A patient walks into a doctor’s office . . . While that may sound like the beginning of a comedy routine, it’s actually when patient first impressions are created. Patients expect a great experience overall so the front desk, the nursing staff, the doctor, the facility, the billing department, even the parking lot – all contribute to a patient’s perspective of a practice. But why does that matter?
More and more, patients are sharing their first impressions through online reviews. With a few words and the choice of a number or star, those thoughts are multiplied and spread exponentially on the internet. Whether right or wrong, human nature is persuaded by others, even if there is no supporting evidence.
Online patient reviews are growing in popularity and impact. Not only are more patients going online to post about their experiences, but they are also using online feedback to inform their decisions about who will win their healthcare business.
In a 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, two-thirds of Americans surveyed knew health reviews were available to them online. About 25% of them used these sites for research. Of those who used the sites, 35% chose a doctor because of a rating. The reverse was also true as 37% didn’t choose a doctor because of a bad rating. And in some situations, patients will even choose an out-of-network doctor if that review is better than an in-network doctor’s.
Many surveys support these findings, reiterating that, now more than ever, patient reviews are increasingly impacting where patients go for care. The shared feedback can be online through patient review sites like Google, Yelp, Vitals and Healthgrades. Patients will also share their experience via word of mouth or on their personal social media in a recommendation. No matter the method, it is in a doctor’s best interest to provide the best patient experience possible at all levels.
In addition, search engine optimization (SEO) experts agree that user-generated content like patient online reviews is heavily weighted by search engines. In other words, reviews provide a first impression online when someone types a doctor’s name into the search field in Google or another search engine.
While positive online reviews can drive business, negative reviews can be tricky. An occasional bad review is not a death sentence. It can reveal human error or a possible bad day. In fact, having a less than stellar review on occasion shows the doctor isn’t too good to be true and provides legitimacy to all reviews, even the good ones.
An unexpected bonus of a bad review can be an opportunity, at no charge, to learn about possible areas of improvement. Sometimes improvement is as simple as a difference in perception – what a doctor thinks a patient is experiencing versus what the patient is actually experiencing. With a few tweaks, problems can be solved and eventually averted, but this can’t happen unless the feedback is heard.
Furthermore, how a doctor reacts to a bad review is critical. A prompt, calm, friendly response, respecting HIPAA privacy protocol, can make all the difference. The majority of patients do not expect provider perfection, but provider honesty, transparency and interest in making things right. In fact, most respondents feel it’s important for doctors to respond in some way to the bad review. Silence can be viewed as possible wrongdoing or not caring.
Like never before, the success of a practice is at stake with patient reviews, good and bad, and how they are shared. Every component of a doctor’s office should shine, inspiring a patient to post the best review and highest rating possible. And while patient satisfaction is good for the bottom line, this should not be the only gauge for evaluating healthcare quality. Patient satisfaction is just one component, but critical to the success of a practice. Recognizing the importance of online patient reviews is the first step in creating a positive patient experience. The next step is managing those reviews and finding the tools to do that. Stay tuned for our follow up post addressing this.