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How to respond to negative patient reviews

Last updated

17 January 2024


Claire Bonneau

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Receiving negative feedback about your healthcare services is a natural (albeit unpleasant) part of providing patient care. But is your office or clinic correctly responding to it in a way that supports patients and protects your reputation?

Seeking out patient feedback, publicly and privately, is an essential part of improving patient experience, even if the input is less positive than you would like.

Unfortunately, it’s not possible to please everyone—but you can mitigate the impact of a negative patient review (while protecting your reputation and improving your patient journey in the process).

Learn how to correctly respond to negative patient reviews in this helpful guide—including practical word-for-word examples you can use as a basis for crafting your responses.

Let’s get into it!

Why you should always respond to negative patient reviews

No one likes to read negative feedback about their patient care, but you can’t avoid responding forever.

Reading reviews can help potential patients imagine what it is like to receive care at your facility. If they read a negative review that has not been addressed by your team, it can carry more negative weight than one that has been addressed with a polite and empathetic response. What’s more, the fact you have responded can even improve the patient’s initial impression of your clinic or office.

Think of it this way—politely responding to a negative patient review is a way of verifying your reputation as a trusted, open, and compassionate healthcare provider.

Being able to provide the best possible care relies heavily on the patient–provider relationship. By being upfront and responsive to patient concerns, you are showing potential future patients not only that you care about your image and your practice but also that you are committed to giving patients under your care the best possible experience.

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10 tips for replying to negative patient reviews

If you or your organization receive a negative review online, it can be hard to know how to best respond to the concern (especially if you do not agree with the complaint).

Use the following tips to craft polite, empathetic, and human-sounding responses to negative patient reviews for the best possible outcomes.

Respond early (but not too early)

When you receive a public review (positive or negative), it is best practice to respond in a timely manner. However, if you tend toward a strong emotional response to patient feedback, give yourself a bit of space before jumping into a reply.

While it’s important to sound like a real person when responding to negative patient reviews, you don’t want to come across as emotional, angry, or irrational. To avoid this (and to give yourself time to think of the best possible response), we recommend waiting at least 24 hours before penning your response.

As a rule, try to reply to feedback within 24-48 hours (but not sooner than 24 hours) to strike that balance between being responsive and not reactive. This simple trick helps prevent emotional outbursts while making your office look engaged and responsive, which is truly a win–win situation.

Say thank you

To begin any response to a public review, always express gratitude for the feedback (even if the review is not positive).

By doing this, you start the review with a positive, disarming energy—instead of answering in a more combative or emotional way. Examples of polite and thankful ways to start a negative patient review response include:

  • “Hello [name], thank you for your review.”

  • “Hello, thank you for taking the time to share your latest experience at our office.”

  • “Hello, thank you for your feedback.”

Use compassion and empathy

When replying to a negative review, put yourself in the mind of the commenter. They feel like they have been mistreated—and it is your job to not only reach out to them to show support but also to show them compassion and empathy.

To soften the impact of the review (and to validate the unhappy patient), recognize and name their feelings in your reply.

Using lines like, “I am sorry that you feel frustrated with the wait time at our clinic” or “We understand how agitating it can be to book appointments during busy times” helps to show the patient you are on their side.

Important: Using this method, you do not need to validate their concerns if they are not true. You are merely identifying and naming their feelings as a jumping-off point. Do not agree with their negative opinion outright, as this can confuse anyone reading your response.

Include an explanation when applicable

If you receive a negative review about something that can be easily explained (e.g., limited parking space or the types of insurance coverage you accept), you can provide this context in your reply to help future patients.

Providing an explanation is a helpful way to politely (but accurately) correct the negative comment so others do not get confused. It should never be done to embarrass or “get back at” the reviewer. It is your opportunity to share additional information and assist the person who had a negative experience.

Important: Explaining is different from offering an excuse (something we will cover in the next tip!) Excuses escape blame while explanations provide context—so be sure to avoid using excuses in your reply to reduce frustration.

Don’t get emotional or offer excuses

On the flip side of offering a kind and gentle explanation, using an excuse or getting emotional about the review is never the correct path to take.

An excuse is used to deflect ownership of the problem and is often used by people who are emotionally affected by a statement. No matter how well-meaning you are, using an excuse in your reply will make you come across as desperate and offended (which is not what you’re aiming for).

Examples of excuses to avoid in your reply include:

  • “My staff members are new and are just learning!”

  • “We had a particularly busy day, which is why you had a delay.”

  • “Our surgeon has been having a tough time personally recently.”

  • “This has never happened before at our clinic!”

Don’t ask them to delete their review

As tempting as it may be to ask the patient to remove their review (especially when the problem has been resolved), this is never a good look for your office or clinic.

Asking the person to remove their review makes your business look disingenuous or sneaky, as if you are “hiding the truth” from potential new patients.

One of the worst things you can do is ask for the patient to remove their review, especially if your reply is public. Never do this, even if the review impacts your star rating on sites like Yelp or Google reviews. It’s just not worth the damage this type of comment can cause!

Offer compensation (if applicable)

If your office provides paid appointments or services, offering partial or complete compensation for a negative experience can be a good way to improve your reputation and appease these patients.

To offer compensation for a bad experience, we recommend asking the patient to contact you privately (leave your office email for them) rather than offering the compensation outright on the public review board. This helps keep track of the number of people getting reimbursed and allows you to have a more private conversation with the patient about how your office can improve.

Important: It is up to your office which patients you offer compensation to (if any). If you are not comfortable reimbursing a patient for their experience, you do not have to—it is just one patient-experience tool you can use should you want to.

Follow up privately

If possible, one of the best ways to reconcile a negative patient experience is to reach out directly to the patient with an interest in learning more about their experience.

By sending an email or leaving a voicemail, your team can not only collect valuable insights that you can use to improve your existing processes, but you also show the patient you are invested in their care and want to make it right.

These small gestures go a long way. Not everyone will reply, but the ones who do are more likely to soften their opinion of your office and clinic (and may even want to return for a future appointment).

Avoid using pre-written automated replies

Pre-written template responses can seem like a great way to save time on replying to patient comments—but they are likely to harm your reputation.

Potential clients easily detect these types of responses, which often come across as lifeless and robotic. Template responses do nothing to validate the concerns of the person who left the negative review.

Instead of using preset replies, we recommend using response templates (we have some later in this article) to act as a starting point. This way, you still need to write each response, but you have the general flow and content set for you, so you don’t go off course. It’s the best and most efficient way to manage client reviews!

Be genuine and reply like a human

Your reply must be human and real to have the correct impact.

As tempting as it is to fill your response with professional niceties, review replies that use more relaxed (but still professional) language and tone are more likely to resonate as genuine with your target audience.

Write your response as if you are communicating with a friend or family member. You will notice that patients are more receptive to hearing you out and realizing that you are a fellow human.

Negative patient review example response templates

It can be difficult to know how to format a professional yet personable reply to a negative patient review. To make this process easier, use the following response templates as a guide. The keyword here is “guide.” You will need to do plenty of editing and personalization to make these templates sound authentic.

Check out these template answer options to help improve your negative patient review response strategy.

Waiting room delays

No matter how hard you try, it is almost impossible to avoid some level of waiting room delays when providing patient care. Caused by people showing up late, extra exam room questions, or technological errors, wait times are a serious problem for many medical providers—which also makes this topic a common source of patient complaints.

Negative patient reviews about wait times are often short, sweet, and to the point:

“Waited to see the doctor for over an hour. Will not be coming back.”

“The doctor was nice, but they were over thirty minutes late to my appointment.”

While in most cases, people are aware that it is common for healthcare appointments to have delays, your office must give a professional and kind reply if you receive a review about waiting room wait times.

Here is an example of a response you could write about this type of patient complaint:

Hello [name], thank you for your feedback. We apologize for the delay you experienced when you recently visited our office. We have taken note of your feedback and will be discussing our office scheduling with the team to do our best to prevent this from occurring in the future. If you have any additional feedback you would like to share to further improve our systems, please feel free to contact us at [email] or [phone number].

Negative patient-doctor interaction

As one of the most challenging types of patient reviews to remain non-partial to, feedback about a negative interaction with a doctor is tricky to approach.

“Super rude doctor, they were very dismissive of my feelings and symptoms!”

“Doctor was in and out so fast, I don’t feel like any of my concerns were heard or addressed.”

In many cases, the doctor in question may be the owner of the business or clinic as well. How you respond to this type of review will speak volumes about them as a business owner and healthcare professional. Avoid letting your personal opinions or emotions seep into your reply by opting for something short, sweet, and professional.

Here is an example of a response you could write about this type of patient complaint:

Hello [name], we are sorry to hear about your recent negative experience with [name of healthcare professional]. Thank you for sharing your experience. We will have them reach out to you privately to learn more about how they could have better served you during your most recent interaction. Thanks again for the feedback; we will use it to improve as a team and business.

For many patients, the prices of healthcare services (especially those not covered by their insurance) are a serious pain point that can lead to negative emotions.

“This dentist is so expensive. Avoid going here!”

“Had my full appointment, just to find out I had no insurance coverage left. Had to pay out of pocket!”

You can’t please everyone when it comes to pricing, but you must show empathy and compassion while highlighting your available payment options to provide additional context.

Money is a touchy subject for many people, so be extra careful when replying to these types of reviews to avoid sounding condescending or dismissive.

Here is an example of a response you could write about this type of patient complaint:

Hello [name], thank you so much for coming into our clinic recently. We are sorry to hear you had a negative experience regarding our pricing. It is frustrating to have to pay for medical procedures out of pocket, especially if you were not expecting the expense. If you would like to learn more about our flexible payment plans or would like further clarification on your insurance coverage, please do not hesitate to contact our team at [email] or [phone number].

Negative interaction with staff

In most healthcare facilities, patients are exposed to multiple different staff members before they receive their medical care. While this is a great system to keep everything on track, it also exposes your organization to more points of potential disappointment or discomfort when a staff member and patient have a less-than-favorable interaction.

“The front-end staff were super rude and short with me when I checked in to my appointment.”

“My nurse was very cold to me during my pre-appointment check-in. I will not be coming back.”

While regular staff training can keep these types of comments to a minimum, you must not speak on behalf of the staff in question in your reply. Instead of singling them out, the best way to respond to this type of review is to talk about your team as a whole.

Here is an example of a response you could write about this type of patient complaint:

Hello [name], thank you for your review. We are sorry to hear that you had a frustrating interaction with one of our staff members during your recent visit. We have flagged this review and will discuss it as a team during our next team meeting. We are always committed to making improvements to offer our patients the best possible care and experience. Thank you for your feedback, we appreciate it!

Best practices for improving your patient reviews

Aside from replying to the reviews you do receive, there are other things your office can do to improve your overall ratings and reputation.

Invest in patient experience

As an essential part of offering the best possible care, invest time and resources into creating the best possible patient experience to get great reviews. Patient experience starts from the moment a patient becomes aware of your services to the aftercare they receive post-appointment or procedure, so you have plenty of opportunities to optimize and improve your services!

Apply patient feedback to improve your care

As one of the best sources of valuable insights, offices that intentionally ask for feedback from their existing clients put themselves ahead of the pack. Using a simple post-appointment survey, you can collect information about patient experience and preferences, helping you better tailor your services to the needs and wants of your target audience.

Encourage patients to share their positive experiences online

The best way to offset the occasional negative review is to have plenty of great ones. By using fun incentives like gift-card draws or by simply asking, your office can significantly increase the number of positive reviews online. These will help to boost your reputation and attract new clients to your clinic.

Respond to negative patient reviews like a pro

Today, more and more patients rely on reviews to decide which healthcare provider to book with. It’s time for your clinic to start taking your negative patient review response strategy more seriously.

Nobody likes hearing negative things about their care or work, but your office must remove any feelings of personal attack from your reply and use negative reviews as an opportunity to reach out and learn more.

Patient experience and trust are everything. Use this guide to build respectful and effective negative review response templates, so your team is ready to professionally and politely handle any feedback that comes your way.

Now get out there and respond (correctly) to your patient reviews!

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