It’s time again to talk about an issue that’s been increasingly on healthcare providers’ minds in recent years — and will probably only continue to grow more urgent: patients’ online reviews.

If reviews posted by residents or their families that you have no real control over have kept you up at night, take heart: It’s something that’s been bothering the industry as a whole as well. Providers are left to come up with ways to soften the blow of negative reviews, or avoid them altogether.

I got to thinking about the issue thanks to a poll that MedPage Today is currently conducting. It’s asking providers whether they’ve asked or “pressed” patients to give them good online reviews. The results (as of the time I wrote this) showed that 88% of respondents said they haven’t, while 12% said they had. But providers may be wise to do the same as restaurants, gyms and mechanics do, in encouraging those they serve to rate them online.

It’s a gamble, to be sure. In an article MedPage posted to accompany its poll, rheumatologist Kathryn Dao, M.D., suggested that providers take a proactive approach to gather positive reviews by posting a sign somewhere in the facility with a request like “Be sure to rate us” on Yelp, Google or Facebook.

That may be a great way to encourage residents or families who have had a wonderful experience in your facility to share their thoughts with the online community. But what about those who may have gripes with the staff or service they received (however unfounded or misguided they may be)? That sign may spur an unhappy customer to post his or her negative review to the web, when they otherwise wouldn’t have thought to.

On the other hand, gathering a bigger number of reviews for your facility may help provide some buffer for when a bad review (or several) are posted. Dao provides the example of a friend whose online ratings tanked when two negative reviews were posted, out of 20 overall. After asking patients to review their care, that provider now has 1,000 reviews — and excellent ratings.

Dao’s article offers a tidbit of advice for those who do receive a not-so-sparkling review on a site like Yelp, or their Facebook page. No matter how courteous or understanding your response may be (and it definitely should be, since snarky or rude responses would only make the problem worse) avoid posting it directly in response. Chances are you can glean some information from the review to figure out who posted it, so the best course of action is to respond directly, either in person or over the phone.

Listen to their concerns, and there’s a possibility they’ll be satisfied enough to pull the review, Dao said. This tactic also may help curb an online review-related issue I don’t believe we’ve ever covered here at McKnight’s — the flat out wrong review. This isn’t a review dealing with something debatable, like a certain staff member’s attitude. In Dao’s case, a certain review ended up driving business for the wrong reasons.

“A new patient came in today; he noted that he made an appointment with me after reading a favorable online review on Yelp about our practice,” Dao wrote. “After his visit, he looked around the office and stalled at the checkout counter. I was not sure whether he wanted a tour of our office or had additional questions. Stammering for a minute, he came out and blurted, ‘Where do I get the burritos?’”

As it turns out, Dao’s office had given a previous patient a burrito from a staff lunch after she had waited a while for labs. That patient took to Yelp to applaud the care she received and — boom! — the nation’s first combination rheumatology office and burrito stand was born.

The takeaways here? Encourage reviews from your residents and their families — if you are confident enough that the majority will be positive — as they can give your online ratings a protective shield from bad reviews. If the reviews are bad, respond to them graciously and as directly as possible.

And if the reviews are flat out wrong, or provide misinformation about your facility? Reach out to the poster to clarify the situation, or risk having to cook up a burrito for every prospective resident.

Follow Staff Writer Emily Mongan @emmongan.