When you’re impressed, or not, with a product, where do you turn? You may tell a few friends, and they may tell some of their friends, but in most cases, this trail ends quickly. When you really want the world to know what you think, you leave an online review.
Your patients are doing the same for your dental practice. Whether they’re impressed with your services, or they have a grievance, they’ll post on Google Reviews, Yelp, Healthgrades, or other review sites.
Unlike word of mouth, these reviews have lasting power. They also show up when potential patients search for information about your practice. A recent report by Tebra revealed that 77% of patients find online reviews “very or extremely important” when selecting a doctor.1 So, it would be a mistake to disregard these.
Fortunately, you have more control over your practice’s online reputation than you may think. Follow these steps to both mitigate negative reviews and help positive reviews rise to the top.
You might also want to read: Managing online and social media reviews on your practice
Audit your current web presence
According to a 2021 survey by PatientPop, three out of four patients begin their search for a health-care provider online.2 A strong web presence is the best protection for your online reputation. A well-designed website that follows best practices for search engine optimization (SEO) will rank highly in search results, making potential patients more likely to find it.
Of course, your website isn’t the only place patients will go to find information about your practice. Unless you claim your practice’s profile on sites such as Google and Yelp, patients will be the ones providing critical information, including your hours of operation and the services you offer, which opens the door for inaccuracies.
Keeping information and branding consistent across different sites will inspire confidence in your practice, improve your ranking in search results, and allow you to better control the narrative.
Claim your online profiles
Once you’ve compiled your list, claim each of these profiles. This could take some time, and some of these sites require payment, but these costs are necessary to prevent the much more detrimental cost of lost patients, especially if a particularly unhappy patient posts a negative review that gains traction.
Begin with Google. Why? Google is the world’s leading search engine, claiming a whopping 90% of the search market share.3 Claim and optimize your Google Business Profile, and you’ve already completed the lion’s share of the work. This doesn’t mean you should neglect sites like Yelp or Healthgrades, but it does buy you some breathing room.
Kickstart online reviews from satisfied patients
Unhappy customers are more likely to leave a review than happy customers. Fortunately, you can help motivate your satisfied patients to go online and leave a review.
Unhappy customers can feel motivated by a sense of justice. This keeps the intent to leave a review front and center of their minds, and they’re willing to make time in their busy schedules to write the review. Satisfied customers received exactly the product or service they anticipated, so they don’t see a need to leave a review. Even if the service is exceptional and blows away their expectations, it doesn’t feel as urgent as the need to warn others about “a bad business.”
The easier you make it for a patient to leave a review, the more likely they are to do it. Encourage patients to leave reviews by:
- Sending automated emails or text messages following an appointment reminding patients to do so and including links to review sites (especially sites where you’re trying to improve your reputation).
- Posting QR codes to prominent review sites in the lobby or including them on the paperwork you give patients after an appointment.
- Incorporating Google Reviews onto your website and providing a link for patients to leave reviews.
In addition to making it easier for patients to leave reviews, this sends a message that you feel confident about the quality of care your patients receive. After all, a practice that doesn’t provide good care wouldn’t want people to tell others about it.
Respond to patient feedback
Encouraging additional reviews doesn’t mean you can set it and forget it. You should be online regularly responding to reviews—all the reviews, not just the ones you like. Remember, when people read reviews, they’re going to note how you respond. If you don’t, that also sends a message.
Moreover, a negative review doesn’t have to be a crisis. What’s the patient saying? Do they have a point? Set aside any defensiveness you might feel, even if the patient is angry and uses harsh language.
One common criticism in online reviews of health-care practices is long wait times. Did your patient have to wait an unreasonable amount of time? This is a valid complaint, and you should take it to heart and seek to make improvements. Respond by thanking the patient for their feedback and tell them what you’ll do to make their experience better. Even if that patient is gone for good, future patients will see that you took the criticism to heart and used it to improve.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is obviously a concern for health-care providers when replying to online reviews. Keep your responses general and use generic terms. Invite the patient to speak with you privately, offline, to get more information. Highlight your practice’s policies and keep your tone professional. For example, a response to a patient’s complaint about long wait times might go like this:
“Thank you for your feedback. It’s our practice’s policy to keep wait times short and see our patients promptly, and we’re sorry that we failed to do so. We want to make the experience better for everyone. Please call our office at 123-456-7890 so we can discuss your concerns further and look for opportunities to improve the care we provide.”
Don’t leave identical responses on every review. Doing so sounds insincere, and potential patients will notice.
Don’t forget to respond to positive reviews, thanking people for taking the time to leave a review. When they see that you’re communicative and attentive, they’ll be more likely to want to work with you.
Maintaining your online presence can be time-consuming, especially as a busy health-care professional running a dental practice. Hiring a company to help you manage your website and reviews will help you free up time so you can continue doing what you do best: providing patients with the outstanding care they deserve.
An inside look at how patients find and pick their doctors. 2023. Tebra. https://www.tebra.com/whitepaper/pe-patient-perspectives-how-patients-find-and-pick-their-doctors/
PatientPop third annual patient perspective survey report reveals what patients want in 2021. June 28, 2021. PatientPop. https://www.patientpop.com/press-releases/patientpop-third-annual-patient-perspective-survey-report-reveals-what-patients-want-in-2021/
Search engine market share United States of America. June 2022–June 2023. Statcounter. https://gs.statcounter.com/search-engine-market-share/all/united-states-of-america
Travis Schneider is cofounder and chief corporate development officer for Tebra, a leading cloud-based health-care technology platform. In his role, Travis oversees mergers and acquisitions and strategic partnerships for the organization.