How to Respond to Negative Patient Reviews

Posted on Oct 15, 2020 by


Responding to negative patient reviews shows that you value your patients and are willing to continually improve the care you provide.

You’re going to get some negative patient reviews from time to time. Even if you know you’re the best doctor in the world. (Sorry, Dr. Mitch.) It’s inevitable when you work with people who are in pain, or who feel sick, or who are just grumpy people. 

And then there are the times you or your staff actually do mess up. (Should I not bring that up?) 

The good news is that most of your patients like you and are grateful for the care you provide—that’s why they keep coming back. And as long as you are asking for reviews, you should have a lot more positive than negative patient reviews. 

Seriously, if this is not the case for you, please give us a call today at 512-643-8755. We’ve found that when patients receive a text message asking for a review, about 10% are happy to respond. This allows your silent majority of happy patients to easily leave their feedback. You can read more about our automated process here.  

But about those negative patient reviews. They can’t be ignored. I promise. Don’t ignore them. 

First, your patients need to know their concerns are being addressed and that you care about their well-being. Think of it as kind of an extended bedside manner in the digital world. That your staff can handle for you.

Second, people searching online for care are reading your reviews. Ninety percent of people searching for a doctor use reviews as part of their process, and for 71%, reviews are their first step in finding a new doctor. They’re looking for objective information on their new doctor, and reviews are a great way to find that. And when they come across a negative review, they’re looking for a response that shows you care. 

Third, responding to negative reviews turns a difficult situation into an opportunity. Your response can show that you care about the concerns of your patients and also that you are invested in continual improvement and making necessary changes—whether that involves staff training or changing the check-in process or even improving your bedside manner. 

So what’s the best way to handle those negative patient reviews? We’ve got a few tips up our sleeve. And for our clients, we actually have a reply library where you can just click on the response you want and your work is done. 

Here’s our best advice: Don’t be a Dr. Mitch when responding to reviews. (Don’t worry, he doesn’t really respond to reviews himself. His staff takes care of it for him. Whew.)

1. Remain HIPAA compliant in your response. 

Patients are not under the same constraints as their doctors, so they may well mention what procedure was done as well as any other personal information they feel compelled to include. And when emotions are involved—with negative reviews, they generally are—people tend to make poor decisions in their communications. 

When a patient has mentioned specifics, it’s best to keep your response pretty generic. Express concern and then ask them to reach out to someone at the office to clarify or resolve the situation. 

Martha Hiner

Rating: 1 out of 5.

I waited for hours in Dr. Mitch’s office when I went in for my follow up visit after my hernia surgery. I was EARLY for my appointment and STILL had to wait for an hour and 15 minutes! The receptionist was rude, and once they let me back to see the Dr, I felt rushed. I had more questions to ask that I didn’t even get to. My elbow has really been hurting me lately. I will definitely NOT be back.

impatient dr. mitch

How Dr. Mitch responded:* 

Martha, you know I’m worth the wait. But seriously, coming an hour early to your appointment means you will be waiting AT LEAST an hour. On the bright side, your hernia repair is healing quite nicely. 

Unfortunately, sometimes our patients ask questions about multiple unrelated conditions, and that does cause us to run a few minutes behind. Maybe next time you schedule an appointment you should let the receptionist know how many medical conditions you want to discuss, and she can schedule more time for you!

How you should respond: 

Thank you for your feedback; we’re sorry you had to wait. Our policy is to schedule plenty of time between patients in order to avoid long wait times. We strive to deliver the best care possible to all of our patients, but we occasionally fall behind schedule because of emergencies. If you want to discuss this further, please contact us at 123-456-7890.

2. Respond promptly but not too promptly. 

It’s important to be responsive, and it’s good for your patients to see that you are listening to their concerns. So don’t ignore the negative review. However, it’s also important to wait to respond if the review makes you particularly upset or if you need to double check information. 

Read through the review and then BREATHE. 

When you are ready, and have taken some deep breaths, read through the review again and picture the patient expressing concern rather than spouting anger. It’s easier to respond politely to someone who is speaking out of concern rather than anger. Basically, make sure the response you type (set in stone, publish to the world, you get the idea) is courteous and complete, no matter how you feel. 

Bill Bullyman

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Dr. Mitch has no idea what he is doing! I had a terrible experience with my surgery. I got sick and threw up coming out of the anesthesia. He’s completely incompetent.

show-off dr mitch

How Dr. Mitch answered: 

Dude, not my fault you got sick. I repaired your knee beautifully. Focus on that, and deal with a little discomfort like a grown man.

How you should answer: 

Thank you for taking the time to leave a review. We strive to provide the best care possible to all our patients. We value your feedback and would like to address your concerns directly. Please contact us at 123-456-7890.

3. Show that you value their feedback.

Patients want to be heard and valued. And those who are reading the reviews to find a doctor look at responses to see if patients are heard. Use negative feedback as an opportunity to show that you care about your patients and to improve the services you provide. 

Calvin Chipman

Rating: 1 out of 5.

The office staff is rude and unorganized. Dr. Mitch is great, but I will not be back. I have no desire to deal with incompetence. 

protective dr. mitch

How Dr. Mitch answered: 

Maybe if you spread a little sugar instead of your #[email protected]&!% attitude, things would have gone better for you. My receptionist was in tears after you berated her in public. Have a little compassion on someone’s first day on the job, man.

How you should answer: 

Thank you for your feedback, it helps us to continue to improve as a practice. Please call us at 123-456-7890 to discuss this further.

4. Be specific when it’s appropriate.

It’s always nice to have an authoritative response from the provider. On occasion, patients have their information wrong and are upset by their misperception. You can correct inaccurate information—when it’s HIPAA appropriate. 

Mike Missoutski

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Don’t go here, there is nowhere to park!

sarcastic dr. mitch

How Dr. Mitch answered: 

Bruh, we have a small parking lot in front of the building and a large lot on the side of the building. You have two eyes, use them.

How you should answer: 

We are sorry your parking experience was frustrating. The small parking lot in front of our building does fill up quickly, but the large lot on the west side of the building always has plenty of parking. There’s even a side door you can use so you don’t have to walk as far. Please contact us at 123-456-7890 if you have any further questions.

5. Take the conversation offline. 

It can be difficult to respond to patient concerns and still respect their privacy. It’s especially difficult when mistakes are made. Take the conversation off the public stage and ask them to reach out to you to resolve any concerns.

Francine  Fallsworthy

Rating: 1 out of 5.

My mom went in to see Dr. Mitch and fell off the table! She went in for a sprained ankle, and now she’s dealing with a dislocated shoulder as well. That’s very scary at her age. 

snide dr. mitch

How Dr. Mitch answered: 

Hey, we’re not perfect, mistakes happen. I am sorry she fell, but she could have just as easily fallen at home. She’s pretty unsteady.

How you should answer: 

We’re sorry your experience was not satisfactory; we aim to provide excellent care for our patients. It is our policy to protect patient information and discuss important matters offline. Please call us at 123-456-7890 so we can address your concern directly.

6. Be patient with unrealistic concerns. 

It’s frustrating when someone complains about something unrealistic. Remember that when you answer that one patient, you’re also responding to anyone reading through your reviews and responses. Trust the people reading the review to recognize that it’s unrealistic, and you’ll gain some points for good behavior when you respond with compassion. 

Karen Frazzelina

Rating: 1 out of 5.

I can’t deal with the rudeness! My child was playing on his Switch and entertaining himself, but the receptionist kept shushing him. Let kids be kids! Nobody else cared that he was a bit noisy. You try to deal with a bored, high-energy 4-year-old and a 2-year-old at a prenatal exam and see if you don’t use all the resources you can. Your receptionist needs to take a chill pill. 

frustrated Dr. Mitch

How Dr. Mitch answered: 

I appreciate that you didn’t want to pay for a babysitter for a quick exam, but we don’t run a daycare. If you want to leave your children in the waiting room, please bring along a support person next time. My receptionist cannot be expected to watch your children.

How you should answer: 

I am sorry your experience was unacceptable. Please call us at 123-456-7890 so we can address your concern directly.

*Dr. Mitch’s responses are NOT HIPAA compliant. Please do not use his responses as your guide.

A final word.

Unlike Dr. Mitch, and as frustrating as it feels, do not give in to the temptation of telling “your side of the story.” To do so will violate your patient’s privacy rights and could escalate the situation. Stay calm, respond politely, and use your response as a platform to gently address a broader readership on your terms. 

Medical consumers looking at online reviews want to see mostly positive reviews, but they know negative reviews are inevitable. And they’re probably pretty good at reading between the lines to spot unfounded complaints by grumpy people. Negative patient reviews can work in your favor if you respond appropriately and show that you listen to your patients complaints and respond objectively.  

Call us today at 801-998-2830 to learn how you can get a higher proportion of positive reviews that better reflects your level of care.

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