Managing Patient Reviews
Take action to protect your practice’s online reputation
Richard P. Gangwisch, DDS
Your treatment just ended an emergency patient's pain, and she is so appreciative that she can't stop thanking you for your help. Grateful patients, like her, are extremely likely to give you a good review. In fact, the chances are that most of your patients would give you a 5-star rating. They know that you are the best; that's why they come to you. Unfortunately, because we are dealing with the public, and we can't please everyone, there will always be a chance that a rogue, dissatisfied patient lurking in the dark corners will submit a lengthy 1-star review.
As dentists, we are expected to be professionals. However, we are also human, and reading negative reviews can feel like a big punch in the gut. The first thing to do is to remain calm. It's easy to let your emotions get the better of you. If you can identify the reviewer, then call them personally to see if you can defuse the situation. Surprisingly, many of these dissatisfied patients are eager to discuss their issues, especially because they are speaking "to the doctor." Listen to the patient intently without interrupting. When it's your turn, speak to them in a very sympathetic voice. Don't be defensive. Remember, the customer is always right. Even if you feel that the situation did not warrant a bad review, it's always best to apologize. This is an issue that has upset the patient so much that he or she took the time to write a bad review.
After telling patients that you are sorry that they experienced the problem, ask what the practice can do to correct the situation and get back on good terms? This will put the ball back in their court and allow you to assess what it will take to make them happy. Oftentimes, a simple apology can be enough to get them to remove the review. Many times, however, an economic incentive needs to be offered. I once had to refund a patient for an entire root canal procedure just because of a miscommunication with the front desk. That's a large chunk of change to drop for a lot of hard work, but getting the review removed was worth every penny and more.
Once the situation has been resolved, don't forget to ask them to take down their review. You could say something like, "Would you please consider removing your negative review? I am sorry that we dropped the ball in this case, but now that we have resolved the issue, we hoped that you would rate your experience with our practice more positively."
Let's say that you can't get in touch with the patient or are unable to figure out who he or she is. What do you do now? Don't ever let a bad online review go without a follow-up comment from you. First, back away from the keyboard because your blood is probably boiling at this point. Once you have cooled down, type out and edit your response using a separate program. You don't want to slip, accidentally hit the submit button, and post an inappropriate comment. Just like in a phone conversation with a patient, don't be defensive-be positive. Mention how you have attempted to reach out to the patient and that you would really like to resolve the problem so that he or she can join the ranks of your thousands of satisfied patients. Keep your response reasonably short; long comments can be interpreted as being defensive. Don't waste time on minutiae. If the patient has mentioned treatment-related issues in his or her review, definitely don't make comments about any specifics of the case that could even remotely be construed as a potential violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy and security rules. Once you have typed out your response, sleep on it. The next day, show your composition to a staff member and make sure that the way that he or she reads it is the way that you intended it to be read. Then, and only then, go ahead and submit it online.
What if a review is completely over the top or written by a totally unhinged patient, someone who isn't even a patient of record, or a competitor who is simply trying to bash your practice's online reputation? Oftentimes, you can submit an explanation to the site and request to have the review taken down. Google and many other websites have rules against business bashing and may consider removing the offending review.
Unfortunately, every so often, a noxious review is here to stay. The best thing to do when that happens is to direct your satisfied patients to post positive reviews on that review site. This will bury the bad apple further down the page under glowing 5-star reviews and elevate your overall rating to compensate for it.
Monitoring your online reputation is a never-ending job. A bad review can pop up in the middle of the night without warning, and it will turn away prospective patients until it is dealt with. If you are disciplined, you could take some time out each week to check the common sites for reviews. Better yet, assign the task to a staff member. Who wouldn't like to get paid for surfing the Internet on company time? In addition, there are companies who, for a fee, will do the monitoring for you. This fee could be well worth the peace-of-mind of knowing that your practice's online reputation isn't being damaged. The Internet is a vital part of most people's lives, and maintaining a pristine online reputation is vital to the success of a modern dental practice.
About the Author
Richard P. Gangwisch, DDS, a master of the Academy of General Dentistry and a diplomate of the American Board of General Dentistry, is a clinical assistant professor at the Dental College of Georgia at Augusta University and maintains a private practice in Lilburn, Georgia.