ZocDoc, Yelp, Google & Vitals: Bad Patient Review Response ExamplesPublished: June 24, 2022 | Last updated: June 24, 2022
The first thing to do if your medical or dental practice or clinic receives a negative review is to take a deep breath and don’t panic; negative reviews are inevitable, no matter how well-run your office is and no matter how hard you try to satisfy your patients.
How to Respond to Negative Yelp Reviews
As a website specifically created to host critiques of businesses, Yelp stands out as being one of the more high-profile platforms to deal with as far as reviews.
If your practice or clinic isn’t already listed on Yelp, you should be proactive and register it yourself. If your practice is listed, you should claim it as soon as possible (there should be a button visible in the listing for your practice with the words “Claim This Business”). If for some reason it’s already been claimed, email Yelp, and explain you’re the rightful owner or representative (you may need to provide some documentation of this).
Starting a number of years ago, Yelp was accused of blackmailing companies to maintain good reviews by forcing businesses to advertise on its own website; some businesses that didn’t advertise say that they saw their positive reviews vanish. This has been an ongoing issue with Yelp that has resulted in multiple court cases and even a documentary film, but as of this writing, there hasn’t been a ruling against Yelp.
On the other side of the fence, some small business owners have been accused of paying people to write fictitious reviews and have been caught by Yelp doing so. Yelp uses proprietary methods and technology to prevent this.
Here’s an example of a negative review of a medical practice on Yelp. Note how the reviewer is very vague and claims that they are suing, but provides no real details about what happened. In response, the Business Manager:
• Indicates that they have no record of this person in their system (which is not a violation of privacy since there is no data)
• Raises the possibility that this reviewer confused their practice with another one
Because these are all facts, the doubts raised make the practice look better than the reviewer, and so this negative review may not be taken seriously by many readers.
In another instance, below, a reviewer had a negative experience waiting for an appointment. The practice’s employee:
• Acknowledges the issue
• Relates that they have attempted to contact the reviewer personally
• Requests her to call
• Promises that better customer service will be delivered in the future
How to Respond to Negative Vitals Reviews
According to its own home page, “Vitals is the largest online database of patient reviews for doctors and facilities.” Vitals allows patients to search for doctors, dentists and specialists by name, location, specialty and conditions treated. Vitals also features educational healthcare content about caring for various diseases and conditions.
Like many of the other websites listed below, Vitals’ systems create listings automatically for medical practices and clinics using both public and private sources of data. Your practice or clinic should “claim” and update any of its relevant listings on Vitals and make sure all the information is accurate.
Unclaimed listings may be deemed “inactive,” even if they’re associated with real, active practices or clinics. Practices and clinics have no way to delete their listings from Vitals — whether they’re claimed and updated or not, so it may be best to work with Vitals instead of ignoring it. Vitals requests that practices or clinics get in touch if there’s information it has that’s incorrect that cannot be updated manually.
Patients can review and assign star-ratings to service providers on Vitals for the following categories: friendly staff, appropriate follow-up, pain minimized, ease of appointments, bedside manner, expenditure of personal time and effective treatment. But while Vitals claims to moderate this patient content, it cannot verify that any of these ratings or reviews are accurate or from real patients; instead, it allows patients to “self-verify” themselves.
Unlike other websites listed below, Vitals does allow patients to rate doctors more than once — but no more than once per month.
Vitals appears to have no way to allow practices and clinics to respond to negative reviews. However, Vitals says it “reserves the right to remove from public [review] postings any comments which may be deemed offensive, malicious, inappropriate, sexually explicit in nature or not made in good faith,” so if you can convince the site that a review in question falls into one of these categories, you may have some luck.
Out of all the websites listed here, Vitals may be the most “bare-bones” in terms of what it offers patients and providers, and there’s little recourse for providers who are reviewed negatively.
For reviews that fall into the “offensive, malicious, inappropriate, sexually explicit in nature or not made in good faith” categories outlined above, providers can submit a generic “Support Request” to try to have a review taken down. The form looks like this:
But it remains unclear if these Support Requests are looked at individually and/or even taken seriously. In extreme cases, your practice or clinic may need to contact an attorney if a review or reviews are particularly damaging and Vitals is not responsive to your requests.
How to Respond to Negative Google Business Reviews
Search engine Google allows practices and clinics to create profiles as part of its apps and services offerings. These profiles will be connected to Google Search Engine Results, Maps and many other parts of Google. If your practice or clinic doesn’t yet have a Google account, you should make one and use the Google Business Profile Manager to make sure all the details of your practice or clinic are up to date, accurate and verified where possible.
Studies show that patients are 2.7 times more likely to consider a practice or clinic reputable and 70 percent more likely to visit a provider’s location if it has a completed Google Business Profile. Google specifically states that “businesses with complete and accurate [profile] information are easier to match with the right searches”; this specifically improves Search Engine Result relevance. The key is to tell Google users what services you provide, where you’re located and when they can visit.
Note that Reviews are an integral part of Business Profiles. The quantity of your reviews and average review score affect the prominence and hence, the local search ranking, of your practice or clinic. Google provides a tool for practices and clinics to ask patients for star-ratings and reviews; from the Google Business Profile Manager dashboard, you should scroll down and click the button that says “Share review form.” This will copy a link you can paste into messages and emails to your patients.
Note that you cannot turn off ratings and reviews for Google Business Profiles. However, you can flag and report inappropriate, off-topic, misinformation, misrepresentation, libelous, privacy-invasive or fake reviews; in Google Maps, find the review you want to Flag, and select “Flag as inappropriate” using the “three dots” link to the right of the reviewer’s name — or, in Google Search, find your Business Profile, click Google Reviews, find the review you want to report, and select “Report review” from the “three dots” link to the right of the reviewer’s name. Google uses automated tools to remove reviews that it thinks are spam.
By its own admission, Google “doesn’t get involved when businesses and customers disagree about facts,” and according to the company, “there’s no reliable way to tell who’s right about a particular customer experience.” But practices and clinics can specifically respond to patient ratings and reviews using the Reviews tab in the left-hand menu of the Google Business Profile Manager dashboard.
Here’s an example of a practice responding to a negative review left on a Google Business Profile regarding not being able to get in touch with the practice’s customer service contacts. Note the responder:
• Thanks the reviewer for writing their review
• Apologizes for the negative experience
• Indicates that positive action was taken to attempt to fix the issue (listing the practice’s hours more clearly)
• Instructs the reviewer what to do next time
• Provides an email link (note that a phone number would be better)
Here’s another review where a patient waited too long to see a doctor, and when they finally got to see him, he was inattentive to the patient’s issue:
Note in this HIPAA-compliant response, the responder:
• Explains the practice’s scheduling policies
• Explains how sometimes certain appointments “fall through the cracks”
• Thanks the responder for their feedback
• Invites the reviewer to contact the office to discuss the issue further
How to Respond to Negative ZocDoc Reviews
ZocDoc is a web-based service that lets patients find and book appointments (some of which may take place online) with medical and dental practices and clinics. Doctors pay to be listed and have their appointments scheduled, while the service is free for patients to use.
ZocDoc has star-ratings and reviews from ZocDoc-booked patients of doctors, dentists and specialists. There are also non-ZocDoc patient reviews of providers that are collected by partner survey companies. All service providers receive an overall star-rating, along with star-ratings for waiting time and “bedside manner.”
ZocDoc says that it doesn’t publish reviews that contain any private patient health information. It also says that providers can’t pay to alter or remove patient reviews. ZocDoc claims that all its patient reviews are from verified patients, but what this means is that the patient made an appointment through ZocDoc and the doctor accepted it (and the patient showed up for the appointment). Other than from its aforementioned partner survey companies, ZocDoc does not accept ratings or reviews from patients that don’t use ZocDoc to make their appointments.
ZocDoc says it takes a “patients first” approach and solicits ratings and reviews after every appointment booked through its system. All ratings and reviews are read and moderated by ZocDoc prior to being accepted and posted. Ratings and reviews can be left anonymously, but ZocDoc will not accept reviews that bully, harass, use profanity, threaten, intimidate, inflict harm on service providers or include treatment, pricing or personal information (such as a patient’s full name).
By the same token, ZocDoc has a stringent set of ethical requirements (including the American Medical Association’s Principles of Medical Ethics) for doctors to follow when using their system. ZocDoc says that providers are “prohibited from unduly influencing reviews or taking negative action against users who leave a negative review.” ZocDoc doesn’t let providers post responses to ratings or reviews, but it encourages practices and clinics to get in touch if they feel a review is inaccurate, libelous or unfair.
To delete a review from ZocDoc, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and provide at a minimum 1) a link to your profile and 2) the reviewer’s name and the date of the review. Here is a template of an email you can use to get a review removed for false information. If ZocDoc does not remove the review, you may need to threaten to apply legal resources:
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