Negative Reviews De

The right response to patient complaints

Jan. 16, 2017
Who enjoys seeing negative online reviews and ratings about his or her business? No one. But they are now a fact of life.

Who enjoys seeing negative online reviews and ratings about his or her business? No one. But negative reviews are a part of the world we live in. In the past, unhappy patients could only spread their dissatisfaction by word of mouth. Now they have countless online forums (e.g., Yelp, Google+, Facebook) to share their experiences. More importantly, this significantly impacts whether or not others will choose your practice or continue scrolling.

As much as you'd like to, you can't control what patients say about you online. That is the blessing and curse of the Internet. Still, there are steps you can take to respond that will help resolve patient issues and keep your online reputation trending upward. You have to be careful, though. With HIPAA guidelines dictating what information can be shared and not shared, failing to follow those guidelines can have negative results.

In most patient complaints, there is a second side to the story. You may be tempted to provide your side and defend yourself. However, acknowledging the reviewer as a patient of your practice is a violation of HIPAA policy and may cause serious consequences. There are ways to avoid this and still respond effectively. Keep your response more general in nature by citing your overall policy for whatever situation the patient brings up in the review. For example, if this person had to wait for an appointment, you might point out that in emergencies situations, you sometimes have to delay appointments.

Be sure to recognize the patient's issue and apologize for the negative experience. Even if you're not at fault, this isn't an apology for wrongdoing. It's an apology for the patient's experience. Let him know his experience does matter. It will make a difference. This has to be done in a timely manner, though. Recognizing an issue a month later won't show that you care. This has to be done without violating HIPAA regulations as well. Don't mention anything specific about the treatment they received.

While you can't acknowledge a patient in a public review, contacting him or her directly can often yield even better results. The patient will likely be pleasantly surprised that you took it upon yourself to reach out and resolve the situation, and you'll be able to communicate more freely and personally to find a solution. If you do not have her contact information handy, kindly asking the patient to reach out to you offline via a response is a good approach.

Also, to counter the effect of negative reviews, focus on the positive results generated in reviews. Not all reviews are bad; many praise your high level of care and service. Instead of simply responding to problems, encourage the patients who leave positive reviews to share their experiences on other online sites and forums.

Online reviews are here to stay, so you must learn to handle them properly. This could make or break your online marketing. Be proactive and transparent—just be sure to take into account HIPAA guidelines as well.

Rick Workman, DMD, is the founder of Heartland Dental. After practicing full-time, Dr. Workman created Heartland Dental, a world-class dental support organization offering nonclinical, administrative services to supported dentists. Heartland Dental has over 750 supported dental offices in 34 states. Dr. Workman may be reached at [email protected]. Please visit Dr. Workman's blog at

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