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By now, pretty much every business has at least one horror story of a bad review experience online. It would be one thing if the 1- and 2-star reviewers offered constructive criticism to help your practice step up its game. While some do, every business also gets its share of grumps, cranks and just plain terrible people who write some really nasty things. Read on for tips on how NOT to deal with the reviews that come in for your practice.

Show Anger or Frustration

This can be the easiest trap to fall into when a negative review is posted. You don’t have to be a person who easily gets upset to be bent out of shape when someone shares something negative about you for the whole world to see. Quite often, what bugs our clients the most are the half-truths, manipulated facts, or just outright lies that upset patients can share on review sites without any repercussions.

It’s absolutely true that review sites should do a better job of policing reviews to ensure accuracy and truthfulness. It’s also absolutely true that as unfair as some reviews may be to you, your response cannot be to show anger, irritation, or frustration. Ever. Full stop. We don’t care if a reviewer said their dog could do a better facelift, or that you smell like a cross between anchovies and a skunk den. You always have to approach reviewers with respect, even when they haven’t done the same for you.

That’s not to say that you should be a pushover and tell every reviewer you greatly appreciate their feedback. If someone posts something you find to be incorrect or untrue, you owe it to yourself to maintain your integrity and stand up for yourself or your staff. Just always do it in a polite, reasonable way.

Two good tips when writing a response to a negative review:

  • After you draft your response, run it by several others in your office for feedback. This helps to make sure your tone is appropriate and also can help to clarify facts.
  • While writing back to reviews in a timely manner is important, don’t feel rushed to post your response. Sleep on it and give it a fresh set of eyes the next day. If you still feel good about what your wrote, then go ahead and post it to the review site.

Share Patient Details

Everyone in the medical field knows that HIPAA requires sensitivity to what details can and cannot be shared about a patient online, or anywhere for that matter. When responding to reviews, a good rule is to add absolutely no additional details beyond what the reviewer already shared. For instance, if a person writes “I’m so happy with my mastopexy!” it would be OK for you in your response to say, “We are thrilled that you are enjoying the results of your breast lift (mastopexy)” so that you can personalize the response and also clarify to other people reading the review what a mastopexy is. It’s not OK to identify the patient by name, ask how her significant other likes the results, or things like that.

It might feel like you’re pretty limited in what you can say. But instead of thinking of HIPAA as a hindrance to what you are able to write in response to a patient, particularly an upset patient, we look at it more as a gift. That’s because if you’ve received a positive review, a short thank you response is all it takes. And when a review is negative, in almost every case, even if you could add more facts to the mix, it does you no good to try to litigate your case or battle a patient online.

But I should have the right to defend myself and my practice! Absolutely you should. And in our opinion, review sites should have more rigorous standards for ensuring truthful reviews. But as it is, be aware that you’re facing an unfair fight. So the smart practice will acknowledge that reality and, in conjunction with the limits HIPAA places, be concise, apologize if warranted, possibly ask for the reviewer to reach out privately to discuss, and always maintain confidentiality.

Get into a Long Story

As mentioned above, HIPAA places limits on how much information you can share about a particular patient. But even so, you might find yourself writing a long response if for instance a patient questions why you have consultations scheduled so close back to back, complains about a particular staff member, or disses on the cleanliness of your office.

Resist the urge. If you can concisely clarify a policy or bring an alternative view of a situation, that should be fine. But even if a reviewer has left a mini novel of feedback, fight the urge to type anything more than a paragraph or two in response, max. You may think that you are providing clarity and defending your practice, but all too often you will just be providing more cannon fodder for an already upset reviewer.

Ignore the Positives

If you’re doing this whole cosmetic surgery thing right, you should have far more people who are delighted with your services than who are upset. And if you’re doing the whole reviews thing right, you should have plenty of those happy patients writing about their experience online. It’s a fantastic habit to thank each and every reviewer in a short, custom public response to their review. Just something like “Thank you – we’re honored you chose us and so happy with your results.”

Also keep an eye out for positives included in 1-, 2- or 3-star reviews. Depending on what else was said in the review, it may be a good idea to bring up some of those positives in your response. For instance, “We’re glad to hear your surgical result is exactly what you envisioned, but apologize if you felt our staff was rude during your follow up visit.” This can be a good way to reinforce that the reviewer had something positive to say, while also acknowledging what they thought you could do better.

Cut/Paste

Every reviewer has to take time out of their busy day to write a review. Even a 10-word review takes time to log into Google, Yelp or elsewhere, find your practice, and type out a quick response. Be respectful of the reviewer’s time and thoughts by writing a custom reply to every review, every time. Canned responses look lazy and will give the impression that you’re not really reading reviews.

Try Too Hard to Get Reviews Changed

There are a couple avenues at work here. The one you might be thinking of first is to petition Yelp, Google or another review site to remove part or all of a review. Most of the time, you’ll be setting yourself up for disappointment if you go this route.

Most review disputes or removal requests will fail because review sites don’t do and aren’t required to do much policing of the content they allow on their websites. There are some types of reviews that will get removed. Generally speaking, the sites will only remove a review if it is sexually explicit, a threat of violence, racist or bigoted, a violation of privacy for another individual, advertising another website/link, or violating review policies (such as those preventing employees from reviewing an employer). False claims are often left online due to the review sites being unwilling to verify statements made by people who post content. Yelp, Facebook and Google – some of the biggest sites where reviews matter – are also the worst at accepting disputes.

The other way to get a review changed is to contact a reviewer privately and ask what you can do to make things right. There’s a lot of tact and situational awareness needed to do this right. In short, don’t give it to your front office intern to handle. Sometimes you’ll be able to turn things around for an upset reviewer, but a lot of the time, you won’t. That’s particularly true for 1- and 2-star reviews. But remember that, since no one can please everyone all the time, a certain number of 1-star reviews can humanize your office and provide authenticity for people who are reading about you online.

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