather the management of the practice itself. Criticism about the office staff, appointment access, and appointment wait times are very common. These comments can be used as a catalyst to improve your practice, coming from a sincere place of wanting to do better.
  • Craft a response that demonstrates a commitment to improvement. As mentioned previously, doctors need to tread carefully to avoid violations. But one good reason to respond would be to update patients on changes you’ve made to the practice in response to their feedback. If you can identify the patient based on their comments, you can absolutely reach out to them by phone. And if you can’t identify the patient, feel free to post a public comment inviting the reviewer to contact you. Yelp reports “lots of success stories from business owners who were polite to their reviewers and were accordingly given a second chance.”
  • Get libelous reviews removed. Libel is to defame through the use of false words or pictures. Sever defamation can impact your practice, so it’s worth your time to get it removed. Check the site’s Terms and Conditions section for the best method to do this. If that fails, contact a lawyer for more options.
  • Encourage happy patients to post reviews. There’s no rule against asking patients to write an online review. To ensure a healthy mixture of positive reviews, contact patients (through their preferred, HIPAA-approved method) 48 hours after their visit and encourage them to let you know how you’re doing.

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Research for this piece was conducted by David Fried of Software Advice. Previous to his work at Software Advice, Fried spent three years as a research specialist for a medical technology consulting company. You can reach him on LinkedIn for more information.

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