Just how important is a physician's online reputation?
Many healthcare executives are opening their eyes to the new ways prospective patients are searching for physicians. Almost half of consumers surveyed in 2014 believe reputation is the leading factor when selecting a doctor or a dentist. It is likely those numbers will continue to rise.
As more and more information about physicians becomes available online and big digital health companies compete to list doctors, consumers will gravitate to the most information-rich channel. So how can a busy doctor navigate the waters of online reputation, while focusing on providing top quality care to patients?
Here are five online reputation management strategies that are yielding results for successful physicians.
Embrace online ratings and reviews
While many physicians aren't fans of online reviews, these websites are here to stay. That's because more and more consumers are heading to ratings sites to compare healthcare providers and post reviews about their experiences.
A 2014 survey published in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that of consumers who parsed through online reviews, 35 percent of respondents would select a physician based on positive reviews, while 37 percent avoided doctors with negative reviews.
Consumers use both healthcare-specific ratings sites — think Healthgrades and RateMD's —and general consumer sites like Yelp and CitySearch. The best way to catch a consumer’s eye online is to have a large volume of positive reviews across multiple ratings sites.
So how do you get more reviews?
Ask patients to rate you
Now that you've seen the power of ratings sites in affecting online reputation, how can you get more reviews? Just ask.
If you're not sure how to ask patients to rate you, here are a few suggestions:
• Hand a card to the patient with the urls listed for key consumer ratings sites and ask them to rate you
• Add a clickable link for key sites to your email signature and website.
• Send patients a snail mail letter with urls of popular ratings sites.
• Keep a tablet at the front desk and ask patients to post a review before leaving your office.
• Send an email request using your auto-responder.
• Create a short video with step-by-step instructions.
Try out multiple strategies to gauge those that work best for your practice, and then focus on the most important thing. Consistency. That means finding a way to ask every patient to rate you online.
You want to see new reviews every week if possible, building up your total volume, and diluting the strength of negative comments.
Take full advantage of online profiles
Another way to beef up your reputation is by completing online profiles on sites such as Healthgrades, Vitals, and RateMDs. As many patients search for physicians by name, you'll want a mix of different types of search results, including content you provide.
One site many physicians are using is called Doximity, sometimes billed as the LinkedIn for doctors. This is a physician to physician site that can be useful in building relationships with referring doctors. Consumer sites, such as Vitals, allow you to claim your professional profile and add information about education, specialties, and expertise.
Don't ignore angry patients
The first rule is treat every patient well. However, sometimes service may not be up to the patient’s standard. Or a patient or family member is simply unhappy with some aspect of treatment. Like any business, you won't please everyone.
But consider how you'll respond when a patient posts a negative or angry review.
You don't want to discuss any aspect of a patient's case in online statements, leading to potential HIPAA violations. This means you can't answer someone posting anonymously, but depending on the severity of the negative comment, you may or may not want to respond directly.
Some online review sites — RateMD's is one — allow you to respond to a negative review. Crafting a response acknowledging a problem can show prospective patients that you are serious about providing a positive experience.