Why it matters
Though oft-criticized for letting a vocal minority skew the results, not to mention a lack of quality clinical information, unsolicited online ratings are not to be dismissed, adds Lang. For starters, the number of reviews your practice receives — good, bad, or ugly — impacts your search engine ranking on sites like Google. When prospective patients search for your practice or physicians by name, the online ranking sites with the most reviews will land higher on the search results page.
"It's a two-pronged problem," says Lang. "These are places where consumers are not only going to make healthcare decisions about who they're going to use for personal healthcare, but the reviews are rated highly by search engines so it impacts your search results as well."
Online patient reviews, of course, also reflect the sentiment expressed by patients in off-line satisfaction surveys, an increasingly important component of the formula used by CMS and private health insurers to determine reimbursement. A 2012 study by the University of Maryland's Center for Health Information and Decision Systems found that patients who indicated in off-line consumer satisfaction surveys they were happy with their quality of care were more likely to review their physicians online — suggesting that "online ratings are not driven by disgruntled patients, but rather those with high levels of consumer satisfaction," says study coauthor Jeff McCullough, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. That spells opportunity for practices that put patients first.
To ensure that most of your reviews are positive, practice managers should consider asking patients after every visit if their doctor addressed all their questions and concerns. Ask, too, if there is anything you can do to make their experience better, thus encouraging patients who are frustrated to vent in private rather than publicly. You can also help "bury" bad reviews by creating original content on your website, including blogs, articles, and patient education videos — all of which are favored in the search engine results by Google and other browsers. "If someone is writing a negative blog about your practice, we can help reposition where that blog shows up in your search results by moving higher quality content above that blog," says Lang.
Use what you learn
Lang adds that practices that fail to monitor their online presence are missing an important business opportunity. "Be aware of what your patients and prospective patients are saying, and use it to make changes to improve your business," he says. "Your customers are giving you live feedback and if you're not using it, you're missing a vital opportunity." If one of your patients notes, for example, that they waited over an hour to see their doctor, have a talk with your scheduling department to see what you can do to reduce wait times. Likewise, if someone indicates your front-desk clerk was unfriendly, take the time to review with your staff the importance of putting patients at ease.