What Doctors Should Know About Online Reputation Management in 2017

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Patient reviews are playing a larger role in the path to treatment than ever before — here are a few things that every physician needs to know about online reputation management.

Every physician knows that reputation has always played a huge role in their ability to attract new patients to their medical practice. But as the internet has ushered in the age empowered patients, comparison healthcare shopping, and active social media use, peer reviews are playing a larger role in the path to treatment than ever before.

A 2016 survey conducted by SoftwareAdvice found that 84% of patients who responded use online reviews when evaluating physicians. What’s more, 47% of respondents said they would opt for an out-of-network physician with comparable qualifications to an in-network provider if the former had more favorable reviews.

As the importance of these reviews continues to increase, physicians need to be proactive about managing their reputations online. This requires a nuanced understanding of how, when, and where patients are using these reviews. Here are a few key takeaways from the study.

When and How Do Patients Use Reviews?

While the results of the study did indicate that online reviews play a role in patient retention, they’re primarily utilized as a first step during the path to treatment. 77% of respondents said they used such sites before selecting a doctor.

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Quality of care is the most important review metric consumers take into account when deciding between providers (28%), with ratings (26%), patient experience (26%), and doctor background (21%) following closely behind.

On the administrative side, friendliness of staff was most important (32%), followed by ease of scheduling (22%), billing/payment issues (18%), and wait times (16%).

The first and most obvious solution to reputation management is to take the necessary steps in all of the above areas to avoid negative feedback in the first place. Investing in things like front-of-office staff training, a quality website, practice management software, IVR optimization, and cloud-computing solutions can help alleviate some of the most common problems patients cite in online reviews.

Be Proactive About Responding — But Keep it Compliant

By keeping active tabs on reviews across all of the major platforms out there (e.g., HealthGrades, Yelp, RateMDs, Vitals, etc.), doctors can quickly address any negative feedback that comes through, thereby mitigating its potentially negative effects. In some cases, responding to a negative review directly can actually turn it into a net positive — 60% of survey respondents said it was important for doctors to respond to a bad review.

Just make sure you do so in a HIPAA-compliant manner. That means you cannot speak directly about a specific aspect of their treatment or care, or otherwise present any personal patient information (diagnosis, complications, expected outcomes, etc). Importantly, even if the reviewer presents this information themselves, do not repeat it or expand upon it.

Here are a few ways you can manage negative press without breaking any rules in the process:

  • Respond privately: if the person has identified him or herself, reach out directly and respond outside the spotlight. Apologize that they had a negative experience, tell them how you plan to address the problem, and above all, be sympathetic. When done properly, a personal apology can turn a harsh critic into a brand advocate.
  • Strength in numbers: if you have lots of positive reviews, sometimes it’s better not to respond to the occasional negative one. There’s a good chance that your loyal patient base will step in and support you, which is always going to be more effective than if you do it yourself.
  • Keep your head: if you do decide to respond to a negative review, make sure you’ve given yourself ample time to cool down so you can respond in a calm, collected manner. The impulse to fire back with a defensive or accusatory remark will be strong, but this type of response will likely do more damage to your reputation than good.

At the end of the day, reputation management doesn’t necessarily have to be this overwhelming and harrowing endeavour. It’s entirely possible to transform the online review phenomenon from a barrier to success into a legitimate competitive advantage — all it takes is a little bit of proactivity.

Medical Practice Marketing, Digital Marketing, Physician Marketing