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The 5 most common causes of negative doctor reviews

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by Jennifer Bridges  @JenBridgesRD

Overworked doctor in his office. Mid adult doctor contemplating in his office. Worried and tired mid adult male doctor reading medical results on his clipboard.

Ever wonder what drives a patient to write a negative review? Our friends over at CareDash recently provided us with an exclusive insight into this issue, sharing a list of the most common complaints that appear in the 100,000+ verified reviews on their platform.

Based on the text of all CareDash reviews under three stars, here are the top five concerns that drive patients to leave a poor rating, along with some tips you can use to avoid getting similar feedback from your patients.

1. Unaddressed pain

Pain is the primary reason many people make appointments with their doctors. Roughly 40 million Americans experience chronic pain, and they expect their doctor to be able to fix it.

Of course, managing chronic 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 their concerns or providing in-depth explanations of pain-management options. Proactively scheduling follow-ups, to make them feel that their pain is a priority, is also a good idea.

“With the opioid epidemic, managing pain is a challenge for doctors. However, pain is a clear indicator to a patient of an unresolved issue and can seriously impact quality of life. In our view, a successful doctor must make their patient feel heard and acknowledged, especially regarding the pain they feel.”—Ted Chan, CEO of CareDash

2. Bad bedside manner

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. According to a 2013 study, 43% of bad reviews criticize doctors for having an unsatisfactory bedside manner and being indifferent.

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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. And 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 will only make people more apprehensive.
  • Getting on the patient’s level: Sitting down with patients shows that you respect them and makes you appear less rushed. In fact, a study by the University of Kansas Hospital proved that patients perceive seated doctors as spending more time with them, as opposed to doctors who remain standing. The same study also showed 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.
  • 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, also lead patients to feel more understood.
  • Offering reassurance: While a diagnosis might be routine for you, it could 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?

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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 makes 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 will prove to them that they are your priority. And this will help 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

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.

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Other popular topics in this category include billing errors, bureaucratic red tape, and long wait times. In fact, 85% of people claim they must wait anywhere from 10-30 minutes beyond their appointment time before seeing their doctor.

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.
  • 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.

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A study in the Journal of Participatory Medicine found that 85% of people believed that “having a doctor who listens to them” was a key part of their healthcare experience. Yet poor listening skills remains 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 an average of only 11 seconds.

At the same time, a Medscape poll showed that 87% of 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.

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While these tips will help you prevent most negative reviews, there’s no way to avoid them altogether. As such, it’s also important 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. Whatever you decide, feel free to call us for a complimentary consultation on which strategies and techniques would work best for your situation.

*Special thanks to CareDash analyst Keshav Pant for obtaining the data for this article.