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Online reviews are becoming more important to patients in choosing their care: How to manage your online reputation in health care

Article

Keep patients healthier, happier, and coming back for life.

Cynthia Sener, MBA - Chatmeter

Cynthia Sener, MBA
Chatmeter

Before deciding on a physician, clinic, dentist, or another health care provider, most people scour local search results for medical providers and read reviews. In fact, about 94% of patients today use online reviews to evaluate providers, clearly indicating the massive role reviews play in shaping the reputation — and continued success — of any health care organization.

While online reviews are critical in any industry, patient expectations are simply different when it comes to health care. Whether looking for a new provider for themselves or a loved one, lives may literally be on the line. Even for routine exams or elective procedures, patients seek the peace-of-mind in knowing that their bodies and overall health are in trusted, professional hands.

Yes! Online reviews really matter:

  • 77% of patients use online reviews as their first step in finding a new doctor.
  • 84% wouldn’t go to a referred physician if rated with four stars or less.
  • It takes 1–6 reviews for potential patients to form an opinion about a practice.

How online reviews increase patient trust and acquisition

Health care organizations that haven’t optimized their digital presence aren’t just making it difficult for patients to find the right health care provider — they’re damaging their potential for growth and acquisition.

Trust means everything, especially when it comes to medical care. From an empathetic bedside manner to in-depth expertise in a particular specialty, patients want to feel confident in their provider of choice. Today, that confidence usually begins to grow via online search and review platforms like Google, HealthGrades, and ZocDoc. It’s here on these platforms that 77% of patients look for new health care services or providers!

That said, a staggering 65% of physicians have zero online reviews. This is a significant missed opportunity to instill trust and attract patients. Everyone wants the best care available, so people will naturally prefer well-reviewed physicians, doctors, or other health care providers. Great reviews are simply some of the best publicity that you don’t have to buy.

Reviews increase your search rankings and star ratings

Always respond to online reviews.

In an industry where people deeply desire empathic and genuine human-to-human communication, responding to reviews adds enormous levels of brand trust. For 5-star reviews, a quick reply solidifies that positive sentiment and bolsters the patient-provider relationship. For negative reviews, it can repair a damaged relationship. A full 79% of people will leave a positive online review if a business turns an initially negative experience into a positive one.

Reviews increase your online visibility

While highly influential, demonstrating your clinic’s incredible reputation for care, compassion, and expertise isn’t the only perk of online reviews. They are also a significant part of your organization’s online ranking factor, or how far atop the search engine results pages (SERPs) your listings will land.

For Google Search, it’s estimated that around 13% of a search ranking is tied to online reviews. Considering 92% of people never go past search page one, your clinics and physicians must land near the top of the SERP to even be in the running for most prospective patients.

Tips for managing your health care organization's online reputation

1. Listen to reviews and social media

  • Get insight into each location by monitoring reviews.
  • React quickly to both patient complaints and positive feedback.
  • Monitor mentions, hashtags, comments, photos, and videos on social media.

2. Respond

  • Create a plan and find your voice.
  • Before addressing patient feedback, create a plan for how to respond to all comments, conversations, and reviews appropriately.
  • Define a voice that’s in line with your health care organization’s personality and tone.
  • Always remain empathetic and authentic. Authenticity goes a long way when building a loyal patient base.
  • Stay within HIPAA guidelines. Never publicly reveal personal and confidential patient information. If more needs to be addressed, take it privately offline.

3. Repeat

  • Implement a routine.
  • Monitor and respond to reviews daily.
  • Delegate tasks to your team.
  • Regularly monitor and track analytics.
  • Identify areas for improvement.

Online search drives 3x more patients to hospitals vs. offline discovery methods.

Best practices for review response: positive reviews

Positive online reviews show you who your champions are. As promoters, it’s important to thank enthusiastic patients and treat positive reviews as an opportunity to create a lifelong relationship. Hospitals providing incredible patient experiences can expect 50% higher margins.

Write their name.

When you want to create a personal connection, always start by saying someone’s name. It shows you care about who your patients are enough to engage with them as individuals.

Express your gratitude.

There are a lot of ways to express gratitude. People want to feel heard, especially when they share a detailed review. Instead of limiting your reply to a thank you, dive into the details. It’s also a great way to incorporate any keywords you want to use for search engine optimization (SEO) purposes.

Encourage loyalty and referrals.

They loved their experience. Now encourage them to become lifelong patients. Whether you tempt them with a new product or simply let the patient know you can’t wait to see them again, give them a reason to come back and share their positive experiences with friends and family.

Thank them again and sign off thoughtfully.

Close the response with a thank you to drive the key message home. Express how grateful you are for their loyalty and their willingness to advocate for your organization. Sign off with a warm, positive sentiment and your name to add transparency and a personal touch.

Best practices for review response: negative reviews

Although it can be frustrating to receive negative reviews, they can be a valuable learning tool and an opportunity to rebuild a connection. Responding to negative reviews highlights your commitment to patient care and satisfaction. It also shows that you care about a person's experience.

Respond quickly.

No one likes a one-sided conversation. When a patient takes the time to write a review, show you’re actively listening. If a clinic doesn’t respond fast, or at all, patients assume you don’t care about their patronage.

Be authentic.

Patients want to know there’s an authentic human behind your brand and response — not a robot. Avoid marketing speak, industry jargon, and lengthy explanations. Make your response conversational, humble, and honest.

Keep it polite.

Always take the high road. Even if a patient posts a low blow, keep your response polite, civil, and aimed at the problem at hand: the patient’s dissatisfaction.

Be empathetic.

Empathize with the patient’s complaints. Saying “I’m sorry” or “I understand” can go a long way in making someone feel like their opinion is valid and valued.

Think of future patients.

If a potential patient were to read a bad online review, what concerns could they have — and more importantly — what is your organization doing to prevent that issue from happening again? This can significantly ease the worries of hesitant future patients.

Take it offline.

When responding to a negative review, especially a particularly harsh or sensitive one, always offer a way for the patients to reach you offline. This offers a safer place to connect one-on-one, make it right, and prove that you truly care about their experience.

Reputation management for today’s health care brands is a must

Ultimately, reading more positive online reviews about an organization can quell a patient’s medical-related anxieties and provide confidence that their final choice is right for their health and their family. On the flip side, negative reviews can push them toward a competitor with better ratings and happier patients. That’s why it’s vital for health care brands and their associated providers to drive, manage, and decipher their reviews with strategic intention.

A well-optimized reputation management strategy must be a top priority for your health care brand. Like it or not, it’s become an industry must-have. Your competitors are funneling increased resources into their online review and reputation management process. The longer you wait, the farther you’ll have to catch up.

Cynthia Sener, MBA, is President, Go-to-Market, of Chatmeter, the only reputation management and brand intelligence company to combine AI-powered deep listening with real-time CX agility. In 2023, Chatmeter released a new consumer survey report that highlights the impact of online reviews. The report looked at consumer behavior and perceptions across four vertical industries: retail, restaurant, health care, and financial services.

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