Hovanesian is a faculty member at the UCLA Jules Stein Eye Institute and in private practice at Harvard Eye Associates in Laguna Hills, California.
Disclosures: Hovanesian reports having a financial interest as the founder of MDbackline.
Many of us doctors would prefer not to think about online patient reviews. That’s natural because those who post negative reviews have little accountability for their words, and privacy laws make us almost powerless to respond.
So, how should we best think about the process of generating good reviews and dealing with damaging ones?
John A. Hovanesian
1. What’s most important is the patient in front of you. Having a positive, personal relationship with each patient drives goodwill. Making eye contact, complimenting an article of clothing or jewelry, joking around a bit in a respectful way and speaking in the same natural, friendly tone you would use with a good friend are the best ways I know to generate that goodwill. It has to be genuine. Goodwill most often does not lead to a positive review, but it does bring forgiveness for other imperfections in your practice that might lead to a bad one. It also leads to personal referrals of friends, which is the best source of new patients. Goodwill, of course, begins with your phone staff, your technicians and every member of the practice your patient encounters before and after you. It definitely helps to remind happy patients that you appreciate their reviews, and software like MDbackline can help you automate this request.
2. Run toward bad reviews. We all get them at some point. It may be an insurance issue, an unavoidable complication or something you said that was grossly misinterpreted, but with all the patients we see, there will at times be dissatisfied ones. We use Google Business and Yelp notifications to alert us whenever a negative review is posted about us. Often, it’s possible to identify the patient from their online identity, and more than once I have reached out to the patient myself. I tell the patient the truth: that we learned about the online review and felt very bad that they had such a poor experience. I try to dig in to address the patient’s perceived problem and bring it to resolution. Later, if I feel we have taken appropriate action, I ask them to consider revising their online review if they feel differently now. For the patient, human nature is to be fair to someone who has shown genuine compassion, even if the doctor couldn’t entirely fix the problem. Many of them either delete their bad review or make it much more positive. Unhappy patients who post reviews want most to be heard.
3. Don’t stress about it too much. While new patients are the lifeblood of any practice, those who find you strictly through online sources don’t have a relationship with you through a friend or family referral. They are more likely to be “shoppers,” more prone to question your charges and less inclined to value the intangibles that make your practice special. Some of my colleagues in high-quality practices say they never pay attention to social media. That seems like a missed opportunity. Instead, I think we should feel about online reviews the way we do a photograph that someone takes of us while we aren’t paying attention: sometimes it’s flattering, and sometimes it’s cringeworthy. Either way, we should control what we can and proudly do our best to please others.
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