How to Respond to Negative Patient Reviews Online

How to Respond to Negative Patient Reviews Online

Whoever said there’s no such thing as bad publicity clearly lived before the advent of online reviews. Taking criticism from others is difficult enough when it’s done in private and comes from people who have your best interests at heart. But, when your practice is blasted on Google or Facebook for a bad patient experience, it can not only become personal — it can seriously hurt your bottom line. However, negative reviews are not always a bad thing. In fact, they can be powerful moments to demonstrate your practice’s dedication to your patients as well as opportunities to grow and improve as an organization. But what’s the secret to handling negative reviews well?

Why It’s Important to Respond to Negative Patient Reviews

If recent studies have taught us one thing about online reviews, it’s that they’re incredibly persuasive. According to Qualtrics &

  • More than 90% of customers aged 18-34 treat online reviews as equal to a personal recommendation
  • 94% of people have avoided a business because of a negative review
  • 3.3 stars is the minimum rating most people will accept in order to engage with a business
  • Almost 90% of customers will consider reversing a bad review based on how a business responds to their complaint
  • It can take 40 positive patient experiences to make up for a single negative review

In other words, establishing a positive online reputation and responding to negative reviews is not an optional enterprise. It’s perhaps the most crucial (and public) representation of your organization to prospective patients.

10 Tips for Responding to Negative Patient Reviews

1. Don’t Delay

Industry wisdom suggests responding within 24-48 hours, but in reality, the sooner the better. The longer you wait to respond, the more people have seen the negative review — and the more solidified that experience has become in the reviewer’s mind. Additionally, most reviews are timestamped, so even a thoughtful response can seem negligent if too much time has elapsed between it and the original review.

2. Determine the Credibility of the Review

Sometimes a negative review has very little to do with your practice or the person’s experience with it. Perhaps they complain about the weather or the traffic or other factors outside of your control. Maybe they even mistook your practice for another one in the area. And, you may even get fake negative reviews — these can range from simple spam to more nefarious attacks from competitors. If there’s sufficient evidence that these reviews are invalid, you can submit a request and have them removed from the platform. Unfortunately, this can still take time and may negatively impact your business in the meantime.

3. Thank Them for Their Review

Even the most vitriolic rant of a review takes time out of someone’s day that they could be spending doing other things. When someone takes the time and energy to provide this sort of feedback, it’s generally because the experience had a significant emotional impact on them. Showing appreciation for their review can help begin the conversation on a more positive note and help diffuse the situation.

4. Apologize & Empathize

When receiving any kind of negative feedback, it’s easy to get defensive. This kind of reactionary response, however, will almost certainly escalate the situation because it seems to undermine and call into question the validity of the patient’s experience. When a person takes the time to write a negative review, they generally feel wronged and are looking for some kind of recompense. Put yourself in their shoes and try to understand why they feel that way, and how their experience led them to that reaction.

5. Let Them Know You’re Committing to Solving Their Problem

An apology will only get you so far. Assure them that you’re invested in making the situation right and correcting any wrongs that may have occurred during their visit. Remember, you’re not only speaking to the reviewer, but also to anyone who comes across the review. If prospective patients see that you’re aware of the problem and are working to fix it, it can reestablish confidence in your practice’s commitment to a great patient experience.

6. Reinforce Your Practice’s Values

Acknowledging that you fell short of your standards has a doubly-positive effect. First, it gives you a chance to promote the core values of your practice to anyone reading the review. Secondly, it shows a self-awareness that the current patient’s experience did not meet those standards. When done effectively, it shows that the negative experience is an exception rather than the norm — and it also demonstrates that no one is more invested in your practice living up to its values than you are. But be careful with this one, because overly branded or verbose language can come off as insincere and dismissive of the actual complaint.

7. Take the Conversation Private

Taking the conversation private has several benefits. The most common include:

  • Keeping you HIPAA compliant if sensitive or protected health information is involved
  • Preventing a public back-and-forth with the patient
  • Allowing you to address the specifics of the patient’s complaint in more detail
  • Giving you the opportunity to reverse their negative opinion of your practice

If you have their information, you can say that you’ll be reaching out to them to resolve the issue. But be sure to give them a timeline in which to expect the correspondence — and stick to it! You can also provide a phone number or email at which they can reach you to discuss the matter further. Many social platforms also have private chat options, but you’ll want to make sure the privacy features are HIPAA compliant before any PHI is exchanged.

8. Keep It Short

It may sound like all of this is a lot to pack into a single review, but in reality it can still be short and sweet. In most cases, you shouldn’t use more than a sentence for each component. Long responses will often be ignored by readers, and they can also come off as defensive and off-putting. No one really wants to hear a laundry list of excuses, after all. They just want to know you’re aware of the issue and are committed to fixing it.


“Dear [patient’s name],

Thank you for your feedback. We’re sorry to hear that you had a poor experience at our practice. Our goal is to provide exceptional patient care at every step of the journey, so we’d like the chance to give your concerns the personalized attention they deserve. Please call us at (XXX) XXX-XXXX.”

9. Go Out of Your Way to Make It Right

Once you’ve taken the conversation private, you now have the chance to change their mind about your practice. While discounts and promotional offers may be out of the question for your type of practice, you can still find ways to make amends with the negative reviewer. Sometimes empathy and giving them an audience for their complaint is enough to mitigate the damage. In some cases, you may even be able to win the patient over to the extent that they overturn their negative review. However, don’t be too pushy about it, as it can come off like you are only being nice to them to get them to do something for you.

10. Use It As a Chance to Improve Your Practice

The worst thing you can do with a negative review is to respond to it and move on like nothing ever happened. If you do this, you’ve missed a critical opportunity to improve your patient experience. A negative review is giving you real and useful feedback about a shortcoming within your practice. Solving this problem for one patient will likely solve a pain point for many others, too. Listening to your patients and finding ways to improve their experience is truly the best solution for dealing with negative reviews, because — just like in health care — prevention is better than a cure.

If you’re looking for more information about how to manage online reviews, check out our Ultimate Guide to Responding to Reviews.

Struggling to Manage Your Reputation Online? The Symphony Agency Can Help

Finding time to run a successful practice and manage your entire digital presence is a tall task. But don’t worry! At The Symphony Agency, our team of digital experts are pros at managing online reputations as well as creating effective communications strategies for healthcare practices. For more information about our services, contact our client experience team today.