Sticky situations: How to handle a negative online review of your dental practice

Nancy, a relatively new patient of Dr. Adams, comes in for her regular hygiene appointment on a day that is more hectic than usual. One hygienist is out on maternity leave and another one called in sick, and unfortunately Nancy has to wait 30 minutes before being taken back to the chair.

Nancy didn’t complain while at the practice and even made a follow-up appointment for six months out. However, when she got home, she left a less than stellar review on Yelp, specifically complaining about the extended wait time.

Dr. Adams is very disheartened to see this negative review and is incredibly worried that it might turn off other prospective patients. He’s not sure of the best way to handle this situation, and is now hesitant to continue encouraging patients to leave reviews.


Despite Nancy’s comment about his customer service, Dr. Adams should definitely continue to encourage patients to leave reviews. The best way to counteract a bad review is to build an arsenal of positive testimonials. These “prophylactic reviews” help protect the practice from any potential negative comments in the future.

Online users are savvy, and they understand that not everyone can make every customer happy every single time. What matters to prospective patients is how the dentist handles the situation.

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It’s up to Dr. Adams to decide whether or not he wishes to reply publicly to Nancy. If he chooses to reply, and the forum allows for the business owner to do so, the response should be framed in a positive, non-defensive manner and should demonstrate an effort to rectify the problem.

Dr. Adams can respond to Nancy with a brief message apologizing for the inconvenience, and give her a direct contact phone number or email address where they can take the conversation offline in order to rectify the situation. This approach demonstrates two things to prospective patients who may see the negative review:

1 – Dr. Adams is a dentist who is truly committed to his patients’ satisfaction;

2 – Should such a problem arise in the future, Dr. Adams will work with his patients to solve the problem.

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One caveat: all of the above applies to customer service issues, which account for 99% of negative reviews. If a complaint is clinical in nature, the dentist should not respond publicly. Instead, he or she needs to immediately contact legal counsel or the malpractice carrier for advice on how to best proceed.

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With the correct communication practices, a negative customer service review doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Instead of looking at it as a scary scenario, handling a negative review can actually be seen as an opportunity to right a wrong. In order to counteract any undesirable comments, dentists and their staff should proactively collect positive testimonials on an ongoing basis so that their online reputation remains accurate and intact.

Editor's Note: "Woman-typing-on-laptop" by Matthew - Licensed under Attribution via Wikimedia Commons.

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Have a Sticky Situation you need help with? Contact us at Pride Institute offers an array of consulting services, products, and seminars to enhance the lives of dentists, their teams and ultimately their patients. For more information about our services, speak with one of our client services specialists at (800) 925-2600 or visit us at