Reviews. As a practice manager you’ve got to love them! You’ll go for weeks delivering exemplary treatment and service and there’ll be silence on NHS Choices or Google Reviews. Yet that one patient who has decided your service is less than perfect will turn out to be a review superstar, spreading one-star reviews everywhere you look!
And this matters – a study by Software Advice revealed that nearly two thirds of citizens use online reviews to find a new GP practice. Negative reviews equal damaged reputation and losing out on new patients.
In a previous blog, we discussed how to build up positive reviews – read more here – but what happens when you receive a negative review? How can you rescue the day and respond in the right way?
A good starting point is NHS Choices – dubbed the TripAdvisor for patients. To clarify, practices are notified of a comment pertaining to them following the publication of the comment, with an alert sent to a named recipient at the practice in question.
Practices have the right to reply to NHS Choices comments through a dedicated NHS Choices moderation website, in order to put across the practice’s views and deal with any issues raised. Practices are advised to use this wisely to acknowledge and respond to comments, and to signpost users to their practice complaints procedure. LMC advice is for practices to reply very carefully as it can act as a very useful defence against an unfair comment, as well as enhancing the appearance of the practice in the eyes of the public. Keep it professional and factual rather than aggressive/defensive.
“The problem we come up against is the need to maintain our duty of confidentiality to the patient,” one PM from a rural surgery in Cumbria told us. “We have a sentence that we copy and paste into responses explaining that this duty prevents us from responding in detail online, and to invite the patient to contact the practice directly to discuss their complaint.
“We do try to respond to every negative comment, even if it is just a holding statement. It goes a long way to appeasing the situation, even when we know that we haven’t done anything wrong. We talked to our PPG about this and they all agreed that a response is something the public looks upon favourably.”
Interestingly, NHS Choices have a ‘Comments Policy’ on their website which states that should a comment be flagged by a practice as unsuitable, then this will alert their moderators to take down the comment, consider it, and then either remove it or re-instate it as they deem appropriate. This is always worth pursuing, whenever appropriate, as nothing beats getting the review removed.
The other modern-day platform that is causing PMs headaches is Google reviews. One of the first things a member of the public will see when they look for a local GP, these reviews can make or break the patient/practice relationship, says a London PM.
“As well as losing out on potential new patients, we find that negative reviews can have an impact on how patients treat staff. If they go online to find our phone number and see some bad comments, they start off on the back foot. They arrive into the practice looking for the negatives mentioned. Our overall satisfaction is very high, but because the disgruntled few are the ones who comment, our Google reviews are mixed. The problem seems worse as we come out of lockdown. Why are patients so angry?!”
A thread on the Practice Index Forum offers advice from PMs on how to deal with negative Google reviews, but what can we learn from outside the world of practice management. We asked a number of business experts for their ideas:
Get personal: Nothing says you don’t care more than a copy and paste reply! It’s probably worse than not replying to be honest. Instead, always respond, but make it personal and tailored to the review. Follow-up more than once if necessary, detailing actions you’ve taken, to show you really do take on board any feedback.
The “Adult in the Room” Theory: By actively participating in your practice’s review conversation, you are likely to see a drop in short, negative reviews. If a patient knows that the manager is likely to read and respond to their review, they will be less likely to leave a trivial negative review. The remaining negative reviews will provide feedback for your team or an opportunity to remedy a poor situation.
Look for volume: Consumers are getting smart with reviews and ignoring really negative or really positive reviews. Any review that’s exaggerated won’t have much of an impact, other than on your overall score. This can be negated by having a high volume of reviews, which will also keep information current. That means you’ll have to work hard to encourage patients to review you, but it’ll be worth you.
Get in there early: Conventional wisdom says addressing a problem is better than letting it fester. Reviews are no different. Dealing with a patient frustration head-on as quickly as possible is most likely to lead to a positive outcome. Responding to reviews demonstrates to future patients that if they have a problem, they can expect prompt customer service.
Spellcheck it: Even a response that contains great content can be ruined with grammar issues, incorrect spelling, and awkward prose. Mistakes like these, especially ones that would be fixed with a simple proofread, paint the practice in a very unprofessional light.
Be positive: A common mistake is to respond only to unhappy patients. Operationally this makes sense, but because Google tends to favour reviews that are engaged with, by only responding to negative reviews you run the risk of pushing that content to the top of your page.
Use the patient’s first name: Adding the reviewer’s first name they used to post the review to the response is an easy personal touch.
Take the issue offline: There’s no point airing your dirty laundry in public. Plus, it’s always best for you and the patient to talk directly about the problem they had and take the issue offline. This saves any further embarrassment on your side of the issue and prevents interference from outside sources. For this reason, you should provide direct contact information for patients in your review response.
Ask people to remove their reviews: Don’t be afraid to ask patients to remove negative reviews once the issue is resolved. They’ll often be obliging.
How do you manage negative reviews? How have you successfully built up the number and quality of your reviews? Let us know by commenting below or discuss it to the Practice Index Forum.