Negative Online Reviews

Managing Marketing | Social Media

Be aware that there can be a downside to online reviews: you don’t know what people have said until reviews are posted. People do post negative, and sometimes even untrue, reviews which can be viewed by anyone with an internet connection. While posters can say almost anything, business owners should be mindful of how they respond and even if they should respond. Responding is even more complicated in healthcare since patient confidentiality must always be maintained.

So what should you do if a negative or false review is posted about your practice? Proceed carefully, if you decide to proceed at all. Commercial speech is protected speech so, in most cases, the best response is to not respond. If you cannot ignore the comment and are compelled to respond, it’s best to do so in very broad “all patient” terms, such as with a statement to the effect of “Our office strives to provide the best service to all patients and we do our best to succeed with this goal. We encourage any patient who would like to discuss their experience to contact us directly.” Never reference a specific person or incident.

If your practice is the subject of a negative online review, you may be able to protect its online reputation, or minimize the fallout, by following the steps below. More information is available in the article Online Reviews in this module.

  • Decide how to handle each negative review on a case-by-case basis. Some business owners opt to simply ignore them
  • If you decide to respond, do not engage or get drawn into an online debate over the incident that prompted the negative review. Doing so can make you appear defensive, confrontational, or accusative and may inadvertently reveal protected healthcare information.
  • Make sure that any response presents you as the caring, concerned and compassionate healthcare provider that you are. Consider a statement along the lines of:
  • “Our office strives to provide the best service to all patients and we do our best to succeed with this goal. I would like to learn more about what happened and hope you will contact us as soon as possible.”
    • Also make certain that any response offers no hint as to the identity of the poster; always protect the patient’s privacy.

Legal action is generally not recommended and can cause negative publicity that results in backlash that may be more detrimental to the practice than the original post. While you might consider filing a claim of common law defamation for posts that contain completely and documentably false statements of fact, that’s generally not recommend since those cases are difficult to win, can be both emotionally challenging and financially costly, and are likely to result in negative publicity for the practice.

Be sure to review the applicable regulations issued by your state dental board and all relevant state and local laws before beginning any online marketing campaign to ensure you’re in compliance. It’s possible that some jurisdictions may prohibit soliciting online reviews by patients.