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Google. Bark. Healthgrades.Vitals. RateMDs.

Today, patients have more opportunities than ever to share their experiences and opinions of healthcare professionals, which means potential patients have more options to analyze doctors’ online reputation before taking this first date.

It’s a form of empowerment long absent from doctor-patient relationships – and one that patients are increasingly happy to use. A 2020 survey by SoftwareAdvice.com found that 71% of patients used online reviews as the first step in finding a doctor or specialist. About 40% said they were willing to consider leaving the network for a highly regarded supplier.

For many healthcare professionals, doctor’s advice is nerve-racking. Unlike other forms of online marketing, doctors believe they have no control over patient reviews (which is not entirely accurate).

Negative reviews, especially when related to the very personal nature of a patient’s experience, can be extremely blunt and angry. Once posted, they are difficult to remove. They can sit there for years, show up in search results, erode a doctor’s reputation, and drive potential patients away.

Research shows that most consumers are more likely to use the keyboard to post A negative experience, but most online reviews of doctors are positive.

In the SoftwareAdvice.com survey, 72% of respondents said they left very or somewhat positive reviews. 17% said they left neutral reviews. Only 10% said they left slightly negative reviews and just 1% left very negative reviews.

So if most of the reviews are positive, can you just ignore the negative minority?

Most reputation management professionals would say no. Responding proactively to negative comments gives other readers a balance. In addition, it gives you a golden opportunity to present a positive and professional image of your practice.

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Planning for success

No one likes criticism. Having a strategy in place reduces the chances that you will make a bad situation worse by responding with anger.

Your workflow for processing online reviews doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. Setting aside even 15 minutes a week can make a big difference in your practice’s online presence.

A great first step is to do a quick audit of sites with reviews of your practice and list them all. Make sure your profiles all contain up-to-date information.

Once you have this list, set up a schedule for yourself or your staff to review each site regularly. It doesn’t have to be daily or weekly – you just want to make sure you don’t have a bad review for a year without realizing it.

If this sounds like a tedious job that your practice isn’t going to realistically do, you’d be surprised at how simple reputation management software can do these tasks.

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Are there any HIPAA issues?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) does not prevent you from responding to comments online. This sets firm limits on what you can say in this answer.

You may not use information that identifies the patient, including names, appointment dates, tests or test results and diagnoses, even if the patient discusses it in their own exam.

Simply put: Whether you are being praised or criticized, you cannot directly recognize that a critic is, or has ever been, a patient of yours. If that seems too complicated to manage internally, seek help from online reputation management experts who focus on the healthcare industry.

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Tips for responding to bad reviews

So you’ve seen a bad review online and decided you can respond in a HIPAA compliant way. Now what?

When approaching a bad review, a key thing to remember is that you are not trying to win an argument. In fact, the person who left the bad review isn’t even your primary audience – your audience is all of the other people (including potential patients) who read the review and then read your response.

Also, remember that you are not trying to prove that you are smarter than the examiner. Avoid defensive language and medical jargon or any hint of « talking loudly » to the unhappy patient. Responding in a condescending tone won’t help you gain fans.

No matter how harsh the criticism, always start by thanking the person for their comments. Be polite, be professional, be positive, and be brief.

Negative reviews can be hard to read, but be sure to take a moment to read them carefully. Is there anything you can do to improve your customer service or the quality of your care? If you don’t know where to start, there are tools that can help you automate this process, including tips on how to respond appropriately.

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Tips for getting positive reviews

The best way to mitigate negative comments is to wrap them in a cozy blanket of positive reviews.

If a patient compliments your services, encourage them to share their experiences online. You might want to create a simple document with your information and the sites you find most useful for positive reviews.

Add a link to review sites in patient emails and remind them that you value all feedback.

While you’re at it, add links to review sites on your practice’s web page. The simpler you make posting messages for patients, the more likely they are to do it!

You cannot encourage patients to post positive reviews with discounts or benefits. It violates the terms of use of most review platforms and, if discovered, could result in these sites being banned.

Expert medical reputation management is the key to online success

Managing online reputation can seem like a challenge, but with a little patience and persistence, you can turn your virtual presence into a constant flow of new patients.

If you need help building your online strategy, please don’t hesitate to contact us here at Advice Media. Our Review Power product can help you turn your online reviews into a tool that drives demand for your services.

Click here to find out more.

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