What to Do About Bad Online Patient Reviews

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My client was concerned that a couple of negative online reviews would cause prospective patients or referrers to avoid his office. Though there are several websites that offer reviews and grades for physicians, including radiologists, yelp.com and healthgrades.com are the two that seem to be attracting the most attention. On healthgrades.com, my client scored well, so we focused on trying to improve the yelp.com reviews.

The first thing I told him is that trying to improve his yelp status may prove futile as there is significant number of online accusations that yelp.com withholds positive reviews in order to sell ads to those being judged. The action amounts to extortion (“Buy some ads and we’ll release your positive reviews”), but I could find no hard evidence of this, nor could a court of law, which last year dismissed a class action suit against yelp.com that accused them of the extortion.

If, however, there is any truth to the accusation, it goes a long way toward explaining what seems to be a highly arbitrary system of posting reviews. In the case of my client, his filtered reviews, which are not on the main review page but are available to review with a mouse click (so why are they being filtered?) numbered 31. Out of the 31, just one review gave him one star out of five. The other thirty rated him no less than four stars.

Because we may never know the truth and because there is little chance that the current system is likely to change in any meaningful way, I advised my client adjust his process to try to take every possible advantage.

The best way to increase your chances of a positive online review is to provide a positive patient experience. The positive experience begins with the greeting on the first phone call and ends with a follow-up call or e-mail after the scan to determine the patient’s satisfaction. Along the way, everyone in the organization must assume ownership of that process and strive to provide exceptional service to every patient at every point of contact. The higher the patient’s satisfaction, the more likely they are to comment favorably online and to refer others to you.

Each patient should be contacted, preferably via e-mail a specific number of days after the scan. He or she should be asked questions that are likely to evoke positive responses, such as, “Were you ready to be seen at the appointed time?” or “Was the procedure easier than you expected?” or “Was our staff helpful?.” Once the patient has responded favorably, she is more likely to post a positive online review.
With online reviews, there is strength in numbers. The more patients you contact, the higher the probability that you will boost your positive comment numbers and overwhelm any negative comments.

Is it OK to ask for positive reviews? Yes, but the request should come at the moment when the patient expresses satisfaction. Patients should not be approached solely for the purpose of writing a positive review.

Finally, I conducted an informal poll to determine the power of online reviews. My survey revealed that most people have their own internal filter, that is, they will only let negative reviews affect their decision if there is a significant number.

But two out of 40? In a classroom, you’d score an “A.”


Steve SmithWith over 25 years of marketing experience — nine years as a former Vice President of Marketing for a leading healthcare marketing company — Steve Smith has consistently developed effective strategies to help fuel the growth of countless healthcare enterprises. Since 2007, he has specialized as a marketing and business development consultant to medical imaging facilities nationwide. Mr. Smith has been a featured speaker at imaging conferences and is a former member of the marketing subcommittee of the Radiology Business Management Association (RBMA). He has contributed marketing articles to numerous healthcare publications, including Physician’s Money Digest, Radiology Business Journal and more. Mr. Smith is the creator of “Ten Seconds to Great Customer Service™,” a medical imaging training program that provides easy-to-use tactical customer service support to staff.