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Brand Reputation and the fear of Negative Patient Reviews

People look at online reviews before spending money on goods or services, and their behavior with healthcare is no different. Reviews can be very helpful for getting new patients into your practice as they can see what you’re doing well and feel more comfortable with making their decision to visit you. However, you can’t please everyone, and sometimes things outside of your control cause unfortunate experiences.

Many healthcare practices and organizations are afraid of allowing anyone to publicly criticize their services because they fear the repercussions, but in fact, those less-than-perfect reviews come with some unexpected benefits. 

While it would be nice to only have glowing 5-star reviews, it’s unrealistic, and negative reviews make you look more credible. If you handle them correctly, you’ll also get better results than you might expect. This shows patients that your practice is reliable, that you care for them, value their feedback, want to correct the issue, and make an effort to improve in the future to limit more negative experiences from occurring.

The Downsides of a Perfect Reputation

As a consumer, how do YOU feel when you see products or services with nothing but hundreds or thousands of overly positive 5-star reviews? Suspicious, right? 

Having too many positive reviews can be a red flag for patients putting your reputation in question: this study shows us that consumers find five stars ratings too good to be true and are more likely to choose those products or services with star ratings that fall between 4.0 and 4.7. Now that that’s out there, let’s get a closer look into the downsides of being seemingly perfect.

Perfection Prompts Questions

Research shows that 95% of customers suspect that reviews are censored or fake if they don’t see any negative ones, and 65% trust reviews more when there are both negative and positive ones.  

Negative reviews help patients feel informed and determine if your services are suitable for them. They know that nobody’s perfect and will be looking for negatives to make informed decisions and evaluate whether the benefits you provide outweigh the drawbacks.

Perfection Undermines Patient Retention

Negative reviews give you a chance to improve or save a situation. Patients who are indifferent about their experience rarely leave reviews or online comments and you lose them without knowing why. On the other hand, you usually don’t have that problem when it comes to patients who’ve had a negative experience, as they often provide you with the information you need to resolve their complaints.

Perfection Prevents Informed Improvement

To help reduce the amount of public, negative reviews you receive, you can survey your patients with Net Promoter Score® questions. These results will help you identify positive, passive, and detractor patients before they leave negative reviews. In these same automated surveys, you can solicit additional feedback and ask how you could be better and gain valuable insights to fix recurring problems.

Negative reviews can help reveal weak points within your practice. If patients consistently complain about the same issues over and over, such as long wait times or a particular employee’s behavior, it may be time to investigate further. Identifying patterns in patient sentiment can help uncover other areas for improvement that aren’t explicitly stated. 

How to Handle Negative Reviews

Negative reviews are a part of being in business and not everyone is going to be happy with your services, products, team, or processes all the time. Sometimes healthcare providers choose not to respond to negative reviews because they don’t want to dignify a comment with a response. They fear that if they post a reply, the complaint somehow becomes true or might escalate to become a big deal. 

But potential patients reading negative reviews don’t know anything beyond the fact that there is a negative review without a response. What matters to them is that you are responsive to feedback, that you treat people with respect, and that you make attempts to address concerns and resolve complaints.

However, there’s a right way and a wrong way to handle negative reviews. Here are some of the steps you can take when trying to resolve them:

Timely Response to Negative Reviews

A delay in providing an answer to negative reviews suggests that nobody cares about the patient or the issue. Prompt answers, on the other hand, show prospective and current patients that you’re paying attention to feedback and actively trying to improve. When replying, you can address points mentioned in negative reviews and what you’re doing to fix or improve issues patients had. 

With the proper response, people will appreciate that you took the time and provided an opportunity for reviewers to update negative reviews to positive ones.

Compliance with HIPAA Guidelines 

HIPAA compliance is essential for ensuring technical, physical, and administrative safeguards are in place for protecting sensitive patient information. Protected Health Information (PHI) includes more than a patient’s medical history – it’s any information that can identify a patient during the course of their care.

When leaving online reviews, patients may provide PHI willingly, but your response to those reviews must comply with HIPAA’s privacy rules. Otherwise, you may face steep fines or even lawsuits. Selecting a pre-written template from a pool of HIPAA-compliant responses can help you streamline the response process while greatly reducing compliance risks for your organization.

Don’t Get Personal

It can be painful to read that someone wasn’t happy at your practice and it’s all too easy to take negative reviews personally. 

But reviews aren’t personal and sarcastic replies and comments will reflect poorly on your practice. So, as you’re reading them, try to see them from a business standpoint instead of being defensive.

Once again, remember not to bring up patients’ personal information in your response. Even if they post negative information about your practice, the risks of breaking their right to privacy far outweigh the benefits.

Take the Conversation Offline

Some issues are too difficult or delicate to resolve online or via short text or email comments. So, when appropriate, provide patients with an option to discuss and resolve problems offline. They may appreciate the opportunity to work out the details in a private format. When you resolve an issue offline, you can also ask them to modify their previous review to include efforts made by your organization to remedy the situation.

Encourage Positive Reviews

The more positive reviews you have, the less impact a negative review will have on your overall ratings. Most of your happy patients will not bother posting reviews unless you ask them to do so. On the other hand, upset patients will be more than ready to address any unpleasant experience as soon as they leave your office. 

If you’ve attempted the previous suggestions but find a patient is unwilling to work towards a resolution, drowning out negative reviews with positive reviews may be the best option.

The best way to convert happy patients into your brand ambassadors is to reach them after their appointment and send out requests for reviews through an automated system. As you make it convenient for patients to leave reviews, the likelihood of receiving more reviews increases.

Don’t Fear Negative Reviews — Manage Them

Knowing how to respond to negative online reviews is the key to patient relationships and continued growth. They aren’t the worst thing in the world and, when handled correctly, negative reviews can be turned into opportunities for improving your practice.

Healthcare providers and organizations should prioritize improving and managing their reputation before engaging in other activities to build their brand. Even if you believe that you’re doing a great job with patients, you can’t leave your online reputation to chance. Instead, respond to negative comments, ask for more positive reviews, and demonstrate that you care about patients and their concerns.

SocialClimb helps you improve your online reputation with our patient and provider review management tools. Our integrated platform automatically sends review invitations within 24 hours of healthcare visits and patients can easily provide feedback from their smartphones or computers. Automate your reputation management process and dedicate your time to doing what you do best—providing excellent care to your patients.

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