How to handle negative reviews

Dr. Len Tau gives guidance on how to respond to negative reviews in a positive way.

Dr. Len Tau discusses how to soothe the sting of a negative review

No matter how much we try, negative reviews are inevitable. And with how hard we work as dentists to serve patients well, negative reviews can sting.

Naturally, many dentists fear that each negative review will cause them to lose patients or turn away potential new patients. We all know how important reviews are to attracting new patients to your practice. Almost 80% of consumers trust reviews as much as a personal referral. But that doesn’t mean one or two negative reviews will destroy your practice.

What you do in response to negative reviews is much more likely to impact your patient base than the negative review itself.

How do you respond to the inevitable negative review?

Don’t get emotional

Pause, take a deep breath, and relax. It’s hard, I know. It’s especially hard when the review is scathing, unwarranted, unfair, or even an outright lie. No matter how wrong the review is, you need to pause.

If you get too emotional, it can impact how you show up in your practice, how you treat your team, and how you and your team treat patients. And that can cause other patients to have poor experiences and lead to more negative reviews. It’s natural for a negative review to ruin your breakfast, but don’t let it ruin your lunch. And don’t let it impact how you show up to your practice that day.

Don’t respond right away

I have been very vocal about not publicly responding to the review. The worst thing you can do is respond and get into a public back-and-forth with someone who was just upset enough to leave a negative review. If their review was unreasonable or wrong, there’s no predicting what else they’ll say in response to you if you reply publicly disagreeing with them. Even worse, dentists have inadvertently violated HIPAA in their responses to negative reviews. If you do respond, remember, you are not only responding to the reviewer, you are responding to everyone who will visit that review site in the future. Would your response make it more or less likely for patients to want you to be their dentist?

A much safer approach is to try to take the conversation offline. Contact the patient. Taking the time to personally connect with the patient who left the negative review will show you care and are looking to help resolve their concerns. Frequently, when you reach out personally, the patient will even take the bad review down or update it to make it positive.

Don’t try to remove legitimate bad reviews

If a review violates the rules of a platform, it’s possible to get a review taken down. However, many professionals have tried to take this concept way too far by requiring clients or patients to sign away their rights to reviews to the practice or by suing the reviewer for defamation or some other cause of action.

While those professionals might technically have the right to sue and get them taken down, it inevitably backfires and causes what’s called the Streisand Effect, a social phenomenon caused when someone tries to hide, remove, or censor negative information and it backfires, causing more attention to be paid to the negative information. It started when Barbra Streisand sued a website owner to get a photo of her residence removed from their website. Before the lawsuit, the image of her house had only been downloaded six times (two of which were by Streisand’s attorney). But the attention from the lawsuit caused the image to be seen more than 400,000 times.

The same thing happens when a dentist sues a patient about a review. Your lawsuit will attract press attention. Who wants to go to a dentist who sues a patient?

Focus on getting positive reviews to push down the negative ones (but don’t buy the positive reviews).

The best defense to negative reviews is a good offense. If you get a negative review, renew your focus on earning and asking patients to leave you positive reviews. A steady stream of recent positive reviews will have a much greater impact on your practice than one or two negative ones, especially as time passes.

However, make sure your positive reviews are legitimate and avoid buying them. Not only is it against the terms and conditions of most review sites, but it’s obvious to most people who will see your reviews that the reviews are from people who never visited your practice. After patients tell you or your team members how wonderful their experience was, ask if they’ll be willing to leave you a review when they get back home or to the office if you send them a direct link to do so easily. Then follow up and send them a link to your page by text (preferable) a short time later for them to follow through on their promise to do so.

Continue those efforts until your practice generates a steady flow of positive reviews. Then any negative reviews you receive will be quickly pushed down by all the positive things your patients have to say about you. When you do, having a few negative reviews among the positive ones can actually be a good thing, as it makes it clear to people reviewing it that your reviews are, in fact, real.

Negative reviews don’t have to define your practice. Read “The four imperatives of review syndication” by Diana Friedman to optimize your online review syndication strategy and achieve the most value for your practice.

Len Tau, DMD, purchased his practice, the Pennsylvania Center for Dental Excellence in Philadelphia in 2007. He practiced full-time while consulting to other dental practices, training thousands of dentists about reputation marketing, leading the dental division of BirdEye, a reputation marketing platform, and hosting the popular, Raving Patients podcast. He recently authored the book Raving Patients and 100+ Tips to 100 Five Star Reviews in 100 Days. He can be reached at

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