Can Dental Practices Fine Patients Who Give Them Negative Online Reviews?

Can Dental Practices Fine Patients Who Give Them Negative Online Reviews?

dental reputation managementBusinesses are doing all they can these days to protect themselves from slanderous claims made online.  In fact, most businesses (dental practices included), know that a pristine online reputation is so important to standing out among a seemingly endless sea of competitors that some are taking drastic (and perhaps unethical) measures.  For example, just this year, a hotel in New York included a clause in its wedding party contracts that stated if any guests in their party left negative online reviews after their stay, they would fine the bride and groom $500.

Ridiculous, right?  As expected, this hotel has received only negative feedback on this policy once the public was made privy, and in return, the hotel publicly stated that they were never serious about imposing such fines on their guests.  Nevertheless, the hotel is now facing bigger PR problems than a few simple negative Yelp reviews.

This extreme instance aside, small businesses should absolutely still take their online reputation seriously.  For dentists, what’s being said about you, your practice and your staff online will be representative of what your new patients expect to see when they book an appointment and enter your practice for the first time.  If what they read about you isn’t positive, they may not even make the first move to book an appointment at all.  Not convinced your potential new patients check online reviews before booking an appointment?  Consider these statistics:

Recent studies show that 90% of consumers trust recommendations of others and 79% of people trust online reviews from complete strangers as much as personal recommendations from family and friends.

Whether we want to accept it or not, what people say about you online matters and has the ability to affect more than just your ego, especially if you’re a dental practice.

In most instances, dental practices cannot impose “fines” or extra “charges” to their patient’s accounts if they leave negative reviews about their experience on sites like Yelp, Google+ or Angie’s List.  However, you do have rights too and in some cases, the customer may not always be on the side of the law.

The Customer Isn’t Always Right

Here are two examples in which you, the dentist, may have substantial grounds to take action to have the negative review retracted and removed:

1 – The Review Isn’t Based on a Personal Experience – Once people caught wind of the New York hotel’s policy on social media, they didn’t waste any time in enacting some retaliation.  Although they had never stepped foot inside the hotel, people took to Yelp and left one star negative reviews in droves – seemingly just to assert their power as consumers.  In a Yahoo Finance article, attorney Scott Michelman said this is exactly the type of review that gives businesses the upper hand.  Reviews, whether positive or negative, have to be based on personal experience and if they aren’t (and can be proven they aren’t), businesses have every right to demand the review be taken down or in extreme cases, sue to ensure it does come down.  So, if you notice a negative review on your practice profile on sites like Yelp or Google, BUT have no record of that patient ever being treated, you should certainly pursue having that review removed.  More than likely, you’ll win that battle.

2 – The Review Isn’t True (And You Can Prove It) – The problem with the hotel’s clause to fine guests who leave negative reviews is that it absolutely infringes on their right to free speech.  Everyone (including your patients) are entitled to an opinion and essentially are also entitled to share that opinion as much as they choose to.    What they aren’t entitled to is to present untruths about their experience with you, your practice or your staff as fact.  For example, if an unsatisfied patient says that her experience was so bad at your dental practice that you must not even be board certified – and you in fact, ARE board certified – you can certainly demand that review be taken down because it’s simply not true.  Now, if your disgruntled patient says that she thinks your wait times are too long or your receptionist wasn’t friendly enough, then she is entitled to that “opinion” and the review can’t be challenged legally.  But, there are a few things you can do to remedy those types of negative reviews.

Protect your Rep

1 – Know What Is Out There – Google your name and your practice’s name frequently and check your directory profiles on a consistent basis.   What’s written about you online might as well be put on a billboard or broadcast on the television and just because you can’t “see it” without a search for your name, doesn’t mean it’s not there.  Your potential patients are searching your name after they receive a recommendation, so what you see is exactly what they see.  Is it positive or negative?

2 – Respond to What Actually Is Out There – There are a few things you can do if you receive a negative review that can’t be retracted based on false information.  The first thing you should do is respond to the review.  Don’t be defensive and don’t even feel the need to explain the situation.  Simply apologize and ask how you can make it right with the patient.  No dentist (or business for that matter) got anywhere by arguing with their patients or customers online for the world to see – so avoid that type of discourse at all costs.

3 – Know When you Need a Proactive Plan – There are proactive plans that dentists and dental specialists can put into place that will protect your reputation even if you don’t have any negative reviews.  It takes some intricate work to create the necessary online real estate that supports your brand in a positive way – so this work is best left to professional marketers or online specialists.

If your reputation has been compromised and you’re not sure what the steps are to remedy the problem, call our online reputation management team today.  We specialize in helping dentists and dental specialists protect and defend their reputations.