Digital dossier


Online-reputationIn the digital age, online reviews play a major part in how patients choose a practice. Good reviews are just that, but how can practices go about managing a bad review—or even worse, a deliberate attempt to trash its reputation? Jennine Heymer looks at managing your practice’s online reputation

If you’ve ever received a negative online review, you’ll know that feeling of acute disappointment mixed with anger and a dash of disbelief. There are ways, however, that you can limit the fallout and deal with potential online pests while still conforming to social media and advertising standards set out by the Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency (AHPRA).

“Way before you ever get a bad review, you’ve got to have a plan in place,” explains Dr Jacki Kearslake, a dentist and online marketing consultant of Dental Web Strategies.

“It’s actually a good idea to set up a system where you can be alerted if your practice has appeared on the internet somewhere. You can do that by setting up something like Google alerts so that you don’t stumble upon a review months and months later.”

Surprisingly, receiving a negative review does not have to be all that bad. “Sometimes a bad review can actually be a reasonable one,” Dr Kearslake argues. “Perhaps something did go wrong in the practice that day; that sort of feedback is really important to a practice because if there are problems with communications, or the way that staff are treating patients, it’s good to know about these things.”

How you initially respond to a bad review will speak volumes about your practice. “Responding to them from a place of upset is often the wrong place,” says Dr Kearslake. “It’s good practice to start off by responding to the review by saying something along the lines of: ‘We were concerned to come across your comments. We’d really like to discuss this with you.’ Basically, what you want to do is to take the conversation offline and out of the public forum.”

In many cases, a first gut reaction to a bad review—and one that does not sit within the code of practice—according to Dr Kearslake, “is for the practitioner, staff, family or friends of the practice to get on the review site and write a positive review masquerading as a patient. They must always disclose what their relationship to the practice is. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission actually has a section on its website relating to this.”

Robert Boyd-Boland, Australian Dental Association’s chief executive officer, expands on this by saying: “At all times, dentists and other registered health professionals must abide by AHPRA’s Codes and Guidelines, including the Dental Board of Australia (DBA) and the dentists’ home state and territory laws.”

When dental practitioners find themselves uncertain as to what their legal obligations are, in any situation, they should ask the DBA or AHPRA. If you’re still in doubt, Boyd-Boland recommends dentists to always “err on the side of caution”.

If you feel the review is beyond reasonable criticism and your reputation may be tarnished by the negative review, what should you do?

“In the first instance, requesting the third party retract their online post would be best, preferably outlining the dentist’s point of view on the particular issue being commented on,” Boyd-Boland explains.

“When it comes to dissatisfied patients, often times there has been a misunderstanding, miscommunication or a misalignment of expectations when it comes to the treatment involved for a patient. Having an open discussion between dentist and patient would be the best way to resolve issues.”

However, Dr Kearslake advises that if for some reason the patient decides to take the matter up online again, you need to look at every single aspect of the situation based on its own merits.

“If the patient continues to post reviews that are negative, you need to decide if they are worth responding to again,” she explains. “Sometimes people just like to stir trouble and generally if you have responded in the appropriate way, they just need to be left alone. The public will generally see it for what it really is.”

In general, review sites such as Google or WOMO (Word Of Mouth Online) will not take down a negative review just because it is negative. They will, in some circumstances, investigate reviews if they are suspicious or abusive in nature.

If you feel that the online situation has become threatening, Dr Kearslake suggests that it’s worth getting the police involved.

“You need to get a screenshot of the review and take it to the police. You then need to make sure that the platform knows it’s there and then normally they will take it down.”

Keeping a professional and polite tone at all times, especially in the public domain, is one of the best ways to manage your online reputation.

“A really important conversation that dentists need to have with whoever is looking after their social media is what the tone of their media is,” says Dr Kearslake. “The owner of the practice really needs to take the reins and dictate what that is.”

Maintaining your online reputation is now an essential part of the day-to-day running of a practice. “Dentists live by their reputations and online reviews are a reality,” says Dr Chris Hardwicke, owner and principal of Corinna Dental Group in Canberra.

“People are diverse and entitled to their opinions. Online reviews are an extension of this and that’s why social media engagement for dentists is crucial. It seems to be something the profession has been slow to take up.”

The time that it takes to develop and implement online marketing and social media strategies may be one of the reasons dentists have been slow to engage in the digital space.

“It’s something that requires a big time commitment—time I don’t have,” says Dr Hardwicke. “We’ve outsourced our online marketing to a third party
for three years because I felt that we needed to be proactive in this area.”

According to Dr Kearslake, practitioners need to remember that everything they write online, including responses to negative reviews, is marketing their practice to current clients as well as potential ones.

“Your web presence is all about putting your practice’s best foot forward,” she explains. “Having an overall marketing plan that prepares you for possibilities both good and bad is essential. It’s quite often the conversation that practices forget to have.”


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