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When Dentists Sue Over Reviews

Welcome to the Patient Attraction Podcast. I’m Colin Receveur. Today, I’ve got a single topic that I want to talk about, and it’s a topic that is really shrouded in controversy with the company that it’s associated with. It’s a company that many dentists feel is unethical. The company is Yelp. I want to give an interesting spin to it before you think this sounds like just any other Yelp rant on how they’re unethical business practices or whatever the case may be, that you feel about them and how they conduct their business.

There’s a dentist in New York that has sued, he has filed lawsuits, against four different patients who have left him negative reviews. I think the most interesting thing here, the pink elephant in the room if you will, is that I know a lot of dentists that get a bad review or two, or even three. This dentist has overwhelming negative reviews. Now he has some good reviews, yes, but when you filed suit against four people that have negative reviews against you, I think that’s something that’s telling. It says to me, he’s got a lot of negative attention here before he filed lawsuits against his patients.

The second thing is that it’s interesting to me that he’s actually filed his lawsuits on the basis of an accusation, a false accusation, of malpractice, whereas if you go in and read the review, it really has nothing to do with his clinical skills, with his experience, it has everything to do with trust, the trust that he doesn’t develop with his patients.

Let me give you a synopsis of what these reviews talk about. I’ll even read you an excerpt from it here in just a second. The reviews, namely the most recent one, is a rant from this patient about how they had to wait for two and a half hours total. They waited for 30 minutes in the waiting room, he came in and talked to them. The doctor had to leave the room to go see another patient. He had to wait another hour. All in all, they were in there for a simple cleaning for two and a half hours, which is way too long. Put the customer service aspect of it aside, how much is that chair time costing you to have a simple prophy and exam in there for two and a half hours? How much is your hygienists’ time worth, that you’re tying up one of her operatories for two and a half hours? That’s just a huge, huge expense.

This doctor up in New York, he’s filed suit against four separate patients. Yelp has finally responded to this. Yelp has actually put a notice at the top of this dentist’s Yelp page that says something to the effect of, “This location,” it’s not doctor specific, “This business may be engaged in ‘slap’ lawsuits,” which is basically suppressing free speech. It’s an acronym for expression free speech. “This business may be engaged in frivolous lawsuits to suppress your free speech. Yelp reminds you of your first amendment right to review this business.”

It’s actually a pop up that comes up on the page when you go to this dentist’s website. I think it’s a good reminder for all of us that negative reviews are not the enemy. Negative reviews are our friend. Negative reviews are the invisible hand, the guidance that we all need as business owners to find out where we need to improve. It’s an opportunity to show the world that yes, we can take constructive criticism, even if it’s a little bit edgy, which a lot of negative reviews are because these people are emotionally invested. They now feel like they’ve wasted their time. They’re upset about it, rightfully or wrongfully so. They’re upset about it.

It’s an opportunity to go out into the public and show the public that yes, we can fix this. Yes, we’re going to make this right with you. Please give us another opportunity to do so, and we’ll show you that we can. When you approach it as this doctor up in New York has done, where he has literally, I assume, taken it as a personal insult, and he’s claiming loss of business, which I’m sure he has. He’s got a lot of negative reviews floating around out there, I’m sure it is negatively affecting his business.

When you start throwing lawsuits around against your patients, you create a very interesting environment, let’s say. You create an environment that other patients are going to hear about. There’s no way for them not to hear about it. Patients talk, they’re going to read reviews.

Let me read this excerpt to you hear. This is what Yelp put on the page. “Consumer alert: questionable legal threats. This business may be trying to abuse the legal system in an effort to stifle free speech, including issuing questionable legal threats against reviewers. As a reminder, reviewers who share their experiences have a first amendment right to express their opinion on Yelp.”

This was the actual review of the dentist. “Doctor was curt and dismissive and seemed annoyed with the way I answered his questions. He did seem to be genuinely interested in finding out what was causing my pain and how it can be helped. However, it was an absurdly long wait. After about an hour, I was finally seen, and then after speaking with him for five to 10 minutes, he left me for “Just a second” to deal with another patient. I didn’t see him again for another half hour.

“Of the total two hour and 15 minutes I was there, I spent about 30 minutes talking to the doctor. The rest was spent in the chair without even being offered a water or magazine. At the end of it, he couldn’t even help determine what was bothering me. I left with a mouthful of pain and a recommendation to see my dentist for a possible cavity.” I believe this particular dentist is an endodontist. This patient was there as a result of a potential root canal. I don’t know, it doesn’t say here. I don’t remember the notes. I did look into this a little bit more and that’s what I remember reading about it.

You have to embrace the feedback that you get. If you get positive feedback, this is a reinforcement that you’re doing things well and to keep the status quo. If you’re getting four stars, how can you get five stars? If you’re getting ones and twos and threes, what do you need to be doing to be getting fours and fives? What are your patients telling you? Literally, what are they saying to you is the reason they’re not giving you a four or five? If they’re not saying it to you, then you need to ask them. Ask your patients, call up Susie that had that hygiene appointment, that said she’d leave you a review, but she didn’t leave you a review. That’s a sign right there that things aren’t as they seem.

If you’re asking patients in your office but they just don’t seem to be leaving you reviews, call up a few of them personally, after hours, and say, “Listen, Susie, I really want to find out what we can do to improve. I would love any feedback that you have about what we can do in my office to improve. I understand that you mentioned you would leave us a review but you didn’t, and generally when I see that happen, it means that there’s something that they weren’t talking about with the front staff, or there was something that was unhappy with their experience, but they just didn’t want to talk about it. I really, truly, genuinely want to hear your feedback, if you would be willing to share it with me. Can I take you to coffee? Will you talk about it on the phone with me?”

You have to open up. If you want people to give you constructive feedback, none of us like the uncomfortable situation of telling somebody what they’re doing wrong or what they didn’t like. It is an uncomfortable situation. Until you agitate people to the very, very edge, they’re not going to leave negative feedback, or vice versa, until they are just so ecstatic, until you have fan boys, fan girls that just praise the ground you walk on, so to speak, they’re not going to leave you good reviews.

The main middle of the review spectrum is quiet, there’s silence. They don’t leave a review, and you don’t get that feedback until you stray so far to one end or the other. If you’re having trouble getting reviews, talk to your people that are in the middle. Talk to the people that aren’t talking and find out what their experience is. That’ll give you a lot of insight into what you can do better.

Ultimately, please don’t sue your patients. You’re not going to fix it. Yelp is not going to remove your review. This dentist may have actually sued Yelp in the past, I don’t know. I haven’t gone into the court system and looked up everything. You can try to sue Yelp if you want. They have a very controversial monetization of their service, some call it extortion. Ultimately, the supreme court has ruled that Yelp’s business practices are legal. Right, wrong or indifferent, that’s the end of that conversation because there is no higher court to appeal to. If Yelp wants to run their business in that way, there’s literally nothing you or me can do about it. We have to play the game. This is the game. We can either play the game or not play the game, but the game is being played with or without us.

Yelp’s not going to remove that bad review, which is why this dentist chose to go after the reviewer directly. Makes sense, right? If you can get to the reviewer, get them to remove their review, then the problem is solved. It’s a terrible, terrible business practice to conduct yourself in that manner.

Work on your good reviews, talk to your patients, think about and leverage the bad reviews you’re getting. Use them as an opportunity to improve, an opportunity to see what areas of your practice need that extra boost to help develop. To use it as a public relations opportunity to show the world that you will improve and you can improve and you will do better. That, the energy that you create from responding to those negative reviews in a positive way, is what will draw more patients into your practice.

Keep moving forward.

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