Can your practice survive a bad online review?

By Michael H. Broder, PhD, MDLinx
Published November 1, 2017

Key Takeaways

From specialized physician review platforms like Healthgrades, Vitals, and Zocdoc, to general consumer sites like Yelp and Angie’s List, patients have embraced online reviews over the past decade.

For millennials who grew up as digital natives, many of whom are now old enough to be in medical practice themselves, the idea of patients acting as consumers and rating doctors as they do plumbers or restaurants may seem perfectly normal. For older physicians, however, it may seem strange and even somewhat crude—aren’t patients supposed to find their way to a doctor by word of mouth from other patients or by referral from a primary care physician to a specialist?

Nevertheless, online reviews are now the way of the world, and doctors need to accept the fact that they are going to be reviewed and rated like any other service provider. The question then arises—how does a bad review affect a physician’s practice? Do one or two bad reviews doom a medical practice to failure? Can your practice survive a bad online review?

The short answer is—yes. In part, this is because consumers who search online for a doctor are generally savvy about consumer sites and know to take both the most glowing reviews and the most scathing with a grain of salt.

As one medical practice management consultant wrote in Medical Economics, “Online physician reviews are written predominantly by patients who are either delighted or disgusted by their most recent experience with your practice.”1

Consumers know that no restaurant, hardware store, or medical practice can please all of the people all of the time. In addition, the overall trend among a physician’s online reviews has the greatest impact on how consumers view the practice. In fact, one or two bad reviews among a series of generally favorable reviews may strike the consumer as outliers, lending greater credibility to the good reviews and increasing the overall positive perception of the practice.

Moreover, consumers generally reward physicians with good reviews just for doing their job. A recent study in JAMA Facial Plastic Surgeryfound that the top three reasons why a patient gave a physician a 5-star rating on Yelp were good bedside manner, a perception that the doctor seemed knowledgeable, and how well the patient liked their results.

Conversely, patients gave physicians 1-star ratings when they thought the doctor had a poor bedside manner, when they felt pressured or lied to by the doctor, and when they perceived the office staff as rude. That is, if doctors treat patients with kindness and respect, know their field, and provide patients with good care, they are likely to receive good online reviews. On the other hand, if doctors seem uncaring, appear to pressure patients into treatments or procedures they don’t want, and have an office staff that is not up to par, they can expect to receive at least some negative reviews online.

As much as the occasional negative review may smart, it can also help make you smarter. Bad reviews can do you some good if you can take them as constructive criticism and learn from them. When you receive a negative review, pay attention to the complaints, do your best to understand the critique from the patient’s perspective, and see if there is something you or your staff can do the correct the problem to avoid making the same mistake in the future.

Online reviews are here to stay, for medical practices as much as for the local bar and grill. Doctors may as well learn to live with them and perhaps even to learn from them.


1. Capko J. Five ways to boost your practice's online reputation. Med Econ. 2016 Apr 25;93(8):49.

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