Last week, I participated in a panel discussion at the Annual Meeting of The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) about online reputation management for physicians. Online reviews are changing how consumers select their physicians and, in turn, how physicians interact with their patients. The importance of this type of relationship is new in the healthcare industry, so I wasn’t surprised when one attendee asked a very interesting, but challenging question: How can physicians balance their focus on clinical outcomes and online reviews?
Attendees posed other important questions about how patients use reviews to make care decisions and the time it takes to cultivate a positive reputation online. Where does data about me come from? What should be done about negative reviews? How many reviews does it take to affect patient decisions? Should physicians ask patients for reviews?
Each of the physician attendees went through nearly a decade of school and residency, and wading into the world of online reviews can seem daunting, no matter how long they’ve been practicing. But it doesn’t have to be. There’s huge value in cultivating a positive reputation online. While it’s obvious that consumers use them to select providers, reviews can also offer physicians valuable insights about their patients.
Online reviews are here to stay, and they can help physicians.
Some of the data I shared in the discussion came directly from observing web behavior outside of Healthgrades.com. For example, there are 175 million health-related searches on Google every day1, and searches for terms like “Dr. <name>” or “<specialist> in my area” are going up 500-800 percent per year.2 Maybe more importantly, 72 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as recommendations from friends or family, and 84 percent check patient reviews before choosing a doctor.3
Other panelists shared how they’ve leveraged patient reviews. One said he embraced online reputation management as a way to grow his practice and attract new patients. Another described how she helped lead an initiative at the University of Utah Medical Center to publish patient reviews on the hospital website, which helped boost physician reputations online and enhance SEO.
There’s one unanimous agreement about online reviews; they’re not going away. Other marketplaces are training consumers to leverage this type of information, and in the healthcare industry, it will only gain in popularity. Online reviews will continue to impact patient decisions, which means they will also continue to affect how physicians work.
We can learn what patients care about by analyzing their feedback.
While clinicians rightly place high value on patient outcomes, data has shown that patients also evaluate their care experiences by assessing many other factors. Based on our patient experience data at Healthgrades, we know these factors range from the provider’s attention and caring to staff friendliness and wait times. Understanding this up front can help providers manage patients’ expectations for their care, which in turn can drive up satisfaction.
Physicians can gain valuable insight from their own online reviews, pinpointing what works for their patients and what doesn’t. They can then use this insight as a mechanism to make improvements if needed.
It doesn’t have to distract from providing quality care.
The way physicians and patients are interacting has changed and will continue to evolve, but isn’t the underlying motivation the same? Patients have always wanted to learn as much as they could about a physician before scheduling an appointment. Physicians have always wanted to know what their patients are feeling and thinking. Patient experience surveys afford the desired opportunity to both parties.
What’s different is how that information is shared and accessed. Online reputation management is a way of hearing from patients, finding opportunities for improvements and reaching new patients. So, if you’re a physician, what can you control about your online reputation, what can you influence, and what does that mean for patients?
Attendees and fellow panelists shared these best practices:
Make sure information is right across the web: The best source about you is you, so make sure information about you on different websites is correct.
Actively collect feedback: Encourage unsatisfied patients to talk directly to you and happy ones to review you online.
Respond to reviews: It’s important to take a deep breath beforehand, but responding to reviews can go a long way in explaining misunderstandings and allaying dissatisfaction. Be appreciative, keep HIPPA in mind, and encourage offline conversations. Even good reviews should have responses conveying gratitude. Data shows this does affect patient decisions.
Address questions up front: The better the communication between a physician and patient in an office, the less likely there will be misunderstandings later.
Share content: Sharing content on the web is a great way for physicians to provide accurate information and differentiate themselves, giving patients needed info.
Gag contracts or suing patients won’t help: This was tried by a few early in the age of online reviews, and no one benefited. Engaging with patients is the best answer.
When physicians engage with their patients online, they can collect more feedback, gain more insights and grow their practices.
Even a negative review can improve a reputation.
That’s right. Healthgrades data shows that negative reviews give positive reviews credibility. What would you trust more: a long list of nearly-identical five-star reviews, or a list of mostly-positive reviews offering different insights and opinions? And when you respond to those negative reviews, you give more context to potential patients about what they can expect from you.
Our data also shows that even one review can affect a patient’s decision. According to a Google study, 77 percent of health seekers used search prior to booking and online appointment.4 Physicians with online patient reviews receive a 1.6 times increase in calls to appoints and 2.8 times more engagement on their profiles.5
Clinical outcomes and patient satisfaction are both important in healthcare, and physicians don’t have to pick one or the other to focus on. It can be a little daunting to start engaging online, but physicians and patients both stand to gain from it.
To access a recent Healthgrades and MGMA analysis of 7 million patient reviews, revealing what people say about their physicians, click here.
To learn how online appointment scheduling can streamline work for office staff and improve patient satisfaction, click here.
To learn ways physicians can curb wait times for their patients, click here.