How Google Ratings Impact Patient Conversions

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More and more patients are turning to online reviews when choosing a physician. Find out how healthcare practices can use this to their advantage.

In 2018, the U.S. healthcare market became a $3.65 trillion industry. Estimates predict that healthcare spending will continue to rise year over year through 2027, by which point it will make up nearly 20 percent of the nation’s GDP.

This is due in large part to an increase in healthcare costs, rather than an uptick in healthcare services being provided. Considering many Americans haven’t seen wage increases in some time, the rising cost of healthcare means that patients are being more deliberate with how they choose to spend their money, opting for care and services that deliver quality and personalized attention at fair prices. This phenomenon has been referred to as the experience economy, and is related to the current shift toward more patient-centered models of care.

The challenge for today’s healthcare providers is twofold — how do they continue providing quality care for patients while also maintaining a profitable bottom line? Fortunately, by directing their time and energy toward reputation management, patient engagement, and value-based care, healthcare providers and clinics can tackle both of these elements at once. 

Creating and Maintaining a Good Reputation

Building a reputation requires some word of mouth advertising. In our digital and tech-centric era, this means maintaining an active and engaged online presence. 

A 2018 report demonstrates the necessity of reputation management. Of those surveyed, 95 percent said online reviews were “somewhat” to “very” reliable — and within this group, every respondent in the 18-24 age range said they found online reviews reliable. Another key finding in the survey is that 70 percent of respondents said that online reviews were a factor when choosing a physician. 

Another study on consumer practices related to local businesses found that 57 percent of customers only patronize businesses with four or more stars in online reviews, and that 89 percent of customers pay attention to how businesses respond to those reviews. This points toward the incredible importance of online reputation management as healthcare spending continues to rise.

In order for clients to have a preference for a particular doctor, they have to see a difference. For that reason, it behooves healthcare providers — and, given the massive mergers happening in the healthcare field, especially smaller practices — to both stay abreast of online reviews and try to keep their ratings high. Taking advantage of everything that Google My Business offers is another way to make sure a business ranks well in search results.

Ultimately, what this strategy boils down to is being responsive to patient feedback. Using surveys to collect customer feedback and seeking to address issues brought up in negative reviews are two strategies that healthcare providers can incorporate into their practices in order to deliver exemplary care. Ignoring negative feedback actually undoes the consistency of a patient-first model of care. Instead, healthcare practices should look at negative reviews as opportunities for learning and potential customer engagement.

The Magic Ingredient

Reputation is closely tied to another resource that’s essential for success but even harder to come by: trust. Gaining it is a process that takes work and attention — but it’s only half the battle. Once you have a patient’s trust, it’s vital that you maintain and cultivate that relationship. The more a patient sees that you’re willing to be attentive to their needs and experiences, the more likely they are to openly discuss their health concerns.

Though it may seem counterintuitive, negative reviews can actually be a blessing in disguise. Too many positive reviews can feel planted or staged to potential clients, and one study found that a four-star review can actually do more for sales than a swathe of five-star ones.

Negative reviews both emphasize that healthcare professionals are real people — we all have bad days — and also give them an opportunity to engage with their client base. There are a number of different ways that providers and clinics can engage with bad reviews that seek to address the patient’s experience while simultaneously affirming providers’ commitment to ensuring that each individual receives the care and attention they need. 

Reimagining the Doctor-Patient Relationship

The healthcare industry in the U.S. is a fee-for-service payment model, which means that when a doctor provides a service, the patient (and whatever insurance providers they may have) is responsible for paying for that service. However, this can leave a patient with little or no recourse if they feel they’ve been over- or wrongfully charged.

One alternative to fee-for-service that has been attracting interest is the value-based payment model, which aims to hold healthcare providers more accountable to patients and payers by using holistic incentives that link payment to performance measures. While this model has yet to find solid footing in the marketplace, the fact that it’s getting more and more attention underscores the ongoing industry-wide shift toward patient-centric care.

With 48 percent of patients reporting that “a friendly and caring attitude” is the most important factor in evaluating their care — above even “thoroughness of the examination” (45 percent) — it’s clear that doctors need to pay close attention to their patients’ needs. A further 47 percent of patients surveyed said that the ability to answer all their questions was factored into their choice of healthcare provider.

These trends are pointing toward one thing: the fact that patient experience is key. Patients want care that is personalized and valuable, and they’re willing to take their business to the medical practices that provide it. The bottom line is that a happy patient is likely to become a repeat customer, as well as share their positive experiences with family, friends, and online followers.

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