“Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Some of our parents may have taught us this adage as children but as adults, we know it couldn’t be further from the truth, especially when it comes to our careers. Words that are said about us constitute our reputation. And a doctor’s reputation is one of his or her greatest assets. Years of education, training, and hard work were poured into creating it. And what others have to say about that reputation is critical, on and offline.
Critical Importance of Doctors' Online Reputation
In today’s digital world and experience economy, it’s imperative to establish, build, and protect this valuable asset online. Why? Online health information and social media channels have created a newly empowered generation of patients. Patients today have a voice in their own care that they never had before. And more are using review sites to choose their doctor or medical practice. Given these stakes, you and your practice can’t afford to leave your online reputation to chance. You already have online profiles and reviews written by others — take a proactive and reactive role in that dialogue to improve your practice’s bottom line.
How Patients Use Online Reviews to Choose a Medical Provider
Gone are the days when a provider’s reputation was primarily based on word-of-mouth recommendations from friends, family, or other providers. Today, online reputation plays a key role in patients’ journey to decision. To illustrate just how big a role online reputation plays, consider the following statistics:
- 72% patients use online reviews as the first step in finding a new doctor.
- 19% of patients use online reviews to validate choosing a physician they have tentatively selected.
- 42% of patients still check online ratings and reviews, even when referred by another physician.
- 47% of patients would go out-of-network for a similar doctor with better reviews.
When choosing a doctor, patients prefer online reviews to government rankings. Simply put, patients trust other patients. And they’re online, searching, seeking out online ratings and review sites, and evaluating physicians based upon experience, qualifications, bedside manner, practice setting, and more.
Positive reviews on these rating sites do more than just provide positive words about you to those patients who seek it out. They improve your online ranking in search engines so that you are found and help you build trust with potential new patients so that they choose you.
Physicians must meet patients where they are and they’re online. Read on for where to start when it comes to online reputation and how to leverage it to help patients find, choose, and become advocates for your practice
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Five Tips for Building and Managing Your Healthcare Practice's Online Reputation
1. Claim Listings. Claim and ensure the accuracy and consistency of your Google My Business, Yelp, Healthgrades, Vitals, and Facebook. Link listings to a trusted email address that you check often. This ensures that you automatically stay up-to-date on any review activity on each platform.
2. Evaluate Your Online Reputation. How do you and your practice stack up online? Take the first step by Googling your practice’s name and the names of the physicians in your practice. And remember, no matter what reviews lay ahead, knowledge is power.
What’s being said about you online and how much? Put yourself in a patients’ shoes and ask yourself if there are enough reviews, if the engagement with the reviews demonstrates a level of care a patient would wish to receive, and if the positives outweigh the negatives. We’ll discuss how to get more reviews, as well as how to handle positive and negative reviews, but first, a word about the opportunity that reputation management presents.
Taking an open-eyed and active stance in your online reputation gives you access to what patients are saying about you online and that, friends, presents an incredible opportunity for your practice. Carefully read and gain insight from what you read in these reviews to improve upon and fine-tune the patient experience. By understanding the reasons for satisfaction and dissatisfaction and taking action accordingly, you’ll not only improve the patient experience but the reviews.
3. Ask for Reviews. While quality is more important than quantity, a lack of mentions and reviews can be just as bad as a negative review amidst a handful of positive reviews. So don’t be afraid to ask for reviews. Remember, your patients want to feel like their opinions matter.
When should you ask for reviews? We suggest asking immediately following an appointment when the experience is still fresh on the patient’s mind. Reviews collected in the office tend to be more positive, according to Medical Economics. Patients can use the downtime waiting post-appointment activities like lab work to write about their experience.
In addition to in-office review requests, we recommend sending satisfaction surveys to all patients after visits. Invite patients to share how their experience was on their own time. In your survey, provide a few questions that can be answered on a scale as well as 1-2 open ended questions. Questions should cover access, quality, and interpersonal issues. When reviewing surveys, respond personally to grievances as well as promoters. Ask promoters if they’d be willing to share their experience in an online review, if they haven’t already done so, and include a convenient link for them.
4. Respond to All Online Reviews. When responding to reviews, respond to both the positives and the negatives, keep a positive tone, always be mindful of HIPAA, and do not use PHI, even when the patient does.
Positive Reviews When you want more of something, you positively reinforce it and this practice certainly holds true for positive reviews. Take the time to thank patients who take time out of their day to share positive words about you and your practice. Thank them for their feedback and for trusting you with their care.
Negative Reviews Recognize damage to your reputation and understand what you can do to repair it when it occurs. You can roughly double a patient’s satisfaction simply by addressing their negative feedback (Medical Economics). Use platforms or alerts that notify you of any reviews, positive or negative, as soon as it is posted. This will allow you to improve the chances of recovering unhappy patients via quick response.
When responding to negative reviews, apologize for the problem, thank the reviewer for bringing it to your attention, explain why and how it happened, and commit to resolving it. If the conversation continues, use discretion and offer to take the conversation offline.
Responding to negative reviews may feel like an arduous task but it not only presents an opportunity to turn unhappy patients into loyal advocates. It’s also an opportunity to impress potential patients with your commitment to customer service. How you respond to unhappy patients will tell them a lot about you and your commitment to providing a positive patient experience.
A final word about negative reviews — don’t right off your career because of a few of them. As Physician’s Practice points out, those negative reviews can help build patients’ trust that all of the reviews, both positive and negative, are real and genuine.
5. Proactively Monitor Your Practice’s Reputation. Just as physicians work on CME’s throughout their career, so they should work on their online reputation management. Monitor how you’re doing, continue to solicit positive feedback, proactively thank those who provide it, address the concerns of those who don’t, and offset the negatives by building on positives.
Online Ratings Impact on Practice's Business and Bottom Line
Reputation management is now within the purview of practice management — online reviews can help you better understand and make operational improvements to the patient experience. And, in today’s experience-based economy and online society, those reviews (patients’ shared experiences) directly impact the success of your practice.
“Patient experience is the common thread that ties reputation management, patient engagement and value-based care together. The experience is the catalyst for driving patient retention, referrals and revenue for physician practices,” writes Physicians Practice. “After all, without satisfied patients, there is no business.” That’s a pretty compelling argument.
True, ongoing reputation management and monitoring is yet another thing to manage in the myriad of action items you must attend to with your practice. But its impact on your practice’s bottom line and very existence necessitate the time and financial investment.
If time and personnel limitations call for it, consider worthwhile outsourcing of your reputation management to healthcare reputation management specialists.