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Dealing with bad online reviews from patients

Feb. 1, 2012
I had a chance recently to speak with Glenn Lombardi, president of Officite, a preferred web service provider for the ADA.

By Dr. Michael DiTolla

I had a chance recently to speak with Glenn Lombardi, president of Officite, a preferred web service provider for the ADA. I asked him about dentists having to deal with bad online reviews from patients.

Dr. DiTolla: It seems like, despite your best intentions and the fact that you try to treat every patient right — see them on time and make sure the tooth is not sensitive — there are going to be times when you disappoint somebody. This might happen clinically or when estimating what insurance is going to pay. You just cannot hit the nail on the head every time. If the patient happens to be one of those people who does spend a lot of time online, I think it’s fair to say that — even as a great dentist who is trying to do everything right — you can end up with a bad online review. I do not think you have to kill a patient for this to happen. Am I right?

Glenn Lombardi

Lombardi: Right. Just look at your favorite restaurant around the corner. You can go online and there are probably 1,000 good reviews, but there are probably another 50 negative ones. No one is ever going to have a 100% positive experience anywhere.

For dentists, the people who are most apt to give a review are the ones who had a negative experience. So you really want to encourage patients who are having positive experiences to get online and do reviews in services such as Yelp, Google, and Yahoo.

Dentists can do a couple of things to make this happen. There are some services that you can use that will — after patients leave your office — send them e-mail reminders that ask, “Hey, how was the process? How was the service?”

There might be a quick survey that asks, “Oh, by the way, can you give us a quick review?”

There are also things you can do — what we offer — where you can actually give patients a card as they leave the office, so when they go home they can post positive reviews on your website.

You also can do things from a mobile device. We offer a service in which you can call up your website at the reception desk in the office. There will be quick links on your website to services such as Yelp, where you can actually have a review done in the office.

So while the dentist might get three, four, or five negative reviews over time, if he or she encourages patients throughout the year and gets two to three positive reviews each week, the dentist is going to have 150 to 200 positive reviews by the end of the year. This will offset the three or four negatives ones the dentist might receive.

Dr. DiTolla: Do you find that dentists are comfortable with this approach? For example, we have been hearing at practice-management seminars for the last 15 years that we should ask for referrals from our patient base, especially from satisfied patients. But the reality is that many dentists are uncomfortable asking for this type of referral. Are most of the dentists you work with more comfortable asking for positive reviews because the staff up front does it?

Lombardi: Yes, it’s really been a staff process. What we try to do is something that happens after the patient leaves. It’s not something for everyone.

Some of the things you want to identify as a patient comes through the office, especially if he or she is a regular patient, are: Does he or she have an outgoing personality? Did you notice that the patient has a gmail or Yahoo email account, so that logging into these services does not become a problem because the patient already has a password?

You are just asking a select few. You are not asking everyone who comes through the office. It is a specific process, so you need to train the staff on how to do this. You need to know who to ask, and to identify what makes a patient a good candidate for a positive review.

Again, if you are just asking five to 10 patients every week, and two or three go online and give you a positive review — whether it’s right there in the office from a smartphone or at home — that’s all you are trying to accomplish. So you are not trying to present this to every patient who comes through your practice.

While a lot of people still use at-home computers, there are now more than 250 million mobile phone users. Of these, 90 million are using the Internet on such devices. So the No. 1 thing you want to do is make sure your website is compatible with these devices.

You also want to make sure that there is quick navigation to the site, and to put things patients may be looking for on the device. So if someone calls up your website or looks at your practice via a smartphone, he or she may want to call you to, let’s say, get directions to your practice. This person most likely will not want to read up on flossing.

Dr. Michael DiTolla is the director of clinical research and education at Glidewell Laboratories in Newport Beach, Calif. He lectures nationwide on both restorative and cosmetic dentistry. Dr. DiTolla has several free clinical programs available online or on DVD at

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