Thirty years ago, the term “reputation management” struck far less fear into clinic owners’ hearts. Online reviews didn’t exist, and belonging to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) was as good as gold from the public’s standpoint. But these days, people are quick to use the Internet as a way to share experiences—both positive and negative—about any business. From A/C services to zoos, you’ll almost certainly find reviews online.

Nowadays, it’s best practice to respond to those reviews. (Not only does it show that you value all customers and their opinions, but it also helps you build your brand awareness and improve your organic search performance.) But, it can be challenging to know exactly what to write, and that stops many businesses from writing anything at all. Plus, it can be tough to even know when people are leaving reviews (which is why we recommend using an online review management tool, like WebPT Local) and where they are leaving them. After all, there are tons of platforms where patients can leave reviews—Yelp, Healthgrades, Facebook, and Google, just to mention a few. That’s why we’ve created this guide: to help you respond to every kind of patient review. We’ll start with everyone’s favorite: the negative one.

Note: When responding to online reviews, it is imperative that you do not include or reference any personal information beyond what the commenter disclosed, as this could be considered a HIPAA violation. When in doubt, take the conversation offline.

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Responding to Negative Patient Reviews

Negative reviews can be frustrating to read, especially if they seem to come out of left field. Sometimes everything seems rosy—or at least pale pink—until that scathing review pops up and ruins everyone’s day.

As physical therapists, we spend more time with our patients than many practitioners, so we often internalize reviews on a very deep level. When we get positive reviews, all feels right in the world—but a negative review can send us into a tailspin. We lose sleep wondering who else will read the negative review and how it will impact our careers and businesses.

What complicates things further is that there are many factors that play into reviews that aren’t in our direct control, such as:

  • What’s playing on the waiting room TV
  • The temperature of the clinic
  • Ease of scheduling appointments
  • Cancellation policies

Example Review

My doctor referred me to The Spine Stop, but I wasn’t impressed. The temperature was always lacking (it was either way too hot or way too cold), and I found the therapists to be curt and rushed. Plus, I never seemed to have the same therapist twice. 

My original therapist went out on maternity leave after three visits, and then I saw two or three others, none of whom seemed to have any idea about my diagnosis. I loved Emma, but once she went to have her baby, I really didn’t like working with Karen or Matt. 

To top it off, I could never find parking and the office furniture was so dated, I expected to see Mr. Furley on the treatment table next to me. Hard pass.

Pointers for Responding

Ouch! This one stings on so many levels. First of all, the review is a bit personal. Without delving too much into the rationale, the reviewer calls out Karen and Matt personally. Plus, the reviewer criticizes things that are out of those therapists’ control. Regardless, you must keep your cool and respond. Here are some pointers:

Do:
  • Address the reviewer by name (if possible). This is a key way to making the reviewer feel heard. Thank him or her for taking the time to write a review.
  • Acknowledge and validate the reviewer’s concerns. Ensure he or she knows that you respect their experience.
  • Move things offline whenever possible. The last thing you need is a tit-for-tat battle on Yelp. Provide information where the reviewer can air those grievances offline.
Don’t:
  • Condescend or be passive-aggressive. “We’re sorry you feel that way” is not an appropriate response.
  • Act defensively. This is a sure-fire way to make things escalate, and nobody needs that.
  • Make unrealistic promises. If the complaint was related to dated equipment that you cannot afford to upgrade, don’t assure the reviewer that you’ll get new equipment. Instead, acknowledge the complaint with grace.

Proposed Response

Hi, Roger. Thank you so much for taking the time to review our clinic. I’m disappointed to hear that you had a negative experience. I’m very sorry. 

We continually strive to elevate our level of care, and we are grateful that you called attention to the fact that our therapists appeared rushed. We are currently workshopping ways to improve our clinic workflow so that therapists are less bogged down by administrative tasks. We are sincerely sorry that you felt rushed, as none of us would ever want to make you feel that way. 

And while our building and equipment are on the older side—hence the issues with heating and AC on hot and cold days—we are proud of our exceptional team of therapists and assistants, 80% of whom have advanced certifications. We invest heavily in our team’s continuing education, rather than upgrading machines that are still in working order, but we do acknowledge suite B could use a facelift!

Thank you again for your review!

Responding to Positive Reviews

Positive reviews are the antidote to those depressing negative ones out there. As therapists, we so badly want to improve others’ lives, and when we get positive reinforcement that we’ve done our jobs well, we seriously feel like we’re on top of the world.

It might seem that no response is needed, but don’t fall into that trap.

First of all, you want “lifers” at your clinic, and one of the ways to make that happen is to nurture relationships. Just like we enjoy saying “you’re welcome” after someone thanks us, a reviewer loves to receive acknowledgment for leaving a kind review.

Example Review

“I love Diana! When I started going to The Spine Spot, I was scared to do anything. I had all these post-op rules and things to avoid, and I was stuck in a cycle of pain, inertia, and frustration. Diana helped me understand that walking my (well-behaved) dog wouldn’t shatter my delicate surgery, and she guided me through a recovery plan that took my hobbies into consideration. She also educated me on the fact that residual pain is normal for some time after surgery, and it’s not necessarily a sign that the surgery was a failure. Having this knowledge helped me push through mild discomfort and recognize those times when I was overdoing it. Now, I really don’t feel any pain at all, which is incredible! Other PTs have just thrown premade exercises at me, and Diana took the time to create ones that were meaningful. It made me want to do my exercises because I knew if I did, I could get back to doing the things I really love. I would recommend this clinic to anyone, especially if you get to work with Diana!”

Pointers for Responding

This review is phenomenal. Hooray for warm fuzzies! So, how should you respond?

Do
  • Acknowledge the user by name (if possible). This is a way to create a personalized touch even in a short response.
  • Be sure to thank the reviewer for taking the time to write such a nice review. Someone went above and beyond on your behalf, so show your gratitude!
  • Add a personalized (yet appropriately vague) touch. If the patient loved cats, you can make a reference to that fact in your review—just don’t go overboard or share any personal information like pets’ names. People often use pets’ names in their passwords, so you could inadvertently upset the reviewer by doing so.
Don’t
  • Use this as an opportunity to go into a cheesy sales pitch. Someone was nice enough to do some word-of-mouth marketing for you, so don’t bungle it by throwing in some awkward line about how you’re the fourth largest facility in the region. It will turn people off.
  • Fawn over the reviewer excessively. Some respondents are so thrilled to receive a nice review that they go overboard in their responses. Extend heartfelt thanks and an invitation to come back and say hi, but don’t make it creepy.
  • Be overly terse. While excessive fawning is a little awkward, a terse reply that looks canned will seem disingenuous. If you say “Thanks! We appreciate it!” after every response, it’s not heartfelt, so try to write at least one or two lines of personalized content in each reply.

Proposed Response

Hi, Erika! Thank you so much for taking the time to review our clinic. We are so glad that you enjoyed working with Diana, and she wants us to tell you she’s thrilled about your recovery—but she’ll miss seeing all those cute pictures of your puppy. We are so grateful that you chose The Spine Spot for your physical therapy needs. Thanks again for your kind review!

Responding to Confusing, Inappropriate, or Neutral Reviews

As frustrating as negative reviews can be, at least they’re straightforward. Sometimes, you’ll get a bizarre review that doesn’t make much sense. However, as with any review, it still warrants a response.

Example Review

What do these therapists even do here? I got some improvement in my pain but it still kinda hurts when I run, and that machine is prob what I need...hahaha...I’d go back for the vibrating thingies and ice. A+ cold pack.

Pointers for Responding

Many online reviews are headscratchers. Sometimes you have to wade through poorly constructed sentences, spelling and grammar errors, and Internet speak, and others you have to suss out if the person is calling for help or simply being a troll. Here’s how to respond.

Do
  • Thank the reviewer for writing a review. It might read like a third grader’s last-minute homework assignment, but the patient still took the time to review you. He or she deserves acknowledgment.
  • Acknowledge what you can. If possible, address any flattery and/or complaints that the reviewer has.
  • Invite the reviewer to reach out offline for further clarification. If you’re truly baffled as to what the reviewer even meant, ask for more details by inviting him or her to call or email the clinic.
Don’t
  • Engage or address inappropriate remarks. If the comments are offensive or contain threats, then contact platform on which the review was posted, and see if you can have it removed for indecency or violation of the platform’s commenting policy. All review sites have rules, and if the reviewer violates the rules, then the site will remove the review. No matter what, do not feed the trolls. If you receive a review that seems like they’re trying to get a rise out of you, then they are; do not engage.
  • Assume you understand the reviewer’s intent. You might think the review sounds negative or positive, but if you’re really not sure, don’t make assumptions in your response!
  • Ask follow-up questions. That can open the door for things to get weirder. Instead, reach out privately or ask the reviewer to call or email for further discussion of his or her experience.

Proposed Response

Hi, Melissa! Thank you so much for taking the time to review our clinic. We’re happy that you have had a reduction in your pain but are sorry to hear that you still have some discomfort when you run. We strive to continually elevate our care, and we’d love to have a quick chat about your experience via phone or email sometime. Please contact our team lead, Ruth Fisher, at your convenience. Her email is ruth@thespinespot.com, or you can call the front desk to get connected. Thanks again for your review!

Monitoring Online Reviews

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, it’s tough to respond to reviews when you don't know they exist. That's where an online reputation management tool like WebPT Local can help. In addition to ensuring that your practice is accurately listed on hundreds of online directories, Local automatically alerts you when someone posts an online review of your practice. You can then respond to it directly within the system, saving you the hassle of logging on and off of different sites to address reviews. Pretty nifty, right?


How do you stay on top of your clinic’s reviews? What are some good, bad, or ugly reviews you’ve received—and how have you responded? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

Meredith Castin, PT, DPT, is the founder of The Non-Clinical PT, a career development resource designed to help physical, occupational, and speech therapy professionals leverage their degrees in non-clinical ways.

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