Negative Online Patient Reviews - Should You Respond?

Written by Heather Siler

Although sometimes unfair, even the most skilled and experienced clinician will receive a negative online review at some point in their career. The U.S. Constitution gives us the right to free speech so there is little that can be done to stop an individual from making a negative comment, even if it’s inaccurate. The question is, should you respond? The answer depends on many variables, but more often than not, you should never engage in an online debate with a disgruntled patient.

There are so many sites where reviews can be posted and seen by anyone. Examples are Facebook, Yelp, Google Review, and your office website, just to name a few. There is another type of site where a fee is paid to dispute negative comments or remove unfavorable reviews. Websites for which a fee is paid to dispute on your behalf can be viewed as unethical and shouldn’t be utilized.

Most of the sites in which reviews are placed are considered “open forum.” If you choose to respond in an open forum, the patient’s rights under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) may be violated. The patient is permitted to breach patient/doctor confidentiality, but the Doctor cannot by any means. A HIPPA violation may be very severe and expensive. Therefore, it’s best to remain silent.

If you do decide to respond, the reply can often seem petty and vague. Furthermore, it draws more attention to the unfavorable evaluation. The best way to handle the situation is to see the patient one on one and ask what you can do to rectify the situation. If the complaint is legitimate, do what you can to please the patient. If the grievance is not legitimate, unethical, or illegal, your best response is to agree to disagree while explaining why it’s not possible to comply with their request.

Receiving plenty of positive reviews also helps diffuse the negative assessment. Positive feedback is easy to obtain by providing the utmost care, remaining on time, explaining treatment and fees before procedures, and keeping your office spotless. Encouraging patients to leave feedback is certainly fine. However, you shouldn’t offer incentives for posting reviews. It should be clear that you are asking for authentic evaluations.

The bottom line is not to be overly concerned with a few negative reviews. It will happen from time to time, and it’s simply out of your control. Focus on your practice and deliver the best patient experience and the positive will outweigh the negative.