What to Do When Your Dental Practice Gets a Bad Review

dentist looking at a bad review

What to Do When Your Dental Practice Gets a Bad Review

Amassing positive online reviews is crucial to running a healthy dental practice. Nearly nine in ten prospective patients read reviews for booking per Bright Local surveys and researchers have noted that each star a business attains is worth a nine percent revenue boost too.

That said, every dental practice will get a bad review at some point. It’s not necessarily a major cause for alarm, but you must choose your next steps carefully. A mindful response to your bad review can turn the situation around—both for the patient who left the review and for those who read it later. In fact, patients tend to be more wary and distrustful when a practice has a flawless online reputation. Compassionate responses show prospective patients that your practice genuinely cares in a way that cannot be achieved through a sea of positive reviews alone.

Below, we’ll dig into best practices for handling a bad review, so patient satisfaction gets a boost and your office comes out stronger.

What NOT to Do When Responding to a Bad Review

Before we dig into best practices for responding to a bad review, it’s important to cover some of the common mistakes practices make.

Respond while you’re emotional.

It can sometimes be difficult not to take a bad review personally, but you must be composed when you reply. Sometimes emotions can seep through in word choices or the structure of your response even when you think you’re being careful. Take some time to collect your thoughts and cool down if you’re feeling upset.

Sometimes people feel better after drafting their thoughts on paper. If you’re like this, just be sure not to submit your response until you’ve had time to rewrite or edit it.

Share PHI.

Protected health information (PHI) cannot be shared per HIPAA guidelines. This includes identifying patient information, such as name and address, as well as details related to conditions and treatment. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) takes unlawful PHI disclosures very seriously and may fine your practice if you violate policies. Unlawful disclosure can put you in hot water with your local board and courts too. Plus, prospective patients will see your post and possibly public notices of the breach. The backlash can result in a total loss of trust in your office. Oftentimes, practices totally shut down or undergo a major rebranding after an incident because of this.

While many practices recognize the seriousness of safeguarding PHI, they don’t always realize they’re violating HIPAA guidelines while they’re in the moment. For example, the reviewer may mention that they feel they didn’t need scaling and root planing, and the practice might respond with, “You have periodontal disease and need it.” On the surface, the practice isn’t necessarily disclosing anything the patient hasn’t already said, but it is sharing the patient’s condition with the public, which is a HIPAA violation.

In these situations, it’s best to respond with something along the lines of, “Due to patient privacy laws, we’re not able to discuss specific treatments and conditions as they relate to you in a public forum. However, we’d like to discuss your concerns with you.”

Include your contact information and who the reviewer should ask for in the response or let the reviewer know you’re reaching out to them privately.

Bribe or threaten reviewers.

Sometimes practices want a bad review gone so much that they try to incentivize removal. Promises of free care and bill credits or threats of removal from the practice or legal action rarely go over well. The reviewer is likely to share your response, which will cause distrust among readers. Many review sites forbid this type of behavior too. Some, like Yelp, will post a public warning if you’re caught doing it.

Write fake reviews.

It’s tempting to write your own reviews to saturate your profile with positivity. However, readers often see through this tactic, which means it can cost you new patients. It can land you in hot water with the review sites too.

Ignore reviews.

The impact of a single bad review will eventually fade as you get more positive reviews. Even still, every review—good and bad—deserves a response. It’s an opportunity to show patients that you appreciate their time. In the case of bad reviews, it shows both the writer and reader that you care about the patient experience too.

Add a “gag clause” to your patient policies.

To avoid getting negative reviews, some practices add a clause to their intake forms that forbid patients from saying anything bad about the office publicly. First, patients generally ignore these clauses and post anyway. Secondly, these policies are often shared online by patients. Even if your practice isn’t hiding anything, it looks like you are and is seen as intimidation. Some review sites, like Yelp, will add a warning to your profile that shows you have this policy too. It will cost you new patients in the end.

How to Effectively Respond to a Bad Review

Now that we’ve covered some of the common mistakes practices make, let’s go over best practices for responding to a bad review.

Focus on the patient experience to avoid getting a bad review in the first place.

It may go without saying, but if you consistently deliver positive patient experiences, your reviews will be more positive too. A few areas to address include:

  • Treatment Needs and Options: Educate patients about their condition. With ThriveCloud, it’s easy to show patients their x-rays and charting, so they can see what’s happening with their own eyes. You can even send them copies of their treatment plans and documentation through the HIPAA-complaint patient portal and show them educational videos that explain conditions and treatment in simple terms.
  • Financials: Explain all the options available to patients as part of your case presentation procedures. This empowers patients to select the best solution within their means. Also, take care to bill accurately and correct mishaps swiftly if they occur. Keep patients in the loop if there are insurance issues as well. They receive EOBs too. If you don’t tell them you’re following up with something, they may think they’re getting a bill for treatment they expected would be covered.
  • Long Waits: Keep tabs on your “Sooner” list to get patients in for earlier appointments whenever possible. If the dentist or hygienist is running behind, communicate the issue with the patients. With ThriveCloud, it’s easy to send text messages on the fly to keep patients informed.
  • Unprofessionalism: One of the biggest blunders a team can make is discussing patients or patient care within earshot of others. It violates HIPAA guidelines in many cases and is upsetting to patients. Even if you’re not talking about them, it’s easy for them to imagine how you might. Keep all patient and practice-related discussions private. A second common issue in this department is failing to check in with the patient. Oftentimes, complaints about rough treatment or improper care stem from this. Pause throughout treatment to get feedback from the patient and make adjustments as needed.

Develop a crisis management plan before you need it.

The office manager or another team member will be able to handle most of your review responses most of the time. However, some issues need special attention. Create a written policy that outlines:

  • Phrases you can use to diffuse a situation.
  • What power the responder has to correct a situation, such as bringing a patient back in or providing a bill credit.
  • What types of comments the dentist needs to see.
  • When to consult the dentist’s attorney. (if a patient is making malpractice claims, this is something the dentist may want to bring to the attorney before responding.)

Monitor your online reviews.

One in five patients expects a response to their review within 24 hours according to Social Media Today, and about half of all readers expect to see a response from the practice. ThriveCloud has an integrated review tracking tool in the Huddle module to make responding to reviews in a timely manner easy. You can also use a free tool like Google Alerts to be notified when someone mentions the dentist or practice online.

Report false reviews.

Most review platforms have a way to report false reviews. While they won’t generally remove reviews in which opinions differ, they will generally remove reviews if the person never visited your practice. It’s also a good idea to respond to the review to eliminate credibility, though you must be mindful of HIPAA guidelines when replying. Out of an abundance of caution, some practices won’t even say the person isn’t a patient of record. Instead, they’ll say something akin to, “I can’t locate a record of your visit…” or “Our practice doesn’t offer that service…” and will then invite the person to call the office to discuss.

Move the conversation offline ASAP.

You should have two main goals when dealing with a bad review: diffuse and move the discussion offline.

To diffuse the situation, respond with genuine compassion and empathy. Use phrases that are authentic and that match the situation, such as, “That’s not the experience we strive for,” “I want to learn more about your experience,” or “I want to address your concerns.”

Next, move the conversation offline. This prevents the issue from escalating in the public view and shows both the reviewer and readers that you care. You can say things like “I will call you later today to discuss this,” “I left you a message to discuss this,” or “Please call me to discuss this at…” This is also where you might bring up HIPAA if appropriate.

Check your response.

Before you submit your response, make sure you’re being:

  • Friendly and professional
  • Authentic
  • Thankful
  • Empathetic

Have someone else read your response to ensure you’re meeting these guidelines whenever possible. Sometimes our words can be taken differently than we intend—especially with online communication.

Be prepared to correct the issue.

Think of a bad review as an opportunity to correct issues within your practice. Do what you can to make the situation right for the patient and reevaluate your practice’s processes and policies to find ways to avoid having similar issues in the future.

Increase the number of positive reviews you receive.

Prospective patients look for lots of signals in reviews. For example, about half weigh a review more heavily if it was posted within the past month per Bright Local. They look at your overall star rating too. That means if you can increase the volume of recent positive reviews, people will still book with your practice even if you have a blemish or two in the past. ThriveCloud’s native review tool can automatically request reviews from patients after a visit. If you’re worried about the quality of reviews, you can opt specific patients out or send review requests to individual patients manually.

Strengthen Your Practice with ThriveCloud

ThriveCloud is a truly all-in-one dental practice management platform that comes complete with everything you need to create a top-notch patient experience every time and get more positive reviews. Request a complimentary demo to see it in action.

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