Remember when patient communication was marked by endless games of phone tag? Before automated technology and the proliferation of the internet, this volley of voicemails may have been frustrating for patients, but there was no urgency to improve the patient experience—a patient leaving to find another doctor was highly unlikely, and posting a negative review of your practice online didn’t yet exist.
Those days, of course, are long gone. Now, each point of interaction with a patient is a valued aspect of customer service, and patients have more information and greater expectations than ever before. The patient experience now begins even before a phone call or a visit—it starts with a simple online search.
When patients search online for care
Take a few minutes to play the role of a patient searching online. Enter search terms for information on a specific type of care (like an aesthetics service) or condition (like dermatitis), from a doctor in your area. This is how patients search when looking for a healthcare provider. After your search, answer these questions:
● How easy (or difficult) was it to find what you’re looking for?
● After you found the information, could you easily make an appointment online?
● Did any local practice look insufficient in search results because they lacked reviews, photos, or other online elements we expect to see from any business?
● Did you come across any negative patient reviews that lacked an answer from the practice?
This is how today’s patient experience begins—and where it ends if healthcare providers don’t have the technology and systems in place to effectively manage their online presence.
We already know that most people look online to find out about a healthcare provider or care-related topic (a PatientPop patient survey report says more than half of patients do so with regularity). Now, the industry is seeing that a provider or practice’s reputation plays a dominant role in that process, with 70 percent of patients in that same report saying a positive reputation is very or extremely important.
Yet, many doctors don’t have a grasp on how to make that work for them. A recently released PatientPop provider survey report found that 47.6 percent of providers weren't sure how they could positively impact their reputation, and just over three out of four—76.1 percent—were concerned about patients expressing negative feedback.
In this digital era, asking for and responding to feedback, particularly negative feedback, has become a top priority, fueling positive patient reviews and providing a peek into opportunities for improvement at your practice.
That online connection to current and prospective patients doesn’t stop with online reviews. Medical practices also need to have an active social media presence, optimize their websites and publish regular content and implement technologies that meet patient demands, such as online scheduling and automated appointment reminders.
Improving patient communication
More than half—52.2 percent—of practices are spending over 10 hours a week on basic administrative tasks connected to patient communication. More than one-third of those practices are spending over 30 hours a week, and that’s just scheduling and confirming appointments, and returning patients’ phone calls and emails.
Thanks to digital tools, much of this administrative work can be done efficiently, at scale, to reduce the time a practice staff must dedicate to these tasks. Practices should look to all-in-one solutions in the healthcare tech category of “practice growth” to alleviate non-clinical administrative burden, improve patient communication, and foster a strong, growing business. These growth-oriented solutions drive efficiencies by automating tasks such as sending appointment reminders and satisfaction surveys to patients, while also monitoring your online reputation.
Responding to patient feedback
The right technology can quickly notify a practice or provider of negative patient feedback, so the practice can quickly address the situation, and turn a potentially problematic issue into a positive experience: When a patient’s negative feedback is addressed by the practice, the rate of patient satisfaction roughly doubles, increasing 99 percent.
Why don’t more providers respond to online negative reviews if doing so has the potential to improve their reputation? Many believe their response won’t make a difference, which we know from the study cited above, is not true. Others fear that their response may violate HIPAA. However, if doctors and staff respond with a set process in mind, the online exchange can be useful and caring while still being HIPAA compliant.
First, of course, never ever include any Protected Health Information. No date, no time, no age, no gender. Remember, even if a patient mentions a condition or course of care within their feedback, you may not.
Second, keep it concise. Thank the patient for taking the time to leave feedback. Let them know it’s always helpful to understand the patient’s experience at your practice. Be sincere in saying you’d like to address and remedy the situation they describe and invite them for a direct conversation offline, so you may discuss the issue or complaint in detail.
Finally, be prompt. Responding within one to two days shows a level of concern and professionalism to the patient, and to any prospective patients in your community who are checking reviews and feedback. If you leave patient feedback waiting, you can hinder your practice’s efforts to acquire new patients and retain existing ones.
With the expansive growth of walk-in clinics, urgent care centers, and telehealth use, patients have many options if they aren’t satisfied with one practice. In fact, more than one-third (38 percent) of patients have switched service providers at least twice in the past year. In this era of the consumerization of healthcare, patients will search until they find a practice that meets—or hopefully exceeds—their expectations.
Practices are realizing and responding to patient demand and access, with roughly 60 percent having devoted resources just to online reputation management in 2018. The investment in time, money, or both, is a small price to pay in comparison to what can happen if the patient experience is left unaddressed.
Joel Headley is the director of local search and marketing for PatientPop.