No good deed goes unpunished. We have been hit with a couple of negative reviews for my practice. After 2 years of learning how to respond to them, I think I have learned a bit of how to deal with bad reviews. Below is how I handle my negative reviews and how I am able to get approximately 50% of them removed.
Some People Are Just Unhappy
When my grandfather ran his business, he used to occasionally say: “You can give some people a gift of a $100 bill and they will be mad they didn’t get it in all $20s.”
I think there is a lot of truth to that. Some people will be unhappy no matter what you try to do. I would say that about 5% of the people that we meet in clinic are individuals like this. Individuals who refused to believe that it is actually them that is causing the negativity in their life. They are the common denominator of why all of their business ventures or relationships continue to fail over and over again.
As a medical professional, I do my best to respect these individuals and remain polite. At the same time, I try to guide them if they are ready to a healthier and happier place. I am not afraid though to fire the patient if they crossed the line into verbally abusive territory.
An Unhappy Discount
There was one patient in particular that sticks in my mind.
This very kind lady was going through a severe rough patch. We decided to give her a discount at 50% off of her regular follow-up visits since she had a high deductible plan. Unfortunately, since we have never given a discount before to anyone with insurance (since we are technically not allowed to) we ran into 2 issue.
- We could not lower our requested fee for service for just one patient and submit the full bill to insurance.
- Our automated system once insurance processed the claim, automatically sent out an email that she owed us the remainder on the balance.
She called us right away and we fixed the error the same day but she left us a scathing 1 star review about how we don’t have our shit together and we should be avoided at all cost since our billing department is “full of lies.”
That is the last time we decided to ever do discounts for general public.
How To Approach A Negative Review
Whenever we get a negative review, we sit down and everything from the initial notification really boils down to one big question:
- Is there some honest feedback in the review that we can improve a systems issue?
If the answer is yes, then we call the patient to apologize and try to come to some sort of solution. If the answer is no, the review is often not helpful and we respond with a mostly generic comment.
We still reach out personally to every negative review, even if it is a review like the following one: “This place is a scam, I had to pay $148 for the visit and $150 for a lab bill. All they care about is making money off people who have insurance. Healthcare should be free.” Yes, that is a review that we received in our clinic…and yes, this person had a high deductable plan.
So here are our steps to address bad reviews:
- Is there honest feedback in the review that we can improve a systems issue on? If yes, implement a change
- Call (and then email if they don’t answer) every patient who leaves a bad review if you can identify them.
- Listen to their concerns and see what they are unhappy about
- If there is something to improve upon, improve it and find a solution, apologize for any inconvenience.
- If they are unhappy and unreasonable…stop wasting employees time and be polite, point them to our website for our policies and tell them they are free to contact their insurance company for verification of what our clinic has charged them for services rendered. Do not waste employee time on people who love to just be unhappy.
- If we fix the problem, ask them politely to consider removing the review but remind them that they are under no obligation to do so
- Circle back within 24 hours to make sure the problem is fixed
- If they do not remove the review or they are unreasonable, leave a generic reply that is somewhat directed at the complaint without violating HIPAA. For example, our reply to the high deductable lady was “Thank you for reaching out to us. We are in network with many insurance companies and as a result we follow whatever billing rates a patients insurance dictates. If any patient has any billing concerns they can reach us at XXX-XXX-XXXX. Have a good day.”
Our Current Success Rate Is 50%
With this method above, we are able to get about 50% of negative reviews removed by the person who removed it.
You might ask, what about complaining to Google or Yelp? We have only once been successful in having one of these reviews removed and it was because this person left a racist remark about an Asian physician in my practice in light of COVID-19 pandemic. I reported it to Google and to their credit it was removed in about an hour after I reported it. Other than that, we have never been successful in getting negative reviews removed by the website that host them.
Yelp And Their Reviews
Oh boy, this is a big one. Yelp is adamant that they do not participate in pay for play. What I mean by this is that they claim they do not play games with the reviews depending on if you advertised on yelp or not. All I can say is that in my opinion, we appeared to go from having 58 – 5 star reviews down to 33 – 5 star reviews once we stopped advertising on Yelp.
When I reached out to Yelp about this, they told me that they have a proprietary system that checks in on reviews over time to see how valid they are. The ones that they deem as not very helpful can be put into the hidden category over time. That is what was told happened to the remaining 25 star reviews that are now not listed on Yelp. I’ll let you be the judge on what is really going on with Yelp reviews.
We have found Yelp to not be helpful in building our practice. They are less than 1% of traffic to our website according to google analytics. When we did advertise on Yelp, we suddenly got an influx of “worried well” visits and noticed an improvement once we stopped advertising on their platform. Your millage may vary though and this is just my opinion.
Do Not Feed The Trolls
There are patients who will have massive rants on your social media pages about how terrible your practice is. Do not feed the troll. Once you reply to them with anything other than totally generic replies, they have the ability to edit their review and will bring you down to their level. It also gives their sometimes crazy statements some validity in their minds.
Nothing good can come of this and avoid responding to these at all cost about anything personal like as above. Patients do not usually take these reviews seriously and I find that these reviews are often written without paragraph breaks plus lots of misspellings (so it seems).
Take a deep breath if you read one of these, sleep on it, and do not feed the troll.
Your business does need good reviews but do not let it bother you too much at night. Always try to improve the process, deliver good care to patients, and the rest will fall into line.
So, now you now how I deal with my negative reviews and have a 4.9 to 5.0 star rating on all sites where we are rated. If you think online reviews do not matter, you really are only kidding yourself. Almost everyone looks at online reviews if they do not have a person they trust direct you to your clinic as a main referral method.