Healthcare practices, like any other business trying to attract new customers online, can suffer significant damage to their reputation when people post negative reviews about their services. In late 2017, a Chicago hospital sued a review website for lowering its patient safety rating, emphasizing the risk and potential impact.
Of course, the problems caused by negative reviews arent limited to hospitals and large health systems. An Ohio plastic surgeon is suing a patient over negative online reviews, claiming the patients comments constitute character defamation.
It is uncommon for negative patient reviews to result in formal legal action, but it does highlight the impact that one dissatisfied patient can have. According to a recent Bright Local survey, a single negative review can cost a business an average of 30 customers.
That is a loss that no healthcare organization, especially a small practice trying to establish a stronghold in the market, can afford. Prepare to address any issues that arise as you solicit feedback from patients. It demonstrates that you are paying attention and want each patient to have a positive experience with each visit.
The best way to prepare for negative reviews or feedback is to have a process in place. You can change the details based on your schedule, specialty, and practice size, but there are three fundamental principles we strongly advise you to follow.
Three steps for responding to negative online reviews
1. Act fast
If a negative patient review can harm your reputation, consider the consequences if you wait to respond or do not respond at all. Assuming you have a reputation management process in place and are promptly notified of negative reviews, it is critical to act quickly.
Within 24 hours of understanding the problem and deciding how to address it, respond directly to the patient. Waiting too long may give the impression that the negative feedback is not important enough, or that it is being ignored entirely.
There are two important data points associated with promptly addressing a patients dissatisfaction with your practice. The first, from Harvard Business Review, considers the amount of reputation damage that negative reviews can cause: Each one-star decrease in your average review rating can result in a 9% decrease in revenue. According to the second survey, nearly two-thirds of patients believe it is "very" or "moderately" important for doctors to respond to a negative review.
To put it succinctly: If a patient is unhappy, make it snappy.
2. Be brief.
To keep it short and sweet, make sure your response is to the point while also addressing the reviewers concerns. Make an immediate response to let the reviewer know they have been heard. Preset or canned messages will not work and may even communicate a lack of respect for the reviewers experience or opinions.
Heres a quick checklist for responding to reviews:
Thank the patient for their input.
Demonstrate your empathy by assuring them that you understand their concern or frustration.
Reiterate quickly that resolving their issue is a top priority.
Make certain that your response is tailored to them and their situation.
Offer to call the patient to discuss and resolve the problem.
3. Take care of what we speak
Keep in mind that you must not admit fault or disregard HIPAA guidelines when responding to patients.
Accepting responsibility or apologizing for treatment, care, or a diagnosis can be considered malpractice. Of course, be sincere and helpful, but stick to assuring dissatisfied patients that you intend to rectify the situation.
In the case of HIPAA, the law requires that privacy regulations be followed at all times. Although most healthcare practitioners are familiar with the law on a daily basis, keep in mind that privacy protections extend to how you respond to negative reviews personal health records and information cannot be disclosed.
Even if a patient mentions their own health information during a review, healthcare providers are still required to follow HIPAA regulations.
Making a bad situation into a good one
Consider negative reviews as an opportunity to connect with a patient and persuade them to choose your practice as their source of care. Responding to their concerns with care can help you maintain a strong online reputation and even turn a potentially negative review into a positive one.