You’ve heard the adage, “perception is reality,” right? Well, the way your patients—and potential patients—perceive your practice is their reality, whether it’s rooted in truth or not. That’s why it’s imperative that you make a concerted effort to manage your clinic’s reputation both in-person (by providing an exceptional patient experience) and online (by following up on negative reviews in as close to real time as possible). While you may not be able to prevent someone from sharing his or her less-than-positive perception of your practice online, you can certainly mitigate its impact on others. With that in mind, here’s how to effectively manage your PT clinic’s online reputation (as well as a couple examples of online review responses):

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1. Keep tabs on your online reviews.

The first step in managing your online reputation is knowing what that reputation is, and that requires keeping tabs on your online reviews where they live, which is most likely on sites like Google, Facebook, and Yelp. However, patients may also leave reviews on HealthGrades and other healthcare provider-centric sites. As we explained here, it’s a good idea to “task someone in your office with regularly reviewing, responding to, and tracking trends on the most popular online review sites.” As a result, “you’ll not only be able to reply directly to patients about specific concerns—or compliments—you’ll also be able to identify common themes that may point to larger issues in need of your attention.” And that can prevent even more critical comments from piling up.

2. Respond immediately.

A negative review is bad enough on its own; one that sits for days or weeks without a response is even worse. So, be sure you take action immediately—although it’s best not to respond when you’re angry (or when you’re hungry or tired, either). Instead, remember to always take the high, calm road in your response (regardless of the road your patient took) by acknowledging the patient’s concern and sharing how you plan to address it. As we explained here, “Although you can’t avoid bad reviews entirely, you can craft responses that show your patients you genuinely care about their experiences in your clinic—and that you’re doing everything you can to improve on the thing that spurred the negative review in the first place.” According to the author of this Forbes article, “If possible, this is also a good opportunity to contrast the reviewer’s bad experience with your company policy or what customers usually experience when they visit your business.” For example: “We’re usually known for our exceptional customer service and we regret that we didn’t live up to those expectations here.”

3. Take the conversation offline.

In many cases, it may be best to take the conversation offline—especially if you think it could escalate further, or you feel that you won’t be able to fully address your patient’s issue in a single, short response (no matter how well-written it is). In that case, ask your patient to reach out to you directly—or let him or her know that you’ll be reaching out at a specific time (whatever you do, don’t confirm your patient’s contact information publicly—or otherwise share any information about your patient’s visit that could breach HIPAA or be in poor taste).

Follow through.

For example, you could write something to the effect of, “We’re so sorry to hear you didn’t have a positive experience during your last visit. We’d love to find a way to make things right. Please call us at [phone number] and ask to speak with [practice manager], or DM us your phone number and we’ll reach out ASAP.” Then, make it a point to actually reach out. Failing to follow through at this point will only exacerbate the problem—and will likely result in another negative review. Once you get the patient on the phone, provide him or her the space to speak freely; then, acknowledge his or her concerns and share how you plan to make it better. If an explanation is in order, be sure to provide it without making excuses. You may be surprised how quickly an angry patient calms down once he or she feels heard.

4. Bury bad reviews with good ones.

While you should never delete a negative review, you can make it a lot less visible to potential patients by burying it under plenty of positive onesreal positive ones, to be clear. Under no circumstances should you create fake reviews to bolster your appearance online; it won’t work, and it will most likely backfire. Instead, encourage your already-pleased patients to sing your praises. With enough positive social proof, potential patients will be more willing to overlook one or two negative reviews—if they see the negative ones at all. The caveat here, of course, is that you wouldn’t want to ask other less-than-pleased patients to leave you a review. That would only make things worse. Instead, use Net Promoter ScoreⓇ (NPSⓇ) tracking to identify your loyal patients and ask them—and only them—to review you online. Additionally, NPS will provide you with an opportunity to get ahead of any issues your less-satisfied patients are having—hopefully before they air their grievances publicly.

5. Use technology.

Managing your practice’s online reputation can be a full-time job—unless, of course, you adopt technology to help you do the heavy lifting (i.e., automate the online reputation management process so no patient reviews fall through the cracks). To that end, we’re super excited to launch WebPT Local, a tool that helps practices manage their presence everywhere online. Specifically, it alerts you whenever there's a new online review or rating of your practice and allows you to respond to those reviews directly within the Local platform. (How much easier does that sound than trying to stay on top of several different review sites on a regular basis?) And of course, WebPT Reach automates the entire patient management process, including NPS survey administration and analysis.

And keep in mind that patients aren’t the only ones who may be scoping you out online; potential referral sources often perform online research before referring, which is another reason you must effectively manage your online reputation. Have your own strategies that you’ve found effective? Share them in the comment section below.

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