Fight, Flight or Listen: 3 Ways to Deal with Physician Reviews & Negative Patient Comments

surgeon's facial expression Perhaps you’ve followed the Taco Bell (“Of Course We Use Real Beef“) PR brouhaha, or you recall the PR catastrophe for BP regarding last year’s gulf oil spill.

Admittedly these are big business issues at the tip of the PR disaster sword. The media has a field day, and it’s a spectator sport for the general public. Professionally, let’s hope that your healthcare marketing and public relations experience never suffers this kind of global flack.

But these corporate calamities hold useful lessons for physicians, group practices, hospitals and other healthcare providers. What the giant corporations do (or don’t do) can transfer to something as common as physician reviews and negative patient comments.

Straight from the news pages, here are three PR textbook examples and how they might be useful where you live:

The FIGHT Response: In response to a much-publicized class action lawsuit, Taco Bell is out with vehement denials and a series of new advertisements titled: Thank You for Suing Us. While it’s commonplace to quickly embrace and repeat compliments, a common reaction to negative comments by patients is to discount or deny them as uninformed and/or incorrect. Some, perhaps most, situations require a response, but an angry, defensive or “come-out-swinging” answer can more easily aggravate a situation than disarm it.

The FLIGHT Response: For reasons that are self-evident, we can’t link to an illustration on this one. Remaining silent–the opposite of FIGHT—is seldom heard. Call it the “ignore-it-and-it-will-go-away” approach. And while minor things sometimes do seem to disappear, healthcare Public Relations pros and marketing communications executives recognize that there can be a serious downside in silence. The “no-response-response can be seen as stonewalling or even an admission or agreement. The patient issue or comment is still out there.

The LISTEN Response: Hopefully the patient-physician communications channels are wide open and so that patient issues or experiences can be discussed, addressed and resolved before they blossom into a negative online review or word-of-(bad)mouth comment.

A real world illustration of listening and acting—one that didn’t make as many headlines as Taco Bell—is this article by Los Angeles Otolaryngologist John W. House: How Online Reviews Can Help a Physician. It can be surprising how effective it is to listen to, and learn from, patient issues and to actively resolve an issue of concern.

There’s seldom a simple answer to seemingly simple issues, but the fundamentals can be useful in addressing problems of all shapes and sizes. Read more about negative comments and Listening to the Voice of the Patient. By the way,  feel free to give us a call anytime. We’re here to listen.

Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer at Healthcare Success
Stewart Gandolf, MBA, is Chief Executive Officer of Healthcare Success, one of the nation's leading healthcare and digital marketing agencies. Over the past 20 years, Stewart has marketed and consulted for over 1,000 healthcare clients, ranging from practices and hospitals to multi-billion dollar corporations. A frequent speaker, Stewart has shared his expertise at over 200 venues nationwide. As an author and expert resource, Stewart has also written for many leading industry publications, including the 21,000 subscriber Healthcare Success Insight blog. Stewart also co-authored, "Cash-Pay Healthcare: Start, Grow & Perfect Your Cash-Pay Healthcare Business." Stewart began his career with leading advertising agencies, including J. Walter Thompson, where he marketed Fortune 500 clients such as Wells Fargo and Bally's Total Fitness.

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