Tag Archives: negative reviews

The Secret Recipe for Positive Reviews

In this Thanksgiving season, our minds turn to family and friends and thoughts of warmth and comfort. Similarly, these are the sentiments of happy patients at the end of a successful surgical experience.

On the surface, you may think RealPatientRatings® is simply another doctor review website. In fact, we are conducting the largest real-time study of plastic surgery patient experience in history. As of today, 32,315 completed surveys provide incredible insights into patient expectations about their cosmetic surgery experiences.

Distilling 20,000+ reviews, we created word clouds to highlight positive and negative patterns in patient sentiment. (Word clouds give greater prominence as words appear more frequently in the source text.)

Which feelings do happy patients have in common?

Looking at the dominant words used in 5-star (highly-satisfied) reviews, the patients focus on their positive emotions, i.e., comfort, outcomes and next steps. They are happy and satisfied. They plan to stay in the practice and help it grow. Nearly all of them authorize posting of their positive reviews.

Look at the words and phrases that dominate:

  • Experience (staff, comfortable, professional, confident, friendly)
  • Results (outcome, pleased, better, best, amazing)
  • Recommend (friends)


*Word cloud generated with 75 most frequently used words distilled from over 14,000 5-star (highly-satisfied) RealPatientRatings.com reviews

Which sentiments do unhappy patients typically share?

If you’re a doctor whose average rating is 3.9 or lower on a 5.0 scale, too many of your patients are saying very different things about you. In negative reviews, patients most often express sentiment within the following themes:

  • Time (schedule, appointment, rushed, waiting, long, minutes)
  • Communication (call, asked, questions, wanted, needed)
  • Money (estimate, pay, price)

They are frustrated by service and communication failures and their negative reviews focus on these issues. If you want to change the tone and content of future reviews, then you need to attack these service problems at the source. Interestingly, most bad reviews are not complaints about the quality of results, but about the patient experience.


*Word cloud generated with 75 most frequently used words from over 6000 RealPatientRatings.com reviews with ratings of 1-4 stars (highly dissatisfied, dissatisfied, neutral, and satisfied.)

In a recent article in Forbes, How Doctors Should Respond to Negative Online Reviews, author Eric Goldman urges doctors to embrace reviews, as they’re mostly positive, and learn from the few negatives.

We agree! Most patients are happy, either satisfied or highly satisfied. Patients who rate their experience as neutral, dissatisfied, or highly dissatisfied represent only 4% of the survey totals for overall satisfaction.

Since it’s been determined in a number of studies that consumers require a small amount of negative feedback in order to confidently believe positive feedback, all the effort by doctors to quash negative reviews is really misguided.

time-for-changeWe encourage our members to embrace and use critical feedback internally to improve future patient experiences, which coincide with positive business outcomes they seek:

  • Improve conversion rates at consult
  • Increase likelihood to recommend after surgery
  • Increase potential positive reviews
  • Decrease the likelihood of negative reviews

Like any recipe, the right blend of ingredients results in a perfect dish. You can personalize it for your own practice, but the foundation doesn’t change. Be sure your service and care systems meet the needs of your patients. To the extent that they don’t, your reviews will be filled with patient frustrations about small, incidental issues that should be fixed internally rather than displayed for the world to see.

Once you address and correct any problems, your reviews will be filled with the joyful experiences of happy patients who are telling their friends and family why they should come to your practice.


A tale of two reputations

You’ve heard this story before… great surgeon, patients love him, staff is wonderful. But a few highly-visible negative reviews and a lack of positive reviews is damaging the practice. The reviews do not represent the truth and cannot help consumers make good decisions.

One tale tells a dark story

On Yelp, the surgeon has just one unhappy and anonymous review. A competitor’s positive review is displayed alongside it in an ad.


Nobody knows where the negative Yelp review was first written, but like a weed it is pervasive and appears on three other much less credible doctor review websites.

On Google Places, another lone anonymous unhappy review has been published.


Consider this scenario…

A patient is referred to this surgeon by a very happy previous patient. She goes online to Google his name. The referral, which is pure gold, is now tarnished by the information found online. She becomes suspicious and the door is opened to doubt. She begins considering other surgeons rather than scheduling a consult.

This referral did not have to be lost if the surgeon takes control of the message.

Matt Cutts (Google’s head of web spam) says that the “answer to bad speech is more speech.” What Mr. Cutts did not tell us was where or how to solve the problem.

Logically, the practice asks happy patients to write more reviews. Yet Google now requires patients to give up their anonymity to share their review – a barrier for cosmetic surgery patients.

Yelp publicly states they don’t want businesses to encourage customers to write reviews. And you’ve probably had patients tell you that their positive review was not posted. This is because Yelp hides reviews from people who aren’t regular Yelp reviewers.

So how does the practice proactively tell the real tale?


At RPR, we decided the solution was to independently survey from the practice’s own database. This approach eliminates negative reviews from non-patients (e.g., angry ex-employees, competitors). Surveying all patients is also why RPR’s average ratings are higher than other sites.

Only actual patients receive the survey or write a review. Reviews are honest, frequent, relevant, and timely and there are a lot of them, not just for surgery but also for consult.

Surgeons benefit when they willingly and openly publish all patient comments without editing. It meets the needs of today’s consumer who requires complete transparency to trust reviews.

How often do people search for bad reviews about plastic surgeons?

No need to worry, it’s not nearly as often as you think. The true number of people actively searching for complaints about their doctors is relatively low. But the results you get for a search of that kind are a pretty big deal.

matt-cutts-bad-speechMost plastic surgeons feel like there is no way to get in front of the “bad reviews” problem. Matt Cutts, the head of web spam at Google, has a famous recommendation about negative reviews:

“The answer to bad speech is more speech”

Translation for plastic surgeons:

Get more good reviews, only from happy people, don’t defend yourself against a bad review, and get a lot of reviews really fast before someone else beats you. Oh and if you’re lucky, Yelp and Google won’t unpublish your reviews for no reason.

Well thanks, Matt Cutts. This is a terrible solution! Just get more reviews?

Not only is it hard to have success asking patients to write reviews on established local business websites, it’s not even what your patients want to see. RPR was created because plastic surgeons need a better way to fight this incomplete representation of the patient experience.

Here’s the Real Patient Ratings top secret recipe for what we think a patient DOES want to see:

  • The writer really is a patient (so there’s no chance of a phony review)
  • The writer has anonymity and feels free to be truthful
  • The review is written at the right time – not too soon after surgery or too many years after the experience
  • There are a lot of reviews to read and a lot of data
  • Not all of the reviews are perfect

Your patients are smart consumers. They know that simply finding and believing one bad review about a plastic surgeon is a terrible way to make a decision. They do recognize that surgeons and their staff members are humans too.

Real Patient Ratings has surveyed 4698 patients and generated 2693 online plastic surgery reviews for members since January 2012.