Mayo Clinic: Patients Rank Non-Physician Factors Higher than Care in Medical Practice Reviews

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Online medical practice reviews are increasingly important for physicians hoping to attract internet-savvy patients. But a new study shows that what happens outside the exam room is just as important as the care a patient receives.

As patient centricity becomes less of a healthcare buzzword and more of a daily reality, consumers are flexing their collective influence by taking to online reviews in order to rate their experiences with physicians. With more than half of millennials combing online testimonials before choosing a doctor, it’s clear that medical practices need to understand how patients interact with receptionists, nurses, and physicians at every level — and what that means for the reviews they’ll eventually leave.

A new study from the Mayo Clinic finds that many negative reviews left for medical practices had little to do with a doctor’s abilities or a patient’s satisfaction with the care they received. On the contrary, negative reviews often reflected structural shortcomings beyond a physician’s immediate control — that is, interactions with the front desk, difficulties booking appointments, or issues with billing.

While industry stakeholders are welcome to debate the fairness of such criteria, medical practices that want to provide a positive healthcare experience for patients — and that hope to receive the complimentary reviews that follow — need to develop strategies that prioritize transparency, ease of use, and effective communication.

What Goes into a Patient’s Online Review?

In order to analyze the relationship between online reviews and quality of care, the Mayo Clinic study identified 113 physicians who received negative reviews within a four-month period and compared them with a similar grouping of 113 physicians without negative reviews. Researchers studied the disconnect between these 226 doctors’ Press Ganey patient satisfaction survey scores — an industry-vetted method for evaluating how happy patients were with physicians themselves, among other factors — and related online comments.

Surprisingly, the 113 physicians who had received negative reviews were no more or less likely to have subpar Press Ganey scores than the 113 physicians who had not received negative reviews — at least when it came to evaluations of a physician’s quality of care. However, when researchers considered aspects of the Press Ganey survey related to other factors, such as waiting time, conflict resolution, or even parking, they found a direct relationship with negative online comments.

These results led researchers to the conclusion that patients who leave negative online reviews are more often commenting on structural issues they experienced with a medical practice than on unsatisfactory care from physicians. While patients should certainly be aware of this disconnect so they don’t overlook practices that could otherwise provide them with the support they need, the burden of managing an online reputation falls to medical practices themselves.

How Can Practices Manage their Online Reputation Effectively?

Ultimately, the Mayo Clinic study shows that medical practices who ignore the growing trend toward patient centricity do so at their own peril. Even if a practice delivers stellar care that resolves patient needs, it’s still possible to receive negative reviews if consumers have difficult interactions with staff or consistent problems with billing.

For medical practices that have been putting off a comprehensive audit of their existing infrastructure, the time to do so is now — not later. If patients consistently complain about issues booking appointments, either over the phone or online, update your scheduling system and inform patients during their visits. Likewise, consider what you can do to make your website easily navigable, mobile friendly, and informative.

While it may seem unorthodox that non-medical updates are the key to giving your online reputation a facelift, it’s a reflection of an emerging 21st century healthcare landscape that will put digital strategy — and digital marketing — at the forefront of medical practice success.

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