They say, your reputation precedes you, and it has never been truer than in the digital world replete with online reviews.
In retail and hospitality, companies dedicate a lot of time and resources to maintain their reputations by managing the online feedback—positive and negative. As healthcare migrates toward retail-like, service-oriented experiences, physician practices, too, realize they have to manage patient feedback on sites such as Google, Facebook, Healthgrades, and Vitals, to name a few.
Easier said than done. Managing clinical visits, documentation and, for many physicians, also billing and everyday business tasks is a priority. There are only so many hours in the day. But in light of shifting trends in the consumer behavior and payment responsibilities, ignoring reputation management can undermine the practice’s other efforts. Conversely, listening to and addressing patient feedback can enhance the practice in many ways.
Shift with the trends
An NRC Market Insights study found that of 3,000 patients surveyed about healthcare transparency, 34.7% said their doctors’ online reputation is very important—a higher percentage than in any other industry, including banking, car dealerships and air travel. Over one third of patients used online reviews as their very first step in searching for a new doctor, even before checking with their insurance company or friends and family. Nearly 60% of patients said they’ve selected a doctor based on positive reviews, while about the same percentage said they have avoided doctors based on negative reviews.
On top of that, physicians are expected to meet patients where they are today: online. Americans’ smart phone ownership skyrocketed from 35% in 2011 to 81% today, with additional use of tablets and laptops climbing. Research has found that the average person spends over four hours a day on their device!
Getting in front of consumers is especially important now that the cost of medical care shifted more to patients. They have become more engaged in the research and decision-making processes than before, and this trend will continue as their financial responsibility grows.
Make reputation management part of patient engagement strategy
The sooner physicians decide on their reputation management strategy, the better. Most practices already have a program in place to engage current patients. One practical approach is to make this new effort part of a greater strategy for patient engagement and satisfaction. Asking for feedback and acknowledging and resolving concerns is an important part of patient communication. Following are some practical tips for getting started.
Directly reach out to patients
An easy first step is understanding how satisfied the current patients are and encouraging them to share positive feedback externally on Facebook, Google Reviews and other sites. Internal surveys can successfully solicit feedback about patient experience. One practice, Pennsylvania Dermatology Partners, uses a reputation management tool within its practice management software that interfaces with Google reviews and Facebook. The practice sends automatic requests to patients to rate their experience after their appointments, and asks if they’d like to share them online, too. In one week of receiving 1,267 reviews, 1,076 patients (85%) rated the service five out of five stars, and 157 patients (12%) gave them four stars. The survey is set up to encourage patients to share the positive feedback on Google or Facebook; at the same time, physicians can quickly reach out to a patient if she’s had a perceived negative experience to understand and remedy the issue.
Practices can customize such surveys, setting specific questions for different outreach approaches. These surveys can include open-ended questions for improvement suggestions or simple yes or no questions about the visit, to be answered anonymously or not. The delivery should be tailored to patient preferences: via email or text messages, for example. Surveys can be sent immediately after the appointment or delayed until the course of treatment is completed if the patient needs a series of visits. The most important part in seeking information is minimizing disruption for the patient. Practices should respect patients’ time, be upfront about how long the survey will take, and keep questions to a minimum.
Be both reactive and proactive
Once the practice receives specific feedback internally or externally, it’s important to act on it. If a patient is griping about a negative experience online, the response should be prompt and professional: acknowledge the comment publicly and reach out directly to the patient, if possible, or invite the patient to contact the office. Patterns might emerge over time that can help uncover and address problems; for example, if multiple patients comment that a particular staff member has acted unprofessionally, the practice head can approach that individual directly and discuss the concern.
Of course, physicians can’t respond in a timely manner if they aren’t aware of the reviews in the first place. For internal surveys and feedback management, consider using technology that displays all feedback in a dashboard or another easy-to-use format for a daily or weekly review.
The practice should also assign someone to dedicate a few hours a week to monitor external reviews. The practice reputation champion should be proactive about establishing a solid online presence on physician review sites, doctor directories, the practice website, and social media pages. Physician presence should be robust and regular to add value: commenting and posting as frequently as possible and being a contributor to the conversation. It’s vital to keep control of the practice’s content, and to remain transparent about what’s presented. Practices should never offer or give incentives for online reviews or filter content to show only the most positive opinions. People expect to see the whole truth. There’s value in reading a healthy mix of opinions and recognizing how the practice remedies situations or improves on weaknesses.
Increase patient satisfaction
Reputation building takes more than just good intent; it demands listening, action, and diligence. Yet, few things are as gratifying for a practice as knowledge that patients are satisfied. For example, when Pennsylvania Dermatology Partners received 1,200 internal survey responses, the leaders learned their patients were generally happy with the practice. Notably, the practice got feedback that patients appreciated specific technology conveniences such as online scheduling and bill pay; patient portal access; text, email and voice reminders; and automated birthday messages.
Physician practices can use this type of feedback to plan for the future of the practice, including technology or service offerings that will increase current patient satisfaction, attract new patients and increase the practice’s marketability.
Jon Dinchak, MBA, PMP, is senior product manager at AdvancedMD.