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Yelp for Medical Practices: Do or Do Not

When someone mentions Yelp, do you automatically think of restaurant ratings? What about hair salons? Or your local doctor’s office? More and more, Yelp is branching off from its well-known restaurant ratings and making inroads with Yelpers to rate entertainment venues, local companies, and even medical practices. Sounds great, right? How better to make an informed decision about which dentist you should go to or which paper supply company to buy from, right?



When it comes to professional settings, things change. Typically, these businesses have less volume, and thereby fewer ratings, compared to high-volume restaurants.  And while Yelpers may be habituated to writing restaurant reviews, that’s not necessarily the case for medical settings or local businesses.

At its core with client interaction, there’s a difference between restaurants and medical offices. Restaurants typically have a simpler, singular communication. If a restaurant serves cold spaghetti, a negative review is probably in line as it’s something the restaurant could have corrected. It serves to alert future patrons of a potential disappointment.

If a patient rates a medical office one or two stars because they couldn’t obtain the pain killer they wanted, does that mean others should avoid your practice? Probably not. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The problem is that in Yelp-land, these more complex interactions are forced to conform to simple rating systems. As consumers faced with multiple options for a single good or service, it’s easier and faster to just call the clinic that has five star reviews and make an appointment there and not bother digging into why the other clinic had a two star rating.

stars_mapGoing back to the example above, if that same patient was denied pain killers because of potential negative interactions among medicines, wasn’t the physician doing his or her job properly? Maybe in that appointment tests were run and two weeks later the patient was prescribed a different type of pain killer and the patient is now satisfied. The problem is that your negative review lives on, or the patient needs to (on their own) decide to revise their rating (unlikely).

If you’re thinking about making a foray into Yelp with your medical practice, we’ve created a few suggestions for you and some things to consider.

  • HIPAA regulations still apply
    • This means if you have a drug-seeking patient who is denied those drugs and leaves a negative review, you can’t defend yourself with an online reply without being in violation of HIPAA
  • Understand that more weight may be given to negative reviews if it’s posted by a frequent Yelper. This will skew your ratings.
    • Frequent Yelpers have more pull in ratings than someone who only rates one or two places
    • This could be an important factor in regards to your core patient demographics

If you move forward with Yelp…

  • Go all in. Fill out your profile. Upload photos and logos. Monitor it daily. Respond when needed.
  • Consider adding Yelp logo bug to your website, though you may want to de-emphasize this to retain professional, medical site design
  • Post a sign in a visible location stating that your clinic is on Yelp.
    • Don’t ask people to write reviews. Yelp’s algorithm can determine organic reviews from forced reviews and it will discard what it thinks are the forced reviews.
    • Once people know you’re on Yelp, they will write a review if so inclined.
    • Keep in mind that most people only provide feedback when it’s either a very negative or very positive experience. Unless it’s a frequent Yelper habituated to reviewing places, you may be dealing with 1 star and 5 star reviews.
  • Take negative reviews offline. Respond quickly to negative messages with a private message to that person.
    • Indicate you’re concerned over their incident and would like to talk about it with them.
    • If you’re able to resolve the issue, you can politely request that the person change their poor review.



Research worth checking out:

“5 sites patients are using to rate your practice — and why you should care”. 25 Nov 2014.

“Clinicians are bound by ethics and laws to protect patients’ privacy, but who protects the clinicians?” Accessed 21 Jul 2015.

Are Yelp Business Reviews Hurting Your Medical Practice? Fight Back with SEO.” Accessed 21 Jul 2015. 

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