The healthcare ecosystem today is increasingly putting patients, rather than treatments, at the center of care. New payment models are rewarding value rather than volume, and the concept of “patients as consumers” is now the norm.
According a 2014 survey of over 4500 US patients conducted by SoftwareAdvice.com (a provider of detailed reviews, comparisons, and research for software buyers,) 42% of the patients polled reported use of online physician reviews. No news there, perhaps. But the survey also found:
- The majority (62%) use online reviews as a first step to find a new doctor.
- Nearly half of respondents indicated they would go out-of-network for a doctor with more favorable reviews.
A 2012 study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine analyzed the reviews on Yelp and RateMDs.com for family and internal medicine practices in four cities. 37 percent of the reviews were negative.
Visitors to online review sites tend to focus on the bad reviews more than the good. And while many patients use online review sites, few take the time to write a review. Despite ongoing debate within the physician community about the validity of online physician reviews, they are here to stay. Given the importance of patient satisfaction, and the role that reviews play in attracting new patients, now is the time to proactively assess and manage your on-line feedback:
Claim and complete your profiles on rating sites
- Google your name. The first results will likely be physician finder sites like Health Grades, ZocDoc, or Vitals, and on broad-based service finders like Yelp. You might be amazed by the patient reviews on those sites–both good and bad, true and false–about you and your practice. But don’t panic!
- Be sure online review sites are up-to-date with your practice home page URL, your contact information, language proficiency, and how long you’ve been in practice. In addition to the rating sites mentioned above, check your profiles on applicable payer physician directories.
- Include a photo of yourself. There’s a reason why it’s de rigueur on dating sites! Numerous marketing studies have shown web site visitors respond more positively to marketing messages that include images.
- Don’t forget your credentials. If you’re a younger or newer doctor, showcase your certifications. Additionally, academic background is most important to patients over age 55 – so if that’s your target patient population, be sure your academic background is included on your profile as well.
- Other sites like referralMD, not only help you promote your services to patients, but also help you build stronger business partnerships with your referral sources, manage communications, and streamline referral workflow. If you are looking to grow your referral base, you can try referralMD for free.
Project a patient-friendly presence on your own website
As in the case of your profiles on ratings sites, make sure all of your information is complete and up to date. In addition:
- Add a few patient testimonial quotes (with their permission)
- Include links to favorable news stories, community service awards, or other local recognition
- Consider a Facebook page. While you can set preferences to prohibit others from posting, doing so implies a lack of transparency and confidence. Instead, monitor the posts…. more on that below.
Ask for positive feedback
- Post a sign in your waiting area saying that you value patient feedback, whether in person, by phone or email or via online forums. Add a similar note on your appointment reminder cards; include the URLs for your rating site profile sites, Yelp, and Facebook pages. Provide comment cards to be left behind or returned via snail mail, and use a few favorable ones (with patient permission) on your own web site as described above.
- Send follow-up emails encouraging patients to provide feedback, assuming you have electronic communications consent.
- Ask patients to provide some details about the quality of care provided. The SoftwareAdvice.com survey indicated that “quality of care” is the information patients value most, cited by 48% of respondents. While the term in this context is certainly subjective, seek positive comments pertaining to overall satisfaction with your expertise and service.
Most Sought-After Information in Online Physician Reviews
- Don’t cherry-pick reviewers. if all you have are 5-star reviews, people think you’re gaming the system, and most sites now have algorithms to remove suspicious reviews. Unfortunately, this can end up with valid reviews getting deleted as well.
Keep tabs on online comments
- Reach out to the patient who posted the negative review. Most sites do allow you to publicly respond to negative reviews. If you can identify the patient based on their comments, reach out to them by phone or email (if you have their consent to communicate with them electronically.) If you can’t identify the patient, then post a public comment inviting the reviewer to contact you. Here’s an example:
“We apologize that you had that experience, MR/MRS Patient. We’re committed to providing the best experience possible for people, so please call our office and Dr. Smith will personally make this right.”
If this is done appropriately, many reviewers will go back and change their reviews. Yelp reports “lots of success stories from business owners who were polite to their reviewers and were accordingly given a second chance.”
- When posting a public reply to a negative comment, never publicly discuss patient specifics. Although a patient can post anything they want about their visit with you, it is a major HIPAA violation for you to respond by saying anything about them – you cannot publicly confirm or deny that they’re a patient of yours, much less share anything about their medical diagnosis or treatment.
- Craft a public response that demonstrates a commitment to improvement when posting a reply to a specific criticism. For example:
“Because of privacy regulations, we can’t discuss any specifics about your comments. However, we want you to know that we are committed to providing high quality care and we take your feedback very seriously. Reducing wait times is one of the most challenging aspects of our practice, so we recently hired a consultant to help us improve our scheduling methods and avoid these kinds of problems in the future.”
This type of reply communicates to all visitors (not just the critical patient) that you are listening and are working to address the concern.
- Don’t get into drawn-out he-said/she-said discussions. Search engines and review sites generally give more weight to newer content, making them more prominent in search results. This means that every time you reply to an ongoing comment thread, you’re drawing more attention to the negative review.
- Don’t respond when you’re upset. You take your business personally, so it’s easy to react defensively. A day later is the time to take any of the actions listed above, not immediately when the wound is still fresh.
- Use the feedback to improve your practice. According to the Journal of General Internal Medicine article referenced above, most negative feedback has nothing to do with the doctor’s technical competence but rather the management of the practice itself. Criticism about the office staff, appointment access, and appointment wait times were very common, with 61 percent of comments about wait times being negative. Use these comments as a catalyst to improve your practice.
- Get libelous reviews removed. Libel is defamation through the use of untrue words or pictures. If the defamation is severe enough to impact your practice, it’s worth your time to get it removed. Most sites will remove libelous posts if there’s evidence that the posted information is untrue; check the site’s “Terms and Conditions” section for contact information and procedures to do this. If that fails, discuss your options with a lawyer.
Don’t ask patients to sign “will-not-review” agreements.
This approach is bound to fail. Legal precedent makes it unlikely that such agreements would hold up in court. More importantly, you risk alienating long-term patients and encouraging spite-based online reputation attacks.
Leverage your EMR’s contact factures and use referral management software.
A robust patient referral management system will prevent patients from falling through the cracks, thereby increasing their overall satisfaction with your service and improving the flow of positive online reviews. But be aware of your EMR’s patient information sharing policies; in 2013, EMR provider Practice Fusion came under fire for soliciting physician reviews from patients without full disclosure or permission.
Be aware of your “bedside manner.” Enough said.
With proactive management, your positive reviews will grow over time assuring your ratings will rise to the top in any search despite the few (inevitable) critical reviews. When consumers search on your name, they’ll be steered to robust physician ratings rather than the less solid reporting often found on sites that rely upon fewer and less complete data. Focus on the positive, share factual information, and use the feedback to improve your practice.