How to respond to negative reviews during the COVID-19 crisis
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How to respond to a negative patient review when public health and safety are at stake

In the best of times, responding to a negative review can be a challenge. Nearly 80% of physicians say it adds another layer of stress to the job. How do you strike the right chord between being polite and addressing an angry or upset patient — all while keeping HIPAA regulations in mind?

Now throw a pandemic into the mix, and designing the right response strategy can seem even more daunting!

One unexpected side effect of COVID-19 has been an uptick in negative online reviews across industries related to the pandemic itself. Consumers are, understandably, frustrated. But some are taking the time to lash out at businesses based on their COVID-19 response or guidelines.

Many sites put measures in place initially to curb false and defamatory reviews. Google, for example, temporarily disabled new reviews, and Yelp banned comments that make claims about contracting COVID-19 or otherwise seek to do unfounded reputational damage.

Healthcare hasn’t been immune. But instead of the typical complaints — wait time, billing, or bedside demeanor, for example — these reviews focus on a far more serious issue. A small yet vocal cohort of the public refuses to adhere to current recommendations and mandates — like wearing a mask or getting their temperature checked at the door — and they’re trying to put physicians and clinics on blast for simply following the rules.

Thankfully, these opinions represent the minority. But no one wants negative feedback — especially during a time of chaos and great uncertainty. If social-distancing orders or postponed appointments have already caused a drop-off in patient feedback, just one bad review can seem devastating.

The silver lining, however, is that you can use a negative review as an opportunity to double-down on safety measures — and plug any new telemedicine services — to reassure others that booking an appointment with you is the right decision.

Response cheat sheet: 4 ways to reply to negative reviews in the time of COVID-19

To break down how to effectively approach negative reviews, we’ve outlined a few potential response tactics below. Use these as a jumping-off point: Since some sites penalize you for posting templated responses, you should customize your replies based on each review itself.

1. Their issue: I refuse to wear a mask.

Your response: Our #1 priority is the health safety of our staff and our patients. Our office is following the most recent safety protocols as recommended by the CDC. When an in-person appointment is necessary, all patients and staff must wear masks while on our premises. We are taking additional steps for your safety, including the following:

  1. Our office is operating virtually as much as possible. Feel free to book a telemedicine appointment or consultation with us!
  2. Only 1 person per party is allowed on the premises. If that patient is a minor, a guardian may accompany them.
  3. We’ve removed waiting room amenities, including magazines and toys, and elevated our cleaning protocols on high-touch surfaces.
  4. Each exam room is thoroughly sanitized between patient visits.
  5. Sanitation stations are placed throughout our facility for your convenience and safety.

2. Their issue: I don’t think COVID-19 is real.

Your response: We take public health very seriously and will continue to adhere to CDC recommendations while they remain in effect. If you have questions about COVID-19 or the safety measures we have put in place, please reach out directly using the phone number above. A member of our staff would be happy to discuss any issues with you.

3. Their issue: The doctor won’t see me in person.

Your response: Due to the coronavirus and for the safety of our staff and patients, we are operating at reduced capacity on location and using telemedicine as much as possible. Feel free to book a virtual appointment with us through the link in our profile. The doctor will assess your conditions and determine whether or not an in-person visit is necessary at this time. If you have any questions about our telemedicine services, please do not hesitate to reach out.

4. Their issue: I waited a long time to see my doctor.

Your response: We know long wait times can be very frustrating, and we apologize for the inconvenience. We try our best to keep our schedule on track, but occasionally the doctor needs to spend extra time with another patient because of critical needs or emergency situations. For the health and well-being of our staff and our patients, we are also thoroughly sanitizing all high-touch surfaces between visits, which may take a bit longer than usual. We place the utmost importance on providing the best and safest care possible, so we hope you accept our apology.

Best practice for responding to reviews — the good, the bad, and the ugly

You already know that reviews are a critical part of your online presence. In these trying times, prospective patients need even more reassurance about the care they can expect to receive, whether through telemedicine or in your office. Two-thirds like to see a practice respond to reviews, so you can use the space to reinforce your care philosophy and practice guidelines — or just make sure a patient feels heard.

When responding to reviews, keep the following in mind.

  • Respond within 48 hours. Don’t rush to reply to a review — but don’t put it off too long, either. As a general rule of thumb, if you respond within a couple of days, the experience will still be top of mind and relevant, and you can even mitigate any potential damage caused by a bad review.
  • Thank patients who leave you great reviews. Engaging your happiest patients personally further cements their feelings about your practice. Plus, it all but ensures they come back or refer their family and friends.
  • Acknowledge a bad review publicly, then take the conversation offline. Use the public sphere to inform and educate rather than argue. Don’t get defensive in your response, and never lash out at an upset patient. Ask them to call your office to resolve their issue.
  • Make them feel heard. Often patients leave feedback just to have their voices heard. Thank them for their review, and make them feel like their feedback matters.
  • Use generic language to avoid HIPAA violations. Practices have been fined thousands of dollars for not adhering to HIPAA regulations in their review responses. Remember: Never confirm the reviewer is a patient or the specific treatment or issue they’re divulging.

How to take a proactive approach to review collection and drown out negative reviews

When it comes to negative reviews, the best defense is a good offense. To weaken the impact of a one- or two-star review on your online reputation, boost your collection efforts to flood your profiles with feedback from happy, satisfied patients.

At the end of the day, the good news is that most patients are grateful facilities are putting such stringent safety measures in place. And they’re generally pleased with the care they’ve received — both in person and virtually — during the crisis. Many are just happy they can see a doctor at all!

If you’re looking for a telemedicine solution that’s fast, free, HIPAA compliant, and has built-in reputation management to help you capitalize on these great experiences, look no further than Doctor.com’s VirtualVisit. The platform is easy to use for both patient and provider; there’s nothing to download, install, or set up; and it comes with our best-in-class review-collection solution ReviewRequest. Turn on ReviewRequest during any appointment if you want a patient to write a review, and the patient will be immediately prompted to leave feedback when the appointment ends via email or text. Then, it auto-publishes each new review across Doctor.com’s network of directories and websites — including WebMD, Healthgrades, Vitals, and more — maximizing the power and reach of each great review.

To learn more about Doctor.com’s suite of solutions, request more information here.

Visit our COVID-19 Resource Center for additional support about reopening your practice or clinic.

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