People rely on customer reviews to make purchasing decisions like never before. Online ratings help empowered shoppers decide on a restaurant, hire an electrician, or purchase a used car.
And now, consumers are using online reviews to help them choose a physician. “Just as they have sought ratings for other products and services, patients can turn to physician-centric sites such as Healthgrades, and Vitals to either praise or criticize their physicians online." say University of Michigan Medical Center researchers in a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2014.
Because patient reviews generally focus on subjective things such as wait times, the amount of time spent with the doctor, and a physician’s bedside manner, they don’t always paint a complete picture, says Kevin Pho, the founder and editor of KevinMD.com. In a recent editorial for USA Today, Pho noted, “Doing what's best for patients won't necessarily make them happy,” citing situations in which a doctor denies a patient antibiotics for a viral infection or says no to a routine MRI for back pain. Savvy consumers will recognize the limitations and strengths of online reviews and will look for tools that include other facets of a physician’s training and experience. But not everyone is this savvy.
Given this digital age of online ratings and the role it is playing in new patient acquisition and in some cases even retaining existing patients, it’s time to take a more active role in managing your online reputation. The following tips can help physicians identify problems, improve operations and even mend broken relationships with patients.
Be aware. The first step to take better control of your online reputation is determining your exposure. Google your name and your practice’s name to see which rating sites you are listed on. Set up Google Alerts to monitor when your practice is mentioned online. Claim your profile with the online rating sites so that notifications are sent to you whenever a new review is posted.
Be proactive. Don’t dismiss negative reviews. Online reviews aren’t going anywhere so your best bet is to get out in front of them. Thank all of your commenters for their feedback whether you believe the rating was fair or not. A little personal attention goes a long way toward healing hurt feelings. It may also be enough to get some patients to give you a second chance.
Stay away from specifics. Obviously, you can’t discuss treatments or offer advice to patients in response to an online review, but you can use the space to explain certain practices or protocols. Be friendly, but keep it general. Also, if you choose to respond to a review, never reveal personal information about the reviewer.
Deal with negative reviews offline. Although a bad (or unfair) review may feel like a punch in the gut, handle it the same way your mother told you to control your anger—count to ten before you respond. Ask the patient to call or come into the clinic to discuss the matter further. In appropriate situations, an apology goes a long way. A complaint handled calmly and personally can lead to the patient recanting the slam and replacing it with a narrative of your supportive actions.
Bury the bad reviews. Be diligent in asking your patients for online feedback. Then, when the inevitable negative review does surface, it will be placed in context of the multitude of positive reviews. An excessive amount of poor performance reviews may dissuade potential new patients from visiting your practice but they also might raise legal problems as it can influence a patient and/or an attorney’s next moves.
Use poor reviews as an opportunity. Don’t let the occasional criticism get you down. In fact, negative reviews can reveal patterns such as rude staff or parking problems. Use patient feedback to address any recurring issues in your business. If it’s one negative review, don’t panic. One negative review won’t necessarily ruin your online reputation, especially if the majority of your reviews are positive. In fact, a negative review might actually lend the rest of the reviews more credibility and give you a chance to show off your customer service skills.
Use of online ratings is only going to grow in popularity. While patient praise can help boost a physician’s reputation, negative reviews may fracture an otherwise healthy medical practice. Ignoring bad reviews, whether fair or not, won’t make them go away. Fortunately, with a little attention and forethought, even the worst reviews—and reviewers—can often be turned around. Just remember to respond accordingly.