It’s a cruel fact in today’s health care industry: a few negative online reviews can have a substantial impact on a doctor’s practice or career. Usually, lawsuits or comment removal requests are ineffective, so it’s understandable to feel a bit helpless in the face of problematic content in cyberspace.
One way to avoid this problem is to arm yourself with information about why patients complain in the first place. Here are a half dozen of the most common ones seen on review websites:
1. Dismissive attitude. Often, it’s not what you do or say, but how. Patients despise doctors who react with indifference to their complaints related to symptoms or medical history — and they’re likely to tell others about it. It’s true that patients frequently provide information that’s irrelevant to a given consult (like telling you they got their tonsils out 20 years ago as you inspect their broken toe). But you should listen and respond politely all the same.
2. Bad bedside manner. This is similar to having a dismissive attitude, but it involves a wider range of responses. Patients 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. She’s too busy”) or discount their feelings (“You shouldn’t feel upset”). Again, most of these complaints can be avoided by using smart communication techniques — especially with patients who are exceptionally needy or annoying.
3. Administrative issues. A large number of patient complaints are less about doctors specifically, and more about the entire health care experience. They tend to cite billing errors, bureaucratic red tape, and receptionists or front office personnel who are rude, abrupt, or incompetent. Often, you have no control over these issues. But to the extent that you can, try to stress the importance of respect and professionalism to your administrative staff.
4. Subpar time management. It’s not uncommon for your schedule to get blown up on a given day due to unforeseen circumstances. However, a patient’s time is valuable too — which is why you’re likely to see complaints about long wait times and/or (seemingly) rushed appointments. In cases like these, a simple apology and a resolve to not make patients feel rushed can go a long way toward preventing time-related complaints from being posted online.
5. Inadequate parking or transport. Here’s a problem that you likely have little or no control over whatsoever. Nevertheless, patients get exasperated when they have trouble finding a parking spot, obtaining transportation to and from your facility, or getting around your office building due to their physical limitations. Once again, listening, apologizing, and empathizing are your best strategies. And if you do think of a way to address these problems, be sure to follow through with your idea.
6. Poor physician skills. Just reading that phrase may make you feel defensive and irritated. But if patients feel like you’re not addressing their pain — or worse, a complication arises like an infection or an accidental perforation from an incision — they’re going to express their displeasure. You know that accidents happen and procedures carry risks, but you shouldn’t be surprised at patient reactions when things go wrong. And the way you handle the situation may determine whether or not the patient complains later on.
If you are mentioned in a critical online review, there are steps you can take to address the issue. That said, it’s much easier to prevent the problem from occurring beforehand than to try and repair your online reputation. Knowing what makes patients complain — and how to handle them — can reduce the odds of being singled out for a negative review.
Chris Martin is a freelance writer about topics ranging from consumer finance to home improvement to reputation management.