Reputation Management: How to Deal with Bad Online Reviews

Posted on 21 Dec, 2017 |comments_icon 2|By Elizabeth

All businesses, including medical practices and home health agencies, benefit from online customer feedback—provided, of course, the feedback is positive. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

Happy customers aren’t nearly as motivated to spread the word as unhappy customers. Experts estimate, in fact, that a happy customer will tell one person about his experience while an unhappy customer will tell roughly to 20 people about a bad experience. In the social media age, we know what that means—20 becomes 2000 in the blink of a tweet, Yelp comment, or Facebook post.

If someone who wants to hurt your agency’s online reputation, it’s as easy as clicking a button.

You can always sue a reviewer for defamation, but, let’s face it, that’s an extreme measure requiring extreme resources. The outcomes of such cases aren’t encouraging for healthcare providers attempting to defend their online reputations. Defamation is hard to prove, and Internet speech is largely protected. You would need to show that the commenter acted maliciously and that your business suffered loss due to his or her comment.

Simpler Ways to Deal with Bad Online Reviews

According to the 2016 Local Consumer Review Survey, 90% of consumers need less than 10 reviews to form an opinion about a business, and 84% of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.

Consumer feedback matters. So what’s the best way to handle a negative online review? Here’s a step-by-step action plan.

If the negative review is accurate:

  1. Read the review more than once, analyze it without getting emotional, and consider what went wrong with that specific patient. Does the issue referenced happen all the time? Why did it happen? How can I fix it? This is the time to learn from mistakes.
  2. Contact the patient (if not anonymous). Ask if there is any way to make it right for him. If you convert him into a happy patient, you can request that he delete the negative review.
  3. Private message (if anonymous). Many review websites allow you to send a private message to the reviewer. If the reviewer is anonymous, it’s best to send a private message, explain the situation, and promise to make it right. Ask the reviewer to contact you. If the patient isn’t reachable, comment on the review yourself. Take the high road—kill them with kindness, as my mother used to say. Accept responsibility for the problem and outline steps that have been taken to improve it.
  4. Don’t get into discussions or arguments with the patient. It will not reflect well on you and it will be open for everyone to read. Also, do not get into the specifics of your patient’s condition. You should always have HIPAA compliance in mind when commenting on a review.
  5. Appreciate the knowledge. You’re always better off knowing when you’ve fallen short. Equipped with this knowledge, you now have the opportunity to improve patient satisfaction and garner more referrals.

Encouraging Positive Reviews

Based on what you have learned from the negative review, concentrate your time and energy on receiving more positive reviews from your happy patients (you should always have a process to ask for reviews from satisfied patients). An increase in positive reviews will bury your negative reviews.

If the negative review is inaccurate:

  1. Think again. Is the review really inaccurate or unjustified? Though it’s difficult to accept negative comments, especially if we’re not used to hearing feedback from patients, try to separate from your emotions to gain a clear head.
  2. Contact the patient (if not anonymous). Find out what bothered them. Maybe it was a miscommunication or a misunderstanding that you can resolve. Explain your side of the story and politely ask the patient to remove the post. If anonymous, private message them and explain.
  3. “Flag” Some review websites give you the ability to flag a review as inappropriate or inaccurate. In doing so, you should explain in detail why you think the review is inaccurate and should be removed. Some review websites remove poor reviews based on sound reasoning.
  4. Comment on the review and explain your side of the story. Be respectful. Your comment will be open for everyone to see. You don’t want to taint your image by being argumentative and unappreciative of patient feedback. Also, you should always have HIPAA compliance in mind when commenting on a review.

Encouraging more positive and frequent commentary is not only good marketing; it doubles as damage control if a dissatisfied patient takes to the keyboard. However, most people are uncomfortable asking patients for reviews. It can put the patient on the spot and make the visit seem transactional. Instead, try the following low-pressure tactics:

  • Make it easy. Use multiple channels, such as leaving reminder cards at the end of a visit, or by adding a widget to your website, social media pages, and email signature that links directly to your review sites.
  • Follow up. Use the patient’s HIPAA-approved contact method to reach out 24-48 hours after the home visit and ask for feedback, good or bad. Not only does this allow you to identify happy patients, but also to discover and resolve any complaints privately, before they turn into a negative review.
  • Take advantage of existing opportunities. If you receive a thank you letter, email, or phone call, take the opportunity to ask the patient if they would consider turning it into an online review.

Show patients that you value their feedback. After obtaining the appropriate permissions, prominently feature positive reviews on your website, on social media, and in marketing materials. This sends subtle signals that encourage participation.

  • Be consistent. Statistics show that when asked to leave reviews, only about 5-10 percent of people follow through. To maximize results, it’s important to ask every patient at every visit.
  • Be grateful. Don’t forget to thank patients for taking the time to submit a review (even if it’s anonymous). If you need guidance, use a script, but try to avoid sounding template-like.
  • Treat patients well in the first place. A multi-specialty textual analysis of patient reviews by the review website Vitals found that patients most often reported on their in-person visit, including the caregiver’s promptness, friendliness and the amount of time spent with them.
  • Other Ideas: Some online reputation management companies provide a tablet that has software designed to create a random, unique IP address for each review. Alternatively, a review request can be sent to a patient’s cell phone via text or SMS. In many cases, the agency can verify the review before it goes live, giving you the opportunity to decide if you want to publish it.

Learn More

In the Home Health Marketing Planner, TCI experts walk you through a step-by-step marketing plan that’s easy to understand and follow. We’ve pulled together our best resources and tailor-designed them for practical, effective home health marketing tactics proven to attract and retain patients and ensure that your home health agency continues to thrive.

Capitalize on the tools and action items needed to attract and retain patients, make data-driven marketing decisions, and achieve your growth goals amidst the changing market with TCI’s Practice Marketing Sourcebook.



Elizabeth works on an array of projects at TCI, researching and writing about modern reimbursement challenges. Since joining TCI in 2017, she has also covered the nuts and bolts of cybersecurity, compliance with federal laws, and how to tap into the advantages of telehealth services.

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