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Handling Negative Comments About Your Practice: How to Respond
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As a YO just starting your career, the last thing you want is a negative online comment or review. So how do you deal with them?

I suggest looking at them like a box of lemons. Confused? Read on.

There are several steps that, if taken, will neutralize the negative online comment. Ultimately, you may be surprised to realize that you will actually be grateful for the negative comment because it may provide you with an opportunity to address issues about which you may not have otherwise thought.

Overall, I’d recommend not overreacting, and, more importantly, I recommend responding to each and every comment in a timely and positive fashion.

Do Not Remove the Negative Review
If you receive the negative comment on your blog/website, don’t touch it. Leave it. If you are a diligent YO and have been generating comments over the past few years, this is probably one of very few negative remarks on your site.

A negative comment proves you are human and leaving it shows you are confident enough to withstand criticism. Erasing it only validates the comment.

Choose to address all comments in a respectful, professional and thoughtful manner and that is what will be remembered, not the negative comment.

Respond to the Comment
Responding to each and every comment in a timely manner is imperative to keeping the conversation going. A rare exception to this may be if the comment is “spam” or clearly fabricated, in which case it may need to be deleted. I would also be mindful of any HIPAA requirements that may require deletion.

Keep in mind that by responding to a reader’s comment, you are sending a greater message to future readers: that you are willing to engage and communicate. (Most docs of my generation don’t understand this.) Most importantly, it will show you care.

Where possible, you should also respond to comments on third-party, consumer-review sites, such as Yelp! To save time and keep up on comments made about your practice on other sites, set up a Google alert. That way, anytime your name or your practice's name is used on the Web, Google will send you an e-mail to “alert” you. If you're on Twitter, you can also create permanent searches to follow any comments about you and/or your practice on that site.

Keep a Positive Attitude While Responding
Take the attitude of a five-star hotel. For instance:

Complaint: “The office is just a factory. No place to sit, everyone was rushed. The doctors just want to make more money!”

Five-Star Response: “Thank you for taking time to tell us about your recent visit. At times, it can be very challenging for us to deliver the personal care you deserve, minimize your waiting time and also accommodate our patients who have unexpected emergencies. Please be aware that we do respect your time and appreciate you as a patient. If there is anything we can do in the future, please contact me personally or my office manager (and give a name)....”

Start a Blog and Create a Tribe
Every YO should be starting his or her own blog. A modern version of a website, a blog is the purest form of social media. Don’t worry about Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn just yet.

Starting a blog makes the most important social media statement about you. You are a doctor willing to engage in a conversation. You will distinguish yourself from your peers and competition if you show that you are willing to start a dialogue.

A dialogue is not, “You will take this medicine to cure your ailment.” A dialogue is a deeper commitment to you, your patients and ultimately your profession.

I am often asked, “Why should I blog? I can’t bill for this time.” It is true you can’t bill for the time you take to engage with your online community. However, I would argue that the return on investment for the time it takes me to write one article is actually more than what I bill for one office visit.

My website for retinal diseases was started approximately two-and-a-half years ago. Since that time, I have received more than 1,000 comments or questions. My readers (my so-called “tribe”) know I am willing to respond and communicate with them. They can see this by looking at the number of replies made, as well as the timeliness in which I provided feedback. This constant flow of communication perpetuates a community that grows daily.

This growth eventually culminates with what is now commonly referred to as a “tribe.” The beauty of having a tribe is that your tribe, comprised of your patients, followers, fans, etc., will support you. A negative comment will likely generate a reaction from your tribe, that is, your supporters will neutralize any perceived negative comment left on your blog/website!

Amidst all the positives, I do have a few words of caution…

Comments and Anti-Review Contracts
Sadly, many doctors have purchased a product that is essentially a form, but is purchased under the auspices of a “contract.” The terms of the so-called contract essentially state that the patient will not leave any negative comments on the web.

In the event a negative comment is left, the physician will have the right to have the comment removed. Clearly physicians who choose this approach are operating from a position of fear, but that aside, it is likely they just purchased a worthless piece of paper.

I am not a lawyer. My wife, Amy, however, is an attorney. She makes two points about these anti-review contracts:
  1. In her opinion, there is no legal merit to these contracts. (Ask your attorney friends about the legal term “consideration.”)
  2. Attorneys do not use these types of contracts themselves.

There is probably no merit to suing a patient, regardless of the remark or your anger. If you are worried about stopping one negative remark, it is likely to generate hundreds more if you start a lawsuit.

On the other hand, there are also situations where competitors have left bogus, negative reviews on websites. If you can identify your competitor as the culprit, this may be your only avenue of redress.

It may seem cumbersome to respond to negative comments. However, remember what our parents taught us about choosing to make lemonade! The same rule applies here. Take a negative comment and turn it into a positive experience for your readers.

When you address all comments, good and bad, you show you genuinely care about your entire online community and that one act will distinguish you from your counterparts.

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About the author: Randall Wong, MD, is a retinal specialist, entrepreneur and health care marketer in Virginia. He will be teaching three courses at the Annual Meeting in Orlando: Content Marketing: A Strategy for Attaining Visibility on the Web (398); Basic Search Engine Optimization for Your Website: Tools and Processes (571); and Website 101: Starting Your First Site (617). Follow him on Twitter @retinadoc.

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