People are talking about you. Not just you, but anyone who offers a product or a service. It’s always been the case that humans seek information and validation about, well, everything, from people they trust. Social proof is an incredibly powerful force. That’s great when the social proof is positive. What about when it’s negative? And, with something as sensitive and emotional as medical care, how should healthcare providers think about online reviews?
A 2014 survey found that 42% of patients reported reading reviews about a physician (18% rarely, 13% sometimes, and 11% often). That number may seem small, but it was a dramatic increase over the combined 25% from the same survey the year before. Then, in late 2016, a brief study found that 60% of patients consider online reviews to be a valuable resource in choosing providers. As more, younger patients who grew up buying through Amazon establish with providers, taking a look at a practice’s information will certainly continue to become more common. Of the people looking at online reviews, 80% use them to read up on a new physician prior to scheduling with them, according to the 2014 survey. The remaining ~20% use review sites to check up on their existing doctor. Not surprisingly, then, it is extremely important to have the best possible face to present online in order to attract new patients. Of course, this is dependent on the people leaving the reviews (the majority of physicians have only 0-1 reviews online), so how can you put your best digital foot forward and improve your practice’s chances of getting all five stars?
Medical practice websites are getting better but still tend to be clunky and standardized. In part this is because they are built to simply be a barely good enough interface with the patient portal, which some consider to be the only real purpose of having a website. Or, because a practice with an individual website may be part of a larger umbrella organization that uses an old template. Or because building a high end website is too daunting and seems unnecessary. However, your website is now your first impression. Give people something attractive to look at and you’ll prime them to feel good about your practice. For an example of this, search around the web for the websites of high-end plastics practices. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a high-end plastics practice to have a nice-looking website with the technology available today.
Regardless of how it looks, you should always use patient testimonials in a prominent location on your site. Highlight their stories and quotes “above the fold” so visitors see positive feedback first thing. Of course, ensure you have consent to use those quotes and anonymize when needed. Check with your favorite lawyer for the details.
Set up a system to capture patient feedback on the spot. Very few people will go home and fill out a survey of any kind unless they feel very strongly one way or the other. You’ll probably choose to highlight the 5-star reviews, but that doesn’t mean you don’t want to receive feedback from the 3-star opinions. To do this, ask patients to write one sentence about their expectations or past experience with your practice while they’re waiting prior to their appointment. Then, at checkout, ask for a verbal or written recap and a rating. Regardless of the feedback at that point, suggest they leave a review online when they get home. Again, most won’t but they might be more inclined to do so since you asked their opinion. This is just one suggestion. Be creative in thinking about how you can collect reviews for both internal and public consumption. However, the one thing you must always do is…
Do not – EVER – “buy” reviews. Of course not, you say. But calling in favors from family and friends who haven’t been in to your practice (or who give extra-rosy reviews of real experiences to be nice) isn’t far off. Yes, it’s miserable knowing that that crotchety patient who you’ve done everything to help is leaving angry comments on doctor rating sites across the web, but recruiting an army to swamp out the one star isn’t going to build your credibility. Instead…
Always respond, especially to bad reviews. Yelp and Healthgrades, the two most popular sites according to that 2014 survey, allow physicians to respond to their reviews. However, doing some random searching shows that almost no one is taking advantage of that feature. Of course you must be careful about patient confidentiality when responding online. Additionally, it’s human nature to want to overreact to a negative comment. To counteract all of this, create an SOP for answering customer reviews. Set aside a few minutes a week to check the most popular sites – of course you can’t be exhaustive – and have some template material to start from. Don’t just post stock responses, but it certainly helps to have a general outline. You’ll save time while also avoiding the temptation to write something you’ll later regret to that miserable patient who wouldn’t be happy if you saved his life on live TV. For ideas on how to respond with a unique voice that will set your practice apart, spend some time reading up on examples of customer service and online reviews in other businesses. Certainly you’ll have to be more buttoned down than, say, a retailer or fast food chain, but you can always find ideas to adapt to fit your practice’s personality.
It’s important to be where your customers are. Using social media is a whole separate conversation, but for now we’ll simply say that it’s worth considering. Fortunately, there are automation tools that can take a lot of the burden out of interacting with the community. You can set up searches based on keyword and location, so that people talking about the services you provide are flagged. If someone mentions you directly, you can respond accordingly. The key is to interact with your patients and potential patients, not as a business looking to sell them something, but as partners in health. It doesn’t take much to get people talking, so just being present and authentic goes a long way.
Also, another word of warning: there are services that offer you “5000 likes for $200” or something along those lines. Stay away. Like fake reviews, these are click farms where people use fake account and “like” or follow your page for a few cents per click. It’s sleazy, and Facebook and Twitter work to shut that behavior down.
Whether it’s in the waiting room or through a Facebook video, find little ways to give your patients something extra. Maybe it’s a goofy music video at Christmas thanking them for being part of your practice. Maybe it’s a five minute conversation with one of your providers talking about an emerging health trend that you post online. Maybe it’s bringing Santa Claus into the office to take pictures with kids while they wait (why are we so hung up on Christmas all of a sudden?). Again, be creative and find something that matches your practice’s personality. People will notice and appreciate the effort, and all of that feeds into what they say about you publicly.
Finally, take your patient reviews to heart. Find ways to improve based on the feedback you receive. It’s so easy for all of us to respond to negativity with “you don’t understand” or “we’re doing the best we can.” We all need to be reminded occasionally to step back, look at criticism honestly, and see where we can improve.
Do you have a story about an extreme patient review, or a creative way your practice has responded to one? Let us know in the comments!