How do you deal with negative reviews?


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When complaints are justified

Patients get frustrated, and when they do, they need to vent their feelings.

Cynthia A. Matossian
Cynthia A. Matossian

If the physician, the office manager, the technician or the receptionist is not able to hear their issues, nowadays, patients hastily turn to the internet and complain online. Their complaints can sometimes be quite reasonable. One of the most common is the long wait times. There is no way a practice can run on time all the time despite best intentions. Different patients have different tolerances to the amount of time they have been kept waiting. Perhaps they had errands they needed to complete that day? Maybe they have an ill spouse at home whom they cannot leave unattended for long periods of time? So, tension builds up. No matter how positive the rest of the visit, when they go home, they complain about their wait time on social media and rate the physician with a poor score.

Responding to a negative review requires two things. No. 1, respond publicly to the post by saying, “We will contact you to address your concerns.” Never be specific, stay general and apologize. The search engine optimization companies, whether it is Google or Healthgrades, will see that you have responded to that negative review. No. 2, contact the patient personally via phone or email and apologize profusely. Do not shift blame or make excuses, but truly explain the reason why you ran behind that day. Be specific, apologize and end the conversation by asking the patient to please give the office another try. In this way, you will likely not lose the patient.

Another common topic that elicits complaints is cost. Patients may think that they are being asked to pay for a procedure for which they never had to pay before. It happened to us with patients who honestly believed they had not paid for a refraction in the past. In a case like this, you will have to refresh their memory and give them concrete evidence that, indeed, they had paid for their refraction because Medicare never covers it. In other words, educate the patient in a nice, supportive way. Always show empathy because this helps to reframe, reduce stress, and create or reestablish a better connection.

Cynthia A. Matossian, MD, is an OSN Cataract Surgery Board Member.


Dealing with undeserved negative reviews

Negative reviews tend to fall into four categories: cost or perceived cost, unmet expectations, unreasonable personality and reviews by non-patients of our medical facility.

Karl G. Stonecipher
Karl G. Stonecipher

The easiest to deal with is the review that came from someone you have not treated in the first place. Patients get confused and want an audience when they are frustrated. With these reviews, we still try to address the patient’s concern after first noting that we did not participate in their care.

The second easiest to deal with is the unreasonable personality. This type of post usually reveals the patient’s unreasonable character, but again, we never denigrate a patient, a doctor or a procedure. We carefully try to understand the patient’s perceived perspective and then logically answer their concerns in a concise and simple format. Usually, the response from the patient will show the unreasonable expectations.

Cost, perceived costs, hidden costs and future costs must be discussed before treatment. I have done more than 80,000 refractive procedures over the course of 30 years, so many of the patients are coming back with presbyopia or cataracts or maybe because they just need an enhancement. We take care of the issues, but when a contract is in place, discussion of future costs is much simpler to have. Fees must be explicitly covered before intervention, and the patient needs to sign a contract showing what was agreed between the patient, the doctor and the facility.

Finally, there will always be patients with unmet expectations, no matter how good your care, your staff and your surgical skills may be. There are patients who have unreasonable expectations, but ignoring these patients can only make matters worse. I have a great staff, and they are phenomenal with challenging patients, but there are times when the patient must speak face to face with the doctor who performed the surgery on a day when they both have time to discuss the issues and potential solutions. I find that once the patient and the surgeon have met, the reviews can be removed, and in many cases, I have seen the patient post positive reviews complimenting the way we handled their issue.

Reviews both positive and negative must be constantly monitored by someone and answered in a timely fashion. Social media can make you or break you, so keep ahead of the game.

Karl G. Stonecipher, MD, is an OSN Presbyopia Board Member.

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