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Bad patient reviews?

Article-Bad patient reviews?

Plenty of physicians are petrified about online ratings. But Marie Olesen, a San Diego-based marketing guru and founder of, is advising plastic surgeons to embrace the new era.

“For virtually everyone in this room, 95% of patients are happy and they want to tell their story. You should help them,” says Olesen, who spoke at The Aesthetic Meeting this year. “It’s not that you shouldn’t learn from negative feedback. But this is a happy story and not one to fear.”

After all, as speakers told a crowd at the annual meeting of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, online ratings are good for business.

“Reviews drive practice economics. Think of them as a form of advertising, the most believable form it is,” says Tom Seery, CEO and founder of RealSelf, an online cosmetic-surgery community that includes reviews.

“If a practice has over 10 reviews, they’ll get a significant number of contacts,” he says. And, he says, each two positive reviews should bring a patient inquiry each month. Notably, 86% of patients surveyed say they wouldn’t visit a doctor with no reviews. “They can sometimes perceive that could mean something is negative,” he says.

What about actual negative reviews? Seery says their impact is actually very small. According to survey data, 4 in 5 patients would still contact a doctor if 10% of his or her reviews were negative.

Still, as he acknowledges, “sometimes these negative reviews can take on a life of their own and affect you very personally.”

Here are a few tips for how to deal with negative online reviews.

In This Article:

Take the High Road

Leave it to Your Staff

Respond Responsibly

Protect Your Name

NEXT: Take the High Road


Take the High Road

“When you see a negative review, take a break and walk away,” Seery advises. Avoid becoming personal and emotional, he says, and consider whether you might not want to respond at all, even if you think the review should be taken down immediately because it’s inappropriate.

“We do take down lots of reviews because they’re violations of our terms of service,” he says. “If they say you’re the ‘Butcher of Boston,’ something hateful, that comes down immediately. But you don’t always want to take down a negative review. Patients who are denied their voice go to other forums to spread their anger. It can be great to contain it to one place.”

NEXT: Leave it to Your Staff


Leave it to Your Staff 

If you’re having trouble remaining calm, consider letting the staff take over the task of responding online. “If you’re responding, someone may come back and say, ‘You’re a liar, doctor,’” Seery says. You may be able to avoid this kind of mess, he says, if the staff responds instead of you.

NEXT: Respond Responsibly


Respond Responsibly

“Responding does define who you are to the public,” says Jeffrey Segal, M.D., JD, FACS, chief of Medical Justice, who works to protect physicians from frivolous malpractice suits. But, he says, responses must be made in a HIPPA-compatible way.

How can you do that? One approach is to respond to a specific comment with general information, he says. For example, he says, if a patient claims that you charge for second procedures, you could clarify the situation by saying that you waive professional fees for regions.

Another strategy is to reach out to the patient to see if the problem can be resolved. “You can frequently turn a negative into a positive,” he says.

For example, he says, an orthopedic surgeon was slammed on Yelp over advice that stuck a young patient with a questionable brace and a $300 bill not covered by insurance.

The surgeon contacted the patient’s family and apologized for failing to listen carefully to the patient. According to Segal, the surgeon added this about the $300 bill: “Please just ignore it, it’s on the house. If you’ve already paid it, we’ll send you a replacement check.”

Then the surgeon added something crucial: “The only reason I found you was because of Yelp. Would you be kind enough to remove or update the review?” As Segal explains, “these are the magic words. It’s a request, not a demand. By and large, most people are pretty good, and most people will reciprocate.”

The result: The rating went 1 star to 5 stars.

NEXT: Protect Your Name


Protect Your Name

Upset patients aren’t limited to complaining about you on Yelp and similar rating sites. They could even try to create a website devoted to trashing your reputation.

What to do? Make sure you own the web domain of your name, Segal says, and be aware that you may be able to legally go after someone who pretends to be you online. However, “if it’s clearly a gripe site, like, your options are much more limited. If it’s just griping, you may have to live with it.”

But there’s still something you can do. Via search engine optimization, he says, you can make sure your own site comes up first in search results when people try to find you. 

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