Long before online ratings and reviews were the norm, there was Yelp, a small but growing platform that gave normal guys and gals one singular place to make – and seek out – reviews from the trenches.

Now, Yelp is synonymous with internet reviews. Can’t decide which restaurant to go to for brunch? Check out Yelp! Wondering if that hair salon downtown is worth visiting? Use Yelp!

But what about choosing a local doctor?

Protecting the online reputation of your medical practice is, of course, important. Many medical professionals actively do their part to build positive profiles sites like Healthgrades and Google.

Should Yelp be added to the fray?

There is some complexity to this. First off, Yelp’s generally associated with restaurant reviews. Restaurants have a lot more volume than doctors’ offices, which typically results in more reviews. Therefore, one singular bad restaurant review won’t usually sink a business.

Then there’s the fact that most Yelpers aren’t accustomed to reviewing medical offices. They’re used to reviewing restaurants, which are generally simpler in nature and require less follow-up by the business. For example, if a reviewer complains about there not being enough nuts in a particular dish, the restaurant can make a simple change.

But things get complicated when you talk about medical practices. If, for example, a patient leaves one star for a doctor’s office because he didn’t get the exact medication he was expecting, does that mean others should avoid the practice?

Probably not, but you can see how the complex interactions associated with medical reviews can wreak havoc on a platform, like Yelp, that’s built on a simple rating system.

Think of it from a user’s standpoint: if someone goes on Yelp to look at doctors, isn’t it easy for her to simply make calls for those offices that got five stars, even if a lower rating is the result of ratings that were less than sincere? That means any practice with 3, or even 4 reviews, might get overlooked.

That hardly seems fair.

Still, we can’t ignore how invasive Yelp is in the online review world, meaning many medical professionals out there might be considering testing out the waters.

How to proceed with Yelp – tips for medical professionals

If you’re thinking about making a foray into Yelp with your medical practice, here are a few suggestions:

Don’t forget to remain compliant:

If, for example, a drug-seeking patient is denied drugs and leaves a negative review, you can’t defend yourself with an online reply without being in violation of HIPAA.

Overall, when it comes to Yelp, we recommend taking all negative reviews offline. Respond to these reviews with private messages to the person.

The influence of frequent Yelpers

The way Yelp works is that the reviews left by frequent Yelpers might have more weight than the reviews left by others, regardless of if the reviews are negative or positive. Therefore, while encouraging your patients to leave reviews is good practice, you might grow frustrated that one singular negative review is grabbing all the attention.

If you do decide to move forward with Yelp, we recommend you go all in, meaning fill out your profile, upload optimized photos and your logo, monitor it daily and respond when appropriate or needed.

You might want to consider adding the Yelp logo to your profile too, but always err on the side of professionalism if you’re second-guessing that idea. Lastly, post a sign at your clinic to let people know you’re on Yelp.

While Yelp wasn’t “made” for folks in the medical industry, that doesn’t mean your prospects don’t turn to it for advice when choosing a doctor.

As one of the most recognizable names in ratings and reviews, Yelp is often top-of-mind for folks of all ages and demographics when they think “review.” While it’s far from perfect as a rating system for medical professionals and clinics, you’re likely better off having some kind of presence on there, rather than ignoring it altogether, and risk being ignored by your prospects.