Editor’s Note: Howard Luks, MD, is Chief of Sports Medicine and
Arthroscopy at University Orthopaedics, PC and Westchester Medical
Center
, and blogs at howardluksmd.com.

Digital content has profoundly changed the way we think of patient feedback and
referrals; what used to be private has now become very public, thanks to the
proliferation of review sites like Yelp and Angie’s list. This is
largely positive. Word-of-mouth is the number one referral-driver among
patients, and that’s no less true online, where testimonials really can reward
you for a job well done.

Nevertheless, like it or not, negative feedback is also part of this landscape.
No matter how hard you try, you’re never going to please absolutely everyone.
For example, you may have someone in your office with whom on a normal day
you’d get along extremely well, and you’re just running late. That person may
well go online and share that.

Patients have a right to freedom of speech, and you can’t practice as if each
case is a potential bad review. You can, however, take this newer, more public
feedback loop as an opportunity to assess how strong your communication lines
are–not just in the context of the broad social media universe, but also among
your existing patient base. Here, six factors to consider:

Make sure you’ve educated your staff on how to treat patients properly: A
well-managed practice is the easiest way to keep patients from being
disgruntled. Do a careful assessment of the experience in your office, thinking
about how well you and your staff handle common bottlenecks such as intake and
wait times.

Designate an on-site point-person to deal with patient dissatisfaction as it
happens:
In our office, we have a point person who has actually gone through
HR training for patient complaints. We’ve designated a comfortable room off of
the examining area, and if someone is unhappy, we bring him or her there to air
grievances.

Give patients a way to reach someone directly after the fact: All of my
patients leave with an email address at which they can reach me. I make it
clear to them that I check it often, and if there’s a complaint, I’ll address
it directly.

Show who you are, online: Think about what your message is, how you’re
going to portray to yourself and select your site and topics carefully. I’m a
big believer in generating meaningful content, and giving other people a chance
to share it. One obvious benefit is that your online presence will drive down
any negative reviews, but more importantly, this kind of communication offers
patients additional ways to get to know you.

Remember that one bad comment won’t kill you: No matter how hard you try,
you’re inevitably going to annoy a patient or two. But you know what? It’s okay
to have a bad review. The world will hardly stop spinning. In fact, given that
75 to 85 percent of people never go past the second page of a search, it will
most likely not change course at all.

Let patients know you welcome positive reviews: The real message: Rather
than worrying about bad content, it’s much easier (and more rewarding) to focus
on generating the good. There’s absolutely no harm in being proactive about
engaging happy patients in supporting your public reputation, so be it through
your website or your office, be sure to invite them to post reviews on sites
like Yelp, or even a Testimonials page directly on your own site.