One way to diagnose if you have bad online reviews is to Google yourself and observe directly. But be careful; it is possible to miss a diagnosis. The way a doctor Googles himself or herself is often different than how a patient searches. Patients may put “Dr” in front of your name. They may include the term ‘reviews.’ They may search for your last name + zip code. They may use Bing or Yahoo.com. There are a wide variety of searches that can conjure up reviews. Be sure to try them all.

An indirect way to diagnose your reviews is to ask patients how they found you. If you have poor online reviews, sometimes they will say, “I almost did not come because of your reviews.” Cancelled appointments are possibly one of the most painful symptoms of poor online reviews. According to a February 19, 2014 study by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), 59% of patients were affected by negative reviews.9 If patients call to cancel their appointments, your front office staff should ask politely, “What changed your mind?” One doctor learned of a negative Yelp review when a patient called to cancel a surgery in December of 2012 citing a Yelp review as the reason.

Your Staff

It is important to ask your staff if patients have mentioned anything in the past about online reviews. But tread lightly; office staff is one of the top reasons why doctors can get bad reviews. The doctor often shoulders the blame for the staff’s errors, even at large institutions where it is clear that the staff does not work for the doctor. If you hear regular complaints about the staff, chances are the public is reading those same complaints in your online reviews. To complicate things further, staff members can go ‘haywire’ and write reviews themselves like the dental assistant in Southern California who wrote a negative review for her boss. The dental assistant still works at the practice, and that is probably for the best. Terminated staff members have a lot more time on their hands to write fake reviews across the web.

Other Doctors

If you are a specialist who receives referrals, a symptom of negative online reviews is a decrease in referrals from other doctors. One fine morning in March of 2014, EMPATHIQ received a call from a general practitioner who received this negative review:

I like Dr. XX, but she sent a referral request to a Dr. XY and his office staff called me to set up an appointment. I failed to read the terrible reviews Dr. XY has been receiving all over the web because Dr. XX had “endorsed” him.

Going forward, this general practitioner will be on the lookout for online reviews before making a referral. This is no different to how doctors in large institutions learned to check each others’ Press Ganey scores. Large medical institutions use a survey called Press Ganey to measure patient satisfaction. A referral to a doctor with low Press Ganey scores could affect the referring doctor’s ratings. The same is true for online reviews.

One doctor facing retirement cannot sell his practice because of online reviews. This doctor has the highest professional designations available in his field and has spent the last 20 years building a successful practice. His practice has been on the market for several months. In February of 2014, a potential buyer shared why he developed cold feet—a handful of lousy reviews on the internet. At least this buyer had the courtesy to state the reason; the others simply have not returned phone calls.

Finally, you may not be suffering from any of these symptoms, but why wait to have a heart attack (so to speak) before you start watching your cholesterol? You can prevent a great deal of problems by proactively taking charge of your online reviews today. Because of the highly sensitive nature of medicine, it’s not a question of if a patient will have a bad experience, it’s a question of when. When that time comes, you need to have a solid track record of positive reviews so that angry patients cannot alter public perceptions about your practice or your career.

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