Responding to patient reviews: 9 tips doctors and office staff can use
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9 tips for responding to patient reviews

Doctors have started embracing online reviews. And it’s critical they do so — the large majority of patients today factor online reviews into their healthcare decisions. Healthcare organizations need a robust presence, complete with a deep well of patient reviews, on the websites people use to research potential doctors. In turn, doctors can capitalize on these reviews to ensure the growth and success of their practices.

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This blog has previously covered how to get more online patient reviews on a regular basis to boost visibility and gain patient trust. But then what? What do doctors do once the reviews start rolling in? We’ve got your action plan. Incorporate the following tips on responding to patients, and you’ll dominate review sites in no time.

1. Designate a point person for responding to patient reviews. A hospital or large, multi-practitioner office will typically have someone in the marketing department lead the charge when it comes to responding to patient reviews. Smaller practices often enlist a non-medical staff member to stay on top of patient reviews, with doctors fielding inquiries as needed.

If relying on outside assistance isn’t an option, however, then responding to patient reviews falls on you — the doctor. To keep this important responsibility from adding to your busy day-to-day, Doctor.com has developed a cheat sheet of canned responses (more on that later) that can be used in some common scenarios. Download it here. 

2. Be polite, regardless of the circumstances. We get it. It’s not always easy maintain decorum online (especially if a patient said some less-than-glowing things). But your conduct on the web must reflect the professionalism you display in your own office. Be courteous and respectful in your response, even when addressing an unpleasant review.

3. Thank people who leave positive feedback. Be sincere when showing appreciation to the happy customers who tell the whole wide web how wonderful you are. They are already paying patients who are likely to return for future appointments or treatments. They’ll also provide great word-of-mouth referrals to their family and friends. A word of warning, though: Don’t spam them with promos; just thank them for their feedback and move on.

4. Respond to negative reviews as fast as you can. The faster you can get to a negative review, the better: Others combing through review sites will notice how quickly you’ve addressed a patient’s concern. Of course, if emotions are running high, take a day to compose yourself so you can respond with an even temper. Usually, replying within 48 hours minimizes any damage.

Best practices for responding to a damning review are as follows: (1) Thank the reviewer for their feedback; (2) Acknowledge their frustration or concern; (3) Provide context around the situation (while concealing any PII); and (4) Make things right (if you can) and offer to take the conversation offline.

5. Never confirm the reviewer is a patient. A great question we get a lot is how to avoid HIPAA violations when responding to patient reviews. Play it safe by keeping responses generic. But sometimes a reviewer will leave information directly related to their condition or needs, which leads me to the next point…

6. Take patient-sensitive conversations out of public view. When an issue is too delicate to discuss in a public forum, suggest taking the conversation offline. Provide your office’s phone number or email address in your response. Ask the reviewer to please be in touch to address specific concerns and stay in compliance with HIPAA regulations.

7. Keep responses short and sweet. Whether you’re responding to a delighted or disgruntled patient, a to-the-point retort will be the most effective.

8. Play by the rules. Google and Yelp are two of the most popular destination for reviews, with Google also commanding the lion’s share of local search. The success of these two platforms is largely contingent on review authenticity. To maintain this foundation of trust with users, businesses are prohibited from soliciting, incentivizing, or gating reviews. And there are stark consequences if a business is caught breaking this cardinal rule, ranging from a consumer alert issued on the profile to the removal of the offending review(s) to being banned from the platform. (Read Yelp’s blog post about this topic here.)

9. Personalize each interaction. You know when I said to keep some canned responses in your back pocket? Yes, they’re an incredibly important, time-saving trick that makes the daunting job of responding to patient reviews easier. But don’t sound like a robot! Use canned responses to guide your replies, but switch up the language so it doesn’t look like you’re just copying and pasting lines of text.

Responding to patient reviews politely, professionally, and in accordance with HIPAA will help engage happy patients and may even turn an unhappy patient’s sentiment around. If you’re working with a meager baseline of reviews, Doctor.com can help. Learn how to jump-start a strategy for collecting more positive patient reviews. Schedule some time with a practice consultant and take control of your online reputation today.

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