"There is pressure from marketplace to perform and meet patients' needs in ways there haven't been in the past," says Tom Lee, the chief medical officer of Press Ganey, a South Bend, Ind.-based software vendor that allows providers to survey patient satisfaction. "Meeting patients' needs hasn't exactly been front and center in eras past."
FAIR OR NOT?
Docs have differing opinions on whether or not online reviews help or hurt them. While he is an advocate of patients being involved in the decision-making process, Pasternak notes that providing someone with healthcare isn't exactly the same as providing them with a good meal.
"Healthcare is definitely a service industry and we're here to make patients and their families happy … but in many ways, it's a different model than having a restaurant or hotel. Oftentimes, a patient may request something … and it may not [be] appropriate or needed. It puts us in a situation where we know we will be judged, you kind of have to balance what the patient wants with what they really need," Pasternak says.
Nash adds that physicians are committed to excellent customer service, but there is a lot of skepticism that this is a valid way to check how they are doing. Lee says that in some cases, physicians have every right to be irked. "Who wouldn't be angry with ratings based on a small number of patients, many of whom weren't their patients in the first place or were biased toward negativity," Lee says.
Despite the flaws and an overall weariness toward online reviews, some physicians are embracing the change. Braun says many providers welcome the opportunity, as long as it's a fair dialogue. "As physicians, our first and foremost concern is the patient's well-being and this will trump the concern of getting a fantastic online review or avoiding a less than ideal one," he says.
Tod Baker, CEO of MDValuate, which provides physician performance analytics based on consumer-facing data, sees a generational divide between the providers who are OK with online reviews and the ones who are against it. "In my experiences, younger docs seem to be more acclimated to consumerism … It's easier for them to swallow. Some older docs have embraced it, but some are still fighting, kicking, and screaming. The ones closer to retirement … they think they can ride it out. Younger than that … they realize this is here to stay and part of their career," he says.
Baker adds that most physicians would prefer to be rated on quality outcomes, rather than something that could be construed as arbitrary. In that regard, Yelp announced it is teaming up with ProPublica, a non-profit, research journalism organization, to provide statistics-based care information, compiled through CMS databases, on a care facility's website.
HERE TO STAY
So how should physicians treat this emerging phenomenon? Whether they accept it or not, all experts agree that it is here to stay. Other than those in Baker's scenario who are close to retirement, the physician of the future will have to deal with being judged through a computer screen moving forward.
Many, like Aaron Braun, the medical director at SignatureCare Emergency in Dallas, advocate for a simple solution: "Every provider and their staff should strive to provide a great patient medical experience by being compassionate, empathetic, and delivering great care. This should usually result in positive online reviews," he says.
Pasternak tries to take the extra step. If someone seems agitated, he'll make sure he takes more time to figure out what he can do to make the experience better. "I've been trying to be just a little more proactive with patients, especially if I sense they may not be satisfied, so we can just avoid the whole issue to begin with," he says.