How to Handle Negative Online Physician Reviews

As the average patient becomes more and more digitally connected, online physician reviews and rating websites are taking a larger role in a practice’s ability to attract new patients. Similar to personal recommendations and referrals, positive online reviews are also becoming an essential component to draw new patients. Assuming that you’re a good physician, most of your online reviews will likely be positive, but how do you handle a negative review?

A negative online review can often ruin your day, particularly if you feel that review isn’t 100% deserved. In this situation, it can be tempting to lash out against the reviewer online, among other things, in response, but remember this one rule of the internet:anything that you post online will live on forever. If you repeat that statement three more times to yourself after receiving a negative physician review, you could save yourself from a grave mistake.

Remember: if you currently have a good amount of positive reviews, any outlier negative review will be diluted by the others. Still, it’s important to know how to respond to a negative review, and what you can take away from them.

Responding to a Negative Online Physician Review

First, decide whether the review was warranted. Negative reviews offer valuable feedback (no matter how poorly expressed), including feedback that patients are too afraid to tell their physicians directly. Take a moment to read through the negative review, research the patient and their history with your practice, and decide for yourself whether the review was warranted. It’s no surprise that people sometimes overreact, so you may encounter fake or slightly fabricated negative reviews, but remember to take the real ones seriously.

Try to overcome your emotional reactions to a negative review and think objectively whether the patient might have a point–and if so, how you will improve your services in the future.

Decide whether to respond privately or publicly. If you run into an incredibly unhappy patient, it’s worth trying to reach out to the patient privately if you can. If there is an option for direct messaging the patient, (most sites with anonymous reviews don’t allow for this) try to reach out to them. Show sincerity and sympathy, making sure to listen and try to learn from the patient as much as possible. By doing so, you can often turn your worst critic into your most loyal patient.

If you’re unable to respond privately due to a lack of direct message features, or the patient has posted anonymously, you can also respond to a negative review publicly. Tread lightly here, though. We’ve seen many physicians rush to the keyboard to rebut a negative review, only to fan the flames. Should you respond publicly to a negative review that was warranted, apologize (without using any specifics about the situation or the patient’s circumstances) and explain how you will avoid the problem in the future. Your patients don’t you to be perfect, but they do you to learn from, and correct your mistakes. Owning up to a mistake helps prospective patients trust their doctors even more.

Remember to keep in mind that responding publicly to a negative physician review could also provide more visibility to the review. Public silence is always an option.

Act Quickly if Necessary. While you don’t have to respond the minute a bad review pops up, you don’t want to let it linger without an appropriate response either. Responding to a review, positive or negative, in a timely manner shows that you’re actively listening to your patients. Consider it your ‘online bedside manner’.

Take your time to craft a response, publicly or privately, without allowing your emotions to take control.

Dispute the Review if it Lacks Legitimacy. Depending on the review site (or social media platform), they may or may not intervene when you claim a false review. Review websites are not legally obligated to do so (or legally liable for their failure to intervene) due to a statute Congress enacted in 1996 (47 USC 230). However, if you have credible evidence that the review is fake, they may help you out.

While you are limited in the number of negative reviews you can have removed, it may be helpful to remove some of the more damaging and defaming content. Here is an excellent site by site guide to getting reviews removed.

Work to Bring in Positive Reviews. One of the best defenses against a negative review is a stream of positive reviews, so give your patients reasons to leave you some. You could verbally encourage your patients at their appointment, send a follow-up email with links to your review sites or social media profiles, post a flyer/handout in your office, or even offer a content each month for anyone who posts a review. Whatever you do, don’t collect reviews and upload yourself. You want your reviews to come 100% from the patients.

Learn From What Your Patients are Saying. The worst thing you can do is ignore what your patients are saying, warranted or not. Positive reviews will make you feel great, but negative reviews often communicate what patients are afraid to say to you directly. Use all of your reviews as an educational experience to truly understand your patients’ collective experiences. You might learn something about yourself or the way your practice operates that could retain or attract new patients in the future.


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