This article appears in the October 2020 issue of the
PE GI Journal
How to address negative or false online reviews
By Deven Stopa
Online reviews are great when they are positive. However, negative or erroneous reviews can have terrible consequences for gastroenterologists and other medical practices.
For doctors and other professionals, online reputation matters. A good reputation builds trust between physicians and the patients they treat, while a bad reputation can erode a practice’s bottom line. The importance of managing one’s online reputation has become increasingly apparent in the last decade or so, as a growing number of patients turn to the internet for information about their health and their chosen healthcare professional. Prior to the internet, medical practices relied on personal recommendations and professional referrals to attract new patients. While word-of-mouth still draws new patients, reputation management through online ratings and reviews is increasingly important.
When a practice has a solid reputation in the local community, patients will remain loyal to that practice. This is true even if other organizations offer similar services at lower costs.
A good reputation can help a practice differentiate its services in a highly competitive market while maintaining premium pricing. However, maintaining a good reputation in the age of digital communication requires a careful strategy. This includes a plan for responding to any negative reviews that may affect a practice’s online reputation.
The Effect of a Bad Review
Despite the best efforts of the practitioners and staff, patients do not always have the best experiences. They may feel frustrated about scheduling difficulties, for example, or feel they did not get enough time with the doctor. This frustration may cause them to leave negative reviews. In some cases, patients leave exaggerated or inaccurate reviews about their experience. At other times, online trolls who have never visited a practice leave bad reviews.
These poor reviews can take a toll on a practice. If seen—and believed—by enough people, the bad review could cause potential patients to look elsewhere, drive away existing patients, and cause a downward turn in revenue. In the worst scenarios, the local community may turn against the practitioner. The smaller the location and practice, the greater the potential effect of a single bad review.
Patients believe what they read in online reviews, especially when it comes to health. In fact, medicine is in the top three industries for online reviews. According to research cited by Search Engine Journal (SEJ), 91% of young consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. In another poll, 95% of all respondents and 97% of millennials said they found online ratings and reviews of doctors to be reliable. In the survey:
70% said online ratings and reviews influenced their choice of physician, and 41% said they check a doctor out online even if they were a physician referral
A 2018 study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that online reviews typically reflect things beyond a doctor’s control, such as the friendliness of the staff and appointment wait times. The authors of the study note that, while 90% of ratings are positive, negative reviews can harm physician reputation, online prestige, and even the physician-patient relationship.
Strategies for Dealing with Negative or False Online Reviews
It’s clear that false or negative ratings and reviews have a detrimental effect on practices. If you or your practice are having issues with online reviews, it’s important to take action. Here are some ways you can prevent, mitigate, and fix bad or false online reviews:
1. Always reply.
Ignoring online reviews is a dangerous proposition. It allows the negative reviews to go unanswered and the positive reviews to go unrewarded. The better approach is to thank people who leave positive reviews, and reply to those who leave negative feedback. Even a simple “Thanks!” demonstrates your engagement and investment in their health. It also shows your patients that you want them to have the best experience possible at your office.
2. Choose your words carefully.
The desire to protect oneself from unfair or unwarranted criticism is natural, but medical professionals must be cautious in their response. Avoid ad hominem engagements, of course, and resist engaging in battles or lengthy discussions. The first rule of reputation management is “do no harm.”
3. Develop a standard reply to fake accounts that leave fake reviews.
While most people are able to spot a fake review, addressing the phony review demonstrates your commitment to making the situation right. It also provides an opportunity to give readers your name contact information. A good reply might be, “Sorry, but we are unable to find you in our system as a patient. Please call our office at [office number] and ask for our administrator. We would like the opportunity to address your issue, as your healthcare experience is very important to us.”
4. Invite patients to leave reviews after their office visit.
Maintaining a fresh supply of reviews is a powerful tool against unflattering online reviews. When evaluating a medical office or other organization, consumers will typically look at the top reviews first. If the first reviews they see are negative, potential patients may just stop reading and look for another doctor, even if several positive reviews appear immediately below the negative ones. Generating new reviews allows positive reviews to push negative posts further down the page. An impressive 70% of consumers will leave a review if asked. Gastroenterology staff can ask for reviews via email if they have the technology to do so, or even utilize their patient recall system.
5. Embrace the occasional negative review.
Consumers are skeptical of near-perfect ratings. In fact, SEJ notes that consumers spend five times as long on a website when they interact with negative reviews and that these sites experience an 85% increase in conversion rates.
6. Consider using a reputation management system.
While it is always tempting to manage your online reputation personally, dealing with online reviews can be time consuming—handled poorly, it can also hurt a practice. In many cases, busy gastroenterologists and other medical professionals turn to reputation management systems, such as Binary Fountain, to handle the tedious work of replying to every review. Reputation management systems can offer a variety of ways to manage reviews, such as automating replies based on ratings. A partnership with a reputation management professional can help build a clinician’s professional profile through specialized services, such as the creation of landing pages that contain helpful and accurate information about you as a physician or your practice. Reputation management systems can help GI Fellows present their gastroenterology practice in the best light possible to attract more patients.
Dealing with negative or erroneous online reviews is essential to maintaining a good reputation, expanding patient base, and solid bottom line. It is time for gastroenterologists and other healthcare professionals to think of online reputation management in the same way they view the latest billing software or state-of-the-art equipment: as a requirement of doing business in the healthcare industry.
Deven Stopa is Director of Digital Marketing at PE GI Solutions. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.