Not too long ago, potential patients relied on word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and relatives when selecting a physician, home healthcare agency, medical spa, hospital, and other healthcare providers.
Are medical professionals knowledgeable? Do they show compassion for patients? Is the staff courteous? All valid concerns.
It was and remains an effective way to make these important decisions. Today, however, decisions can be made with a click of a mouse to read reviews or find information about a physician or medical facility. A DUI, a malpractice law suit, or simply a bad review from an angry patient can destroy a practice. It seems as though the same criteria used for selecting a restaurant or a shoe store is being used to choose healthcare providers. And while there are similarities, there are certainly differences, as per this opinion from the American Medical Association:
“Online opinions of physicians should be taken with a grain of salt, and should certainly not be a patient’s sole source of information when looking for a new physician,” the American Medical Association said in a statement. “Choosing a physician is more complicated than choosing a good restaurant, and patients owe it to themselves to use the best available resources when making this important decision.”
Nevertheless, physicians must take their online reputations seriously and acknowledge that this method of selection is critical to managing a healthy, growing practice.
This is reflected by a recent survey by Software Advice, a company that provides advisory services, research, and user reviews on software applications for medical practices. Some of the findings include:
1. A healthy online presence is crucial for your medical practice, as this year’s findings showed that 94 percent of patients who responded to our survey use online reviews to evaluate physicians.
2. Almost three quarters (72 percent) of patients use online reviews as the very first step to finding a new doctor.
3. A positive review history could bring out-of-network patients to your practice, as nearly half (48 percent) of respondents would go out of their insurance network for a provider with favorable reviews.
4. Seventy percent of respondents feel it’s “very” or “moderately important” for providers to respond publicly to online reviews, so addressing complaints head-on (without violating HIPAA laws) is a smart strategy.
Another study indicates that practices and related facilities can experience a one-third drop in appointments following bad reviews on Yelp and other platforms. Keep in mind that a negative review doesn’t necessarily have to be true to be posted. And it could be the result of something not even related to levels of care such as a crowded parking lot, a busy receptionist, or simply a harried nurse rushing through an appointment.
There are steps and precautions to take in the event reviews or press reflects -- rightfully or wrongly—on reputations. Here are tips that can help and form the basis for conversations with your digital marketing consultants and restore trust in the digital space:
· Create a process that will encourage patients to submit good reviews which will push negative reviews further down on Yelp and other similar pages.
· Push negative reviews off the first page by distributing quality content through blogs, press releases, and videos.
· Social Media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, etc. carry a lot of weight with Google. These sites will almost instantly rank on page 1 of Google when you search your business name. So be sure to claim all your social media handles and post content on these sites.
· Become a “Guest Blogger” and submit content to other blog sites that will appear when potential patients conduct searches.
· Consider building a personal website for the physician and related medical professionals since searches and reviews frequently are based on the individual’s name. This can be instead of or in addition to a practice website.
· Respond privately to reviewers, seeking their advice as to how the situation can improve. This fosters goodwill and can result in positive online responses.
· Keep in mind there is strength in numbers. Encouraging patients to give positive reviews and posting informative blogs on issues related to healthcare can eventually overcome the damages of negative online comments. It is time-consuming, but is the way to go.
There are certain things you shouldn’t do. For example:
1. Providers should NEVER respond directly to reviewers on public sites since it is a clear violation of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA). It violates patient/provider privacy. By doing so, the provider is telling the online audience that this individual is a patient. As discussed above, it is best to contact the patient privately.
2. It is, however, important to respond in a way that doesn’t divulge that the individual is a patient. For example, posting ongoing information about quality of care, innovative treatments, etc., can convey the right message about a practice.
3. Don’t sue the site hosting the review (Yelp) since it will sometimes divulge that this provider is taking legal action, thereby potentially leading to further negative reviews. There have been instances when these sites have posted messages that a physician is using social media to abuse the legal system.
4. Keep your cool. Don’t respond in ways that are illegal (HIPAA) or can further damage online reputations. Don’t go on a rant or personally criticize the unhappy patient.
Most important is to recognize that these reviews or bad press never go away. They will be available online forever. They can be minimized with these strategies that should be done along with regular self-evaluations that can improve the culture of the practice.
The key is to play offense, not defense. Don’t wait until something negative happens to act. Start creating and posting content right away.
Todd Paton is President/Founder of Paton Marketing (www.patonmarketing.com), a digital marketing firm based in Pompano Beach, Florida. The company specializes reputation management, SEO, website/app development, and social media campaigns.