April 10, 2019
Online review sites have an undeniable influence on patients searching for a medical provider. Patients are going online not only to read about conditions and treatment options but also to research doctors. Word-of-mouth referrals from personal friends and colleagues are giving way to word-of-mouse recommendations via online review sites like Google Reviews, Yelp, and Healthgrades. These sites are demonstrating an undeniable influence on patients searching for a medical provider.
In a recent Software Advice survey of more than five hundred U.S. patients, a staggering 94 percent of respondents said they consulted review websites to evaluate physicians. Furthermore, 74 percent said the review sites were their first step in selecting a new doctor.
Successful practices recognize that online reviews are not a fleeting trend that will fade away any time soon and strategize how to seize the opportunity to attract more potential patients. Popular physician blogger Dr. Kevin Pho pointed out, “If you look at every other industry, whether it’s books, movies, hotels, restaurants, people want to know what others are thinking…online ratings are not going away.”
In addition to directly influencing patient selection, online reviews also impact search engine listings. The latest trends reported in the 2019 Local Consumer Review Survey indicate that search engines are relying more and more on reviews to determine the quality of a business, which means more reviews for your practice can potentially increase your Google listing.
The good news is physicians who embrace this cyber frontier can effectively attract new patients (and hold onto existing ones). Try these tips to improve your medical practice’s online ratings and reviews:
1. Proactively request and publish reviews.
Don’t assume that patients, even your biggest fans, will leave your office and promptly go online to write a glowing review – ask for the feedback. An easy way to start quickly is to hand out a card at check-out or send a post-visit email asking for an online review. Including a link to a review site is a convenience that may increase patient compliance with your request.
A more effective way to get detailed feedback is through a patient satisfaction survey. A 2017 Orthopedics study found that provider-initiated internal patient satisfaction ratings of orthopedic surgeons appear to be more favorable, with greater numbers of responses, than commercial online physician rating websites. Implement a service like Vizium360 or eMerit to actively survey your patients at key points in their care experience, publish the reviews on your website, and automatically direct positive reviews to the consumer review sites where they are most needed.
2. Closely monitor your online reputation.
Designate a staff member to check for new online reviews, and set a Google alert to notify when your name appears in web pages, articles, or blogs. Physicians, read all new reviews no less than monthly to stay on top of your online reputation.
3. Politely respond to negative reviews.
Unfortunately negative reviews do sometimes happen, and although small doses of mildly negative reviews among dozens of positive reviews makes your ratings more believable, it is important to address the negative reviews politely and professionally. Seventy percent of Software Advice’s survey respondents said that it’s either “very important” or “moderately important” to them that providers answer negative reviews in a reasonable way.
First, remember that privacy laws still apply so you may not disclose protected health information in your response, even if the patient does so in the review. Secondly, don’t take the negative review too personally, difficult as that might be. Remain calm and write a thoughtful response, acknowledging the reviewer’s concerns and demonstrating that you listen, empathize, and take all feedback seriously.
4. Regularly share ratings and reviews with the team.
A wealth of research shows a correlation between happy, engaged employees and a highly productive, higher profiting organization with low turnover. Sharing positive reviews is just one way to publicly acknowledge individuals and the team.
Sharing bad reviews at staff and provider meetings is equally important. Guide the team away from making excuses and use the feedback to improve the experience for the next patient.
Marie Olesen, CEO of La Jolla Cosmetic Surgery Center, shares all reviews with the entire practice. “Since 2011, I’ve disseminated over 4500 of these reviews which validate the quality of our patient experiences and our brand. If the reviews are negative, I remove the provider info and share it with suggested solutions for avoiding such reviews in the future…It really builds the team, shows what we value, and rewards the many people who are mentioned in these reviews.”