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5 common causes of negative doctor reviews

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by Jennifer Bridges  @JenBridgesRD

young angry patient man at hospital room lying in bed pressing nurse call button feeling nervous and upset in some kind of emergency health care and medical attention concept

This post has been modified to reflect new information since its original publication.

Ever wonder what drives a patient to write a negative review? Sometimes it is self-sabotage by the doctor, and other times it’s a legitimate reason.

In this article, we are going to cover 5 common causes of negative doctor reviews, plus a few tips that can help you reduce negative reviews and improve your patient satisfaction scores.

Let’s get into it.

1. Unaddressed pain

Pain is a big reason people make appointments with their doctors.

Of course, managing pain is rarely a straightforward endeavor.

However, you can lessen the chances of a bad review by taking a few extra precautions when you interact with these patients.

This can be as simple as taking a bit of extra time to hear your patients’ concerns or providing in-depth explanations of pain-management options. Proactively scheduling follow-ups is also a good idea as it provides concrete evidence that you are making their pain a priority.

2. Bad bedside manner

Studio shot of handsome Persian man doctor against gray background horizontal shot

You probably think you have a good bedside manner, but there might be blind spots that you’ve missed—and patients are talking about these blind spots. In fact, a recent study shows “AI has better ‘bedside manner’ than some doctors.”

Therefore, it’s important to be extra cautious when communicating with patients.

People don’t appreciate doctors who argue with them (“That’s incorrect”), make excuses (“I didn’t know what you meant”), blame others (“That’s the nurse’s fault”), or dismiss their feelings (“You shouldn’t feel upset”).

Having a good bedside manner can not only help you reduce the number of complaints about your people skills, but it can also lead to better outcomes for your patients. This can lower your chances of receiving poor reviews about your quality of care.

Some ways to improve your bedside manner are:

  • Introducing yourself: You don’t just start speaking when you first meet a new person; you introduce yourself. Give your patients the same respect and spend a few minutes telling them about yourself and establishing a rapport.
  • Explaining everything in plain language: Don’t assume that your patients understand medical jargon. Trying to cope with unfamiliar terms and acronyms when they are already feeling bad might only make people more apprehensive.
  • Getting on the patient’s level: Sitting down with patients can show that you respect them and makes you appear less rushed. In fact, a study by the University of Kansas Hospital proved that patients perceived seated doctors as spending more time with them, as opposed to doctors who remained standing. The same study also shows that seated doctors garnered 95% positive reviews. In contrast, only 61% of the standing doctors’ reviews were positive.
  • Watching your body language: People can interpret actions like crossing your arms, playing with your pen, or drumming your fingers as signs of impatience or indifference. To ensure you are getting the right message across, always keep an open posture, maintain eye contact, and avoid fidgeting.
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  • Asking open-ended questions: Because open-ended questions require more than a “yes” or “no” answer, they encourage people to give fuller descriptions of their symptoms, which makes it easier for doctors to solve their problems. These types of questions, and the discussions they prompt, can also lead patients to feel more understood.
  • Offering reassurance: While a diagnosis might be routine for you, it could be a traumatic moment in a patient’s life. Therefore, you need to make yourself available to your patients, whether this means answering their questions or just being emotionally present with them.

3. Perception of wrong diagnosis or treatment

A common problem among healthcare providers is a patient’s perception that you have wronged them, even though you haven’t.

So, how can you avoid receiving unfounded negative reviews for mistakes you never made?

It all comes down to the doctor-patient relationship. If you are open with your patients and have taken the time to earn their trust and respect, then they will be less likely to lash out online if they experience a health setback.

Some ways to establish a strong doctor-patient relationship include:

  • Being nonjudgmental:Knowing that you aren’t going to judge them can make patients more likely to open up about their symptoms, lifestyle, or health concerns.
  • Demonstrating your commitment: Staying the extra five minutes to talk with nervous patients can prove to them that they are your priority. And this can help you build trust.

“It’s important for doctors and other medical providers to listen to the most important member of the healthcare team, the patient. After all, there is no bigger stakeholder. Involving the patient in the decision-making process is essential to both better the patient outcome and improve patient experience.”—Kevin Pho, MD, founder of KevinMD

4. Unhelpful staff

displeased young female professional with a headset

Many negative reviews are less about doctors specifically and more about a person’s experience with the staff. Many accuse the front-office personnel of being rude, abrupt, or incompetent, which makes patients feel dehumanized. In a recent survey of 2,000 patients, only 34% of respondents reported feeling confident that the front desk staff knew who they were and the reason for their visit.

Other popular topics in this category include billing errors, bureaucratic red tape, and long wait times.

In fact, 43% of patients begin feeling frustrated when wait times hit the 20 minute mark.

The good news is that there are several things you can do to address these concerns, including:

  • Modernizing your office processes: You can reduce patient confusion and frustration by digitizing all paperwork, publishing your billing procedures online, and installing a text alert system to notify patients when you are running late.
  • Ensuring the staff politely greets each patient upon their arrival: A quick “Hi there, I’ll be with you in just a second” will do if the staff member is currently helping another patient. This prevents the patient from feeling ignored.
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  • Training your staff on the best ways to communicate with angry patients: Your employees are on the front line when dealing with patient complaints. Therefore, it makes sense to give them the tools they need to empathize with upset individuals and quickly diffuse tense situations.
  • Documenting the kind of behavior you expect from your staff: Having a written set of expectations will ensure that everyone in the front office understands what’s acceptable and what’s not regarding patient interactions.

5. Poor listening skills

One of the simplest things you can do to reduce the likelihood of a negative review is to resist the urge to jump in.

Of course, you often know what the problem is before the patient has finished explaining it, but the perception of not being listened to is a major source of patient complaints.

A study in the Journal of Participatory Medicine found that most people believe that “having a doctor who listens to them” was a key part of their healthcare experience.

Yet poor listening skills remain one of the top complaints in doctor reviews.

Apparently, patients have good reason to complain about doctors’ poor listening skills. A study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine revealed that the majority of doctors don’t let patients direct the initial conversation, and even worse, most will interrupt patients after only a few seconds.

At the same time, a Medscape poll showed that most doctors think they are great listeners. Clearly, there is a disconnect between what doctors and patients consider “good listening.”

To learn what your patients expect of you and avoid getting dinged for your poor listening skills, you should:

  • Avoid interrupting your patients.
  • Repeat back some of what the patient said to demonstrate you were paying attention.
  • Maintain eye contact as much as possible.

Now this is not an exhaustive list, just the top 5 (or the heavy hitters). This doesn’t mean that we are going to ignore some of the others.

We’d like to give you a few more missteps that you can look out for.

Other patient experience review types

  • Long wait times: Although we touched on this earlier, it bears repeating. If you have a way to improve wait times in your practice, you shouldn’t hesitate to implement it as doing so can significantly boost your patient experience. Patients often feel unappreciated and undervalued when they experience long wait times, and this can negatively impact their overall perception of the entire visit.
  • Difficulty scheduling or confirming appointments: Challenges in reaching out to the practice to book or confirm appointments can be a source of frustration for patients, leading to a negative review.
  • Lack of information and explanations: No one likes to feel left in the dark about health concerns. Patients who do not receive adequate information or explanations about their condition, treatment, or the next steps in their care may feel disappointed and thus might be more likely to leave negative feedback.

While following these tips can help you prevent a good number of negative reviews, there’s no way to avoid them altogether. As such, you also need to educate yourself on how to manage your reviews.

You can do this on your own or take advantage of one of the many professional services available. To get started, you can grab your free reputation report card. This resource not only grades your online reputation right now, but it also instantly gives you feedback about how others view you when they look you up on the internet.

If you have any concerns about your report card results, you can always speak with one of our online reputation management experts. They are happy to provide free consultations regarding your particular reputation issue.