Healthcare News & Insights

How to handle negative online reviews

In the past, patients came to hospitals because they lived close, but now there’s a lot more competition and patient reviews of your facility and your physicians can matter a lot.

That’s especially true now that patients can speak publicly about their experiences at hospitals and the care they receive from physicians at those facilities, according to Forbes.

And unfortunately for physicians, confidentiality obligations restrict their ability to respond.

Majority rules

While many doctors used to discourage patient review and even partnered with a company which would help suppress patient reviews, most now realize that was a big mistake.

One reason: Most online reviews are positive, and word of mouth advertising is the best marketing hospitals and their physicians can get.

Plus, patient reviews provide honest and valuable feedback letting facilities and their doctors know what they’re doing right. And why shouldn’t they get recognized for their hard work.

It also provides insight into what aspects may need to be tweaked to better serve patients.

Finally, the more reviews the better. Think about it, if a hospital or doctor has hundreds of reviews that are positive, but only a few negative ones, which reviews do you think most people will believe? It’s highly unlikely that one mean online review will permanently damage a hospital’s or physician’s reputation.

On the other hand, if all a doctor has is one negative review it gains power by being a solo review. That’s why having a lot of reviews is important — the positive comments balance out the negative ones.

Handling negative reviews

Hopefully, your hospitals or doctors won’t have to deal with negative reviews, but it’s always a possibility — everyone has a bad day at some point in time. It’s how people perceive and react to them that can make or break them.

Here are some recommendations from Forbes on how to deal with a negative review:

1. Learn from them

Believe it or not, no matter how bad a review is there’s always something to learn from it. Encourage your physicians and other administrators to get past the emotional reaction and look deeper into why the reviewer is so upset. It may be something the patient was too afraid to convey to the physician or a nurse. If so, figure out how to improve that aspect of patient care, share the improvements with your other caregivers and move on.

2. Respond privately

While this isn’t always possible, if a patient is extremely unhappy, it’s a good idea to reach out to the patient privately. When administrators or physicians reach out to a patient, it’s important they show sincerity, sympathy and contrition. Often this can turn a hostile patient into a loyal supporter, especially if the doctor explains how he or she will avoid such circumstances in the future and thanks the patients for bringing the issue to his or her attention.

Let your other patients respond for you publicly. It happens time and again, where misinformation from an unhappy patient will be rebutted by loyal happy patients. These people often come to the defense of a physician or hospital. It’s best to let your happy patients handle the misinformation and only respond publicly when it’s absolutely necessary.

If the review requires a public response, remember specifics about the patient’s circumstances can’t be discussed. However, your physicians can review standard protocols for specific conditions.

3. Avoid lawsuits at all costs

Rarely does anything positive come out of a doctor suing a patient. Even if a patient lies, it’s likely that if sued, he or she will respond with a malpractice claim or a complaint against the doctor’s license to practice. Plus a lawsuit brings even more attention to the disagreement and makes it appear as if the physician or hospital is trying to hide something.

And then there’s the matter that doctors rarely win in court, and may get stuck paying attorney fees for the patient and him- or herself. Bottom line: It’s just bad business to sue patients.

However, in the case that the facility or physician feel it is necessary, it’s best to review the case with the hospital’s attorney to gauge the lawsuit outcome and how much it’ll cost.

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