The Intake

Insights for those starting, managing, and growing independent healthcare practices

Tips to handle negative online reviews with ease

Negative online reviews can damage your healthcare practice. Learn how to respond effectively and protect your reputation.

woman responding to negative reviews

At a Glance

  • Negative online reviews can significantly harm independent healthcare practices by costing potential patients and damaging online reputation
  • Responding to negative reviews can safeguard both credibility and financial well-being
  • To address negative feedback, respond promptly, thank the reviewer without apologizing, maintain confidentiality, and move the conversation offline

Negative online reviews can be extremely damaging for independent healthcare practices. Without an effective strategy to address them, these bad reviews could cost you potential patients and harm your online reputation.

It can be intimidating and overwhelming to see unflattering feedback on your business page or directory listing, but with some simple strategies you can handle those reviews like a pro. Here's how to effectively address a negative review while safeguarding both your practice’s credibility and its bottom line.

Respond to negative online reviews to retain and attract patients

Responding to negative feedback online shows your practice values patient input, makes the reviewer feel heard, and provides an opportunity to move the conversation offline so you can remedy it. 

It’s also a powerful tool in attracting and retaining patients. With the majority of patients considering reviews before selecting a practice, unaddressed negative feedback could discourage new patients from choosing yours. 

Responding to negative reviews also increases the likelihood that the patient will give the practice another chance, according to Tebra's 4th annual Patient Perspectives report. The same report found that more than two-thirds of patients who have left negative reviews said they would return to a practice if it responded to their complaint. 

Despite the critical nature of responding to negative reviews, many practices shy away from doing so. While other service providers, business owners, and professionals are able to respond to negative feedback without concern for legal action, medical professionals are bound by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which can be a tiresome and complicated landscape to navigate. 

Acknowledging negative reviews is worthwhile, but practices must be careful. Here’s what to know.

6 steps to responding to negative online reviews

1. Respond promptly to negative reviews 

Patients leave negative reviews for a few reasons. Some want to share their experience with others, while others wan to feel seen and heard. Providing a thoughtful, timely response mitigates the damage of the negative review, and demonstrates to the reviewer that you value their feedback and concern. It also enables you to provide a timely solution to the issue, if applicable.  

2. Thank the reviewer for leaving a review

Thank the patient for sharing their feedback. Doing so shows the patient you value their input and appreciate their time. It’s also a professional way to diffuse the negativity. 

3. Be concise, but address their concern 

The more you say, the more likely you will say something you shouldn’t. Respond courteously without apologizing and keep the message as brief as possible. Simply thank the individual for their review, let them know the practice tries its best to [keep wait times to a minimum], [see patients on time], [make it easy to speak to someone on the phone], [etc.], and ask them to reach out directly. 

4. Avoid apologizing

It’s natural to want to apologize when someone is upset. But doing so — especially if it’s a care-related grievance — can create malpractice issues. An apology can be viewed as an inadvertent admission of guilt, putting the practice at risk for liability.

5. Do not disclose anything about their visit 

Even confirming whether or not a patient has received care from a practice can be a violation of HIPPA, as it’s considered protected health information (PHI). While individuals often identify themselves as patients of the practice and reveal details about their care, diagnosis, or treatment, providers are still bound by HIPPA, and cannot. 

6. Move the conversation offline

Encouraging the reviewer to reach out directly to the practice benefits the practice in a few ways. First, it allows you to remedy the issue. Perhaps a patient is aggrieved by an unreturned phone call and questions for their practitioner. Getting in touch directly with the patient gives the practice the chance to answer their question and get them in touch with the provider. Second, moving the conversation offline also lets you learn more about the grievance out of the public eye. 

How to stop bad patient reviews

The truth is: you can’t. Rather than trying to spot negative online reviews, work to deliver quality care and patient service, and respond professionally to the ones you do receive. 

While you can’t control how others view the negative reviews left for your business, you can counter the negative impression with your own positive one by leaving a professional response. 

Negative review sample scripts

Here are a few examples of what you might say. This information is only intended as a starting point. Work with legal counsel to create an online reputation management plan that fits your specific needs.

Example negative review: It took me forever to be seen at this practice! And I had another appointment to get to that day — which I ended up missing. Not sure why it’s so hard to see patients on time.

Example response: Thank you for your feedback. We do our best to keep wait times to 10 minutes, and we strive to provide the best patient experience possible. We really value your input and would love to connect with you offline to hear more about your concerns. Could you please give us a call at [phone number] so we can better assist you? 

Example negative review: It’s impossible to get anyone on the phone at this practice. So annoying!

Example response: Thank you for sharing this information. Our phone lines can get busy, but please feel free to leave a message in the future. We respond to most voicemails within one business day. If you’re looking to [schedule an appointment] or [request a prescription refill], we offer our returning patients the convenience to do so online at our website [insert website]. 

Example negative review: The providers here don’t listen and ask the same questions again and again. It makes me feel like they aren’t taking my health concerns seriously. Why can’t they just communicate with one another? 

Example response: Thank you for taking the time to share this comment. To ensure the best possible experience at our practice, each staff member and provider is required to confirm specific details with patients. While this may feel repetitive, it’s a policy in place to ensure a comprehensive visit to our practice. We’d love the chance to speak further with you about this. Could you please give us a call at the office [phone number] so we can better assist you?

Key takeaways 

Negative reviews are an unpleasant aspect of being a business owner or service provider today. Being a medical provider only makes this more complicated. But while practices must be thoughtful and prudent in their responses, responding to negative comments is advantageous for your practice and can benefit growth and retention now and in the future.

Use the guidelines outlined here as a starting point as you brainstorm the right reputation management approach with your legal counsel. 

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Written by

Catherine Tansey, business writer and reporter

Catherine Tansey is a business and healthcare writer and reporter. She has close to a decade of experience writing and reporting on small business best practices, emerging technology, market trends, and more. Catherine has several family members who own private practices in mental health services, dentistry, and chiropractics, and she’s seen firsthand the pride and privilege practice owners feel to be able to support their communities.

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