Communication key to positive online reputation

CDA hosts webinar on dealing with negative online reviews

The most effective way to prevent and react to negative online reviews is to have positive communication with patients.

This was the theme of the CDA-hosted webinar last month titled Bad Review? … What to Do! The one-hour, free webinar was led by TDIC Service Manager Carla Christensen. Christensen gave case examples and communication tools to handle negative online reviews.

“We’re talking about communication. We’re talking about the ability to realize when a situation is escalating. Do your best to provide your patients with the resources to reach out to you. It’s very critical that you look at the worth of your practice and how important your patients are to that,” said Christensen, who has spoken nationally on the topic at seminars and dental schools and has advised dentists in the areas of professional and employment liability and property risk management.

“Part of the problem with negative online reviews and the doctors who contact us about them is it is very reactionary,” Christensen added.

And some reactionary actions don’t always work out in the dentist’s favor. 

In 2011, for example, a California dentist who sued the parents of a patient, alleging that a negative review they posted on Yelp defamed her, was ordered to pay the parents and Yelp $80,000 in attorneys' fees and litigation costs. In December 2010, the California’s 6th District Court of Appeals found that due to the “public concern, discussion and controversy” about the use of silver amalgam, which was mentioned in the review, the Yelp posting was protected because it contributed to public discussion regarding amalgam use in dental treatment.

In 1996, Congress passed the Communications Decency Act, which allows sites like Yelp and other websites that handle reviews to be protected from this type of action. In other words, the sites can allow third parties to post information and the site will not be held liable for that content.

Without much legal footing to stand on in such instances because of this law, dentist-patient communication is vital to both preventing and responding to negative online reviews, Christensen said.

“You have to put your anger in check; don’t get angry, get answers,” Christensen said. “Try not to go out and do something that would be injurious to you by breaking patient confidentiality. Do everything you can to put the post in perspective.”

Christensen offered these tips for responding to negative reviews:

  • Apologize and indicate that you are available to speak to them.
  • Reach out to them and contact them directly by phone. Ask them if you can discuss the issue with them and see if you can potentially get them to remove the review.
  • Tell them you appreciate the feedback.
  • Don’t be argumentative or defensive.

These steps are important because these reviews and responses are out there for the public and prospective patients to view.

“Be as honest and transparent as you can, not so much that you are divulging patient information, but certainly so you are giving prospective patients an eye into your practice and how you resolve situations like this,” Christensen said. “No one wants to hear that you don’t care, or you are not interested, or you basically don’t even look at your reviews, or don’t attempt to respond to them.”

Some things Christensen recommended dentists shouldn’t do when handling their online reputation:

  • Do not try to limit a patient’s free speech by having them sign a form agreeing that they will not post negative reviews about the practice online.
  • Do not upload fake positive reviews to push down the negative ones – there are algorithms and criteria that are used by websites such as Yelp that can detect that.
  • Do not be generic in the responses to negative online reviews – you don’t want to sound like a broken record by having the same response for multiple negative reviews. (But make sure not to divulge any patient information in your response.)

Christensen said the majority of negative reviews are specific to the way the patients were treated, not about the care they received.

“It is often related to a rude staff member; they felt their appointment was rushed; there was a lack of communication about their treatment; or the fee was not what they thought it would be,” Christensen said. “You have to look at what they are complaining about … You are trying to absorb the information so that it may help you improve your practice and learn something from it.”

“You really have to put a great deal of effort into knowing what your patients want and being realistic in what you can offer to them … don’t overpromise and underdeliver,” she continued.

Additional CDA-hosted social media webinars are expected in the future. The webinar is posted on CDA Compass and a transcript of the Q&A portion will be available soon.

CDA Social Media Resources

A seminar titled Maximize Social Media — Minimize Risks will be offered as part of CDA Presents in Anaheim on April 11, from 9 a.m. to noon, Hilton Anaheim, Pacific A. To register, visit cdapresents.com.

CDA Endorsed Program Demandforce is a company dentists can use to help them monitor and grow their online reputation. More information on Demandforce can be found at cda.org/endorsedprograms.

An example social media policy can be found under the "Social Networking" section of the Sample Employee Manual on CDA Compass.

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