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Online Reputation Management for Doctors: Dealing with Negative Reviews

Brenda is livid. She just discovered that a patient left a horrible review of her direct primary care practice. “How in the world could he say that we were rude to him? There’s no way that’s true,” Brenda says.

She’s worked for years to build a good reputation for her practice. And here it was, her first negative review, threatening to undo years of hard work.

Without thinking, Brenda types out a reply to the review, saying, “John, I very much doubt this was your experience at our practice. We care for our patients and would never do something like that.”

The result of Brenda’s brash reply? More negative comments and lowered trust in her practice. She started off with one negative review and her reply led to even more bad publicity. Brenda’s personal feelings got in the way of her professional demeanor, leading to more challenges in her fight to find more patients.

As a direct primary care physician, you have a lot on your plate. You pour your soul into your practice. Unfortunately, years of hard work can be undone with one careless reply like Brenda’s.

If you want to grow your practice’s good reputation, manage “oops” moments with grace, and find more patients, you need to know how to handle negative reviews.

The basics of managing negative reviews

Before we get into the mechanics of replying to a negative review, there are a few things you need to keep in mind first.

1. Monitor your reviews like a hawk
You need to reply to negative reviews 1 – 2 days after they go live. You don’t want a negative review floating around in the world without your side of the story. A quick response also shows that you care about customer feedback.

That said, you need to create a regular schedule to check reviews. Assign it to a team member and check the review sites every day.

2. Reply to all reviews
Although you need to prioritize negative reviews, you should actually reply to all reviews, including positive ones. Replying to only negative comments makes you look like an ambulance chaser.

Thank your customers both for their business and for their thoughtful review. This encourages your patients to leave reviews and shows that you care about all customer feedback. If you can encourage more positive reviews, these push down negative reviews over time. They also help you bounce back more easily from a negative rating, too.

3. Use your manners
If we learn anything from Brenda’s example, it’s to be polite and professional at all times. You’re going to get negative reviews from people who just want a fight. These people will hurl insults and accusations like there’s no tomorrow.

It’s your job as a physician to approach reviews as a chance to improve. In every interaction your priority should be to make patients more comfortable. Negative Nellies will likely back off once they realize you aren’t going to be goaded into an online flame war.

Don’t let the bullies win. Kill ‘em with kindness every time.

How to reply to negative reviews

Got your first negative review? No problem. Everyone gets negative reviews. It’s how you reply to the reviews that matters.

1.Take a deep breath
Nothing will hurt your case more than an angry response to a negative review. We know negative reviews can really ruin your day, but you can’t let that show. Take some time to breathe, level your head, and calm down before writing a reply.

2.Draft your response
Always draft your response before replying. This gives you time to make sure you say everything you need in a professional and courteous way.

Use this formula to draft your reply.

Step 1:Apologize
It doesn’t matter if you think you shouldn’t have to apologize or not. Clearly the patient is upset enough to leave an angry review. An apology helps them see their concerns are being addressed.

“I apologize for the quality of your experience at our practice.”

Step 2: Acknowledge the problem
Right or not, the patient feels that you messed up. To diffuse the situation, acknowledge their feelings and sympathize with their concerns.

“I understand how frustrating it must have been to have a 45 minute wait, especially after using your vacation time to visit our practice.”

Step 3: Highlight your ideal experience
Just because you’re apologizing doesn’t mean you need to grovel. Include in your reply the ideal experience you shoot for every day at your practice.

“Our practice is known for its amazing hospitality and customer service, and I’m disappointed to hear that we missed the mark during your visit.”

 Step 4: Make it right
Patients leave reviews because they want you to make things right. Whether it’s simply issuing an apology, giving them a freebie, fixing a billing error, or replacing something, it shows you want to go the extra mile. Making things right doesn’t always mean you have to spend money, either. Just address the patient’s concerns and help them trust your practice again.

“I would be more than happy to look into this billing issue and rectify it as quickly as possible.”

Step 5: Humanize it
Nobody wants to feel like they’re talking to a robot. Humanize your reply to show you’re a real person. Include your first name, how you’re affiliated with the practice, and your business contact information. Ask the reviewer to get in touch with you personally so you can make things right.

“My name is Maria with Direct Primary Care. Please email me at so I can make this right.”

3. Get feedback before posting
Never, ever post a reply without running it by another team member. This helps you stay impartial, objective, and professional in your reply. You don’t want to pull a Brenda!

The bottom line

We know you don’t want to get negative reviews. Unfortunately, they’re just a part of doing business. The best thing you can do to protect your practice’s hard-won reputation is to thoughtfully reply to negative reviews. This helps you improve the patient experience, tell your side of the story, and show patients that you truly care.

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