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NHS Choices

NHS Choices website and dental practice


Our members have asked whether they should monitor the NHS Choices website. With more than 200,000 visitors searching for dental services on the NHS Choices website (www.nhs.uk) each month and with it giving patients the opportunity to comment on services, it is likely to become a powerful influence. Although it would be easy to ignore NHS Choices, we suggest you don’t.

What’s on NHS Choices?
Visit the NHS Choices website and on the home page there’s an option to search for services, including dentists. When you input a postcode or town and click on ‘Find dental practices’, a list of practices is shown – 47 in the case of Holsworthy. Both private and NHS practice are included, up to 30 miles away.

For each practice, there is a sub-menu of information including opening times, facilities, staff and contact details, together with a location map. There is also a section showing reviews and ratings. Here, NHS Choices users can post star ratings (five stars being best) under headings ‘Appointments’, ‘Dignity and respect’, ‘Involvement in decisions’, ‘Information on treatment cost’ and ‘Outcome of treatment’ as well as an overall rating. They can also post comments, with a tick in a green circle if they recommend the practice and a cross in a red circle if they don’t. 

The danger of ignoring online reviews
If you’ve been following the growth of social media, you’ll know that reviewing everything from holidays to hospitals has become increasingly popular. While most patient communication systems allow you to filter survey reviews and delete any bad ones, you do not have control of reviews on third party websites. NHS Choices falls into that category, although all reviews are moderated and checked that they confirm with the terms and conditions before being published. For the terms of use, comments policy and privacy policy click here

If you do not respond to bad reviews, they go unchallenged. When the list of practices within the chosen area comes up, it is easy to spot those with several stars (up to five) as an overall rating and those with just one or two stars. Clearly, people will gravitate to those with the highest ratings.

However, even within a high overall rating, there may be reviewers who are quite critical. One ‘4-star’ practice included reviews with headlines ‘Receptionists require Training!’ and ‘Rubbish Practice’. The practice has not replied to any reviews, good or bad, so these negative comments went unchallenged and the opportunity to get free publicity following a good review (see below) has been wasted.

Accessing NHS Choices

Your profile information will most likely have been supplied by your LAT and you should ask them for login details. Once you have these, you can amend or update the information on your profile and respond to comments.

What to post on NHS Choices
First check and amend if necessary the information about your practice. Do add a website address if you have one – NHS Choices is an online service and people will want to find out more about your practice online. You will be notified automatically by an email alert when a patient comment appears. Reply to reviews, whether they are positive or negative. If someone has taken the trouble to write something good about your practice, it’s the least you can do to thank him or her. This is free publicity of the best kind so why not go further and write something such as: ‘Thank you for your kind comments and high ratings. Treating patients with phobias is something we specialise in and I’m glad you felt at ease throughout your visit. We look forward to seeing you again in due course. Dr Barney Rubble, practice owner.’

Reply quickly to a bad review. Say you are sorry the reviewer feels that way. Gently but firmly correct anything misleading they may have written. Explain why things went wrong and what has changed since their visit. Say you hope they will have a different experience the next time they visit. Remember, it’s not just the reviewer you are addressing but also the hundreds, maybe thousands of people who will read the review.

Your responses can be up to 4,000 characters and are moderated by NHS Choices before being published.

Action in your practice

You may need to educate your team to accept the new era of online reviews and have a plan for dealing with them – good and bad. You will never be perfect so focus on offering the best service you can. Do I need to quote Abraham Lincoln about not never being able to please all of the people all of the time? No, perhaps not.

Ask your patients to post a review of their experience when they have finished treatment. Having a number of reviews will give potential new patients more confidence in the practice. Don’t forget to tweet or post on your website good reviews, but remember never to publish patient details without written permission.