In previous articles (Myth Busters: Taking the Mystery Out of Online Directories and Stake a Claim: How to Manage Your Online Directory Listings), we discussed how online directories are today’s version of the once-dominant Yellow Pages, meaning they are used by prospective patients to gather basic—but important—practice information. As a result, these sites need to be managed proactively and reactively—an approach that extends to online directory reviews.

Reviews come in many forms and can be positive or negative. No matter the content or context of the review, it portrays a patient’s opinion and/or perception of your practice at a given time. How you handle reviews is a representation of you and the practice. To ensure you treat all reviews appropriately and professionally, ahead are some key pointers to keep in mind when replying to patient comments.

Negative Reviews

Every practice will eventually face a negative review. The good news? Most potential patients tend to look at a practice’s overall rating rather than focus on a single bad review when searching online for their next physician. When an undesirable review comes in, how you handle it is crucial. Keep in mind that ignoring a negative review is still a response, and though it may be tough sometimes, it is important to respond in a respectful, polite manner. Follow the tips below to make sure you reply appropriately.

1. Do not respond immediately. When you see a negative review, don’t hastily submit a reply. Exercising restraint can be hard, especially since a negative review can feel like a smack in the face when so much effort is put into creating a positive patient experience. However difficult, it is important that you pause, take a deep breath, and think rationally. Recognize that the review is representative of an individual’s personal, one-time experience, and remove yourself from your initial emotional reaction. This will enable you to approach your response with a level-head.

2. Have a standard response. To further eliminate the chance of submitting an emotional reply, have a standard negative review response prepared in advance. This “canned” response will give you a template to follow. Of course, you don’t want to repeatedly use this response word-for-word, but having it will provide you with a starting-off point. From there, you can tailor the response to address each critical review.

3. Apologize. Whether or not you agree with the review, it is important to apologize for the experience upfront in your reply. An apology does not mean there was an error in medical treatment; rather, it acknowledges a missed opportunity where the patient feels he or she didn’t receive the care desired. In many cases, the complaint has absolutely nothing to do with the medical treatment received and is instead related to the customer service experience. Recognize the patient’s emotions and acknowledge them with a sincere apology.

4. Keep the reply general. To protect the practice, make sure to use general terms and refer to common office policies or protocols when responding. With that in mind, you can respond to an unhappy reviewer by first apologizing for the negative experience. Follow this up by letting the reviewer know that a positive experience is what the practice always strives to achieve. Then encourage the patient to reach out to the practice directly by providing contact information—such as a manager’s direct phone line or email address—to discuss/resolve the matter in private.

5. Respect patient confidentiality. While it is important to personally respond to reviews, it is critical to adhere to HIPAA patient privacy guidelines. In many cases, a patient will identify him or herself in the review or describe his or her unique situation, making it clear to the practice where the feedback is coming from. Though the patient may be willingly providing this information, it is critical that the practice refrain from patient identification in the review response. Remember, even if the patient identifies him or herself, your practice is not able to confirm a relationship of any type with him or her.

6. Get a second opinion. After crafting a thoughtful response, get someone else in the practice to read it before posting it online. Involving other stakeholders in the process will ensure that the message is clear, hits the right tone, and presents the practice in a professional manner. Through teamwork, it is possible that a unique and thoughtful response to a displeased patient is crafted every time.

7. When possible, take the discussion offline. In some cases, it’s best to address reviews offline. If the practice is able to identify the reviewer, consider reaching out to the patient directly. Call or invite the patient back into the practice to review the situation. In many cases, a patient needs to feel heard. When discussing the issue, use active listening skills to collect information and develop a mutually beneficial solution. Attempt to end the conversation on a positive note. In many cases, this can result in a patient removing or updating a review with a more positive response.

8. Fix the issue. Don’t just write off a bad review as the musings of a disgruntled patient. Take the time to consider what the reviewer wrote in his or her review. Was there an issue with a staff member? Did a treatment or service not meet expectations? If you seriously consider the reviewer’s feedback, you may discover an issue that needs to be addressed. Don’t see this as an inconvenience; see it as an opportunity to correct a problem and improve the overall practice experience for patients.

Positive Reviews

While it’s easy to take positive reviews for granted, you shouldn’t. It is important to appreciate the online gratitude you receive and thank those patients who so graciously share it with a reply. Acknowledging such reviews has many benefits—it strengthens your existing patient relationships while demonstrating to potential patients that your practice is responsive, since the exchange is occurring online. When handling positive reviews, keep the following practices in mind.

1. Express gratitude. A patient taking the time to share details around a great experience received at your practice is an amazing thing and should be acknowledged. Be sure to thank reviewers for their feedback, varying your reply to let people know time was taken to read and respond to each comment personally.

2. Respond in kind. Your response should reflect the amount of effort put forth by the reviewer. While a simple, “Thank you,” is appropriate in some cases; it isn’t always. If a patient takes the time to leave a thoughtful, detailed review, it’s ideal to respond in a similar manner.

3. Repeat details. In your reply, reiterate details mentioned by the reviewer, paying special attention to the specifics the patient appreciated about his or her experience. This shows you’re listening and truly appreciate the positive review. It further proves you’re not providing a generic, one-size-fits-all thank you note.

4. Share with staff. Since many staff members within the practice contribute to the patient experience, share positive reviews with providers and support staff. This will help staff identify and be recognized for what they are doing well, and in turn, encourage them to strive to hit the mark with every patient. Additionally, recognition helps further solidify how great customer service is a team effort that ultimately benefits everyone.

Here to Stay

Online reviews are a part of doing business today. How you handle reviews, whether positive or negative, is important. Use negative reviews as an opportunity to improve what your practice offers and how it treats patients. Use positive reviews as a reminder of what you’re doing right to provide a great patient experience. Your online presence is here to stay, so give it the attention it deserves.

Heather Peffley is a senior management consultant with the Allergan Practice Consulting Group of Allergan, PLC. Ms. Peffley consults with medical aesthetic practices in the areas of financial analysis and procedure values, practice management issues, internal and external marketing, leadership training and team building, sales training, compensation methodology, and aesthetic practice development. She has more than 22 years of successful health care sales, sales management, and marketing experience. Most recently, she served as product manager for Allergan’s facial aesthetics division. She has participated in several corporate marketing initiatives that included planning and strategizing the launch of new products and indications into the field of aesthetic and reconstructive medicine.

Amy Klink is an analyst providing financial benchmarking services for BSM Consulting based in its Incline Village, NV headquarters. In this position, Ms. Klink supports the Allergan Practice Consulting (APC) team by providing financial services in a variety of areas, including financial statement review and analysis and benchmarking report completion. She also works closely with the APC team to help consultants meet various practice management needs in the medical aesthetic field. Prior to joining BSM, Ms. Klink obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from San Francisco State University. She has been a dedicated BSM team member since 2014.