Using Online Reviews to Change Physician Behavior

December 1, 2016

As millennials take over as the most populous age group, online reviews and physician ratings are going to have a pertinent impact on healthcare.

Doctors who don't get on board with building positive online reputations are going to face steep financial difficulties in today's competitive value-based care market.

Who is Buying Healthcare and How Are They Buying It?

A 3,000-person survey from Nuance Communications shows that the healthcare landscape will shift dramatically as millennials become larger consumers of healthcare. According to Nuance, millennials overtook baby boomers last year as the most populous age group. Though baby boomers are the biggest group of healthcare consumers today, millennials will soon follow, as value-based care moves the practice of medicine toward preventive care and keeping healthy people healthy.

"As patients play a much greater role in determining how, when, and where they receive care, organizations that don't stay closely connected to their patients won't be able to survive," said Tony Oliva, physician and  vice president and chief medical officer of Nuance's Healthcare Division. "Providers need to better understand the populations they serve and the threats to their business to remain competitive in their market and best manage their patients' needs."

Key findings from the study found that:

• Seventy percent of young millennials (aged 18 to 24) choose a primary-care physician based on recommendations from family and friends, compared to only 41 percent of patients over the age of 65

• The majority (51 percent) of patients 65 and older tell their doctors directly if they are unsatisfied with their care, while 60 percent of younger patients tell their friends instead

Why an Online Reputation Matters

The Nuance study proves a point that many already know: The influence of the internet on medicine today cannot be ignored.

Today's patient journey is simple. When a patient gets a referral from a friend or another physician, before he makes an appointment, he does an online query on that physician - by name. He does this because it's how he or she generally buys anything. A recent study shows that people who do Google searches view less than two percent of searches below the top five results on the first page. Physicians with no online presence might as well not exist when it comes to healthcare consumers. Without a positive presence online - at the top of a Google search - consumers are unlikely to be convinced that a physician is a good one.

At this point in time, the fact that patients are discriminating buyers should not come as a surprise to any modern-day physician. Yet, some physicians are still resistant to the fact that their online reputation can have a big impact on their success and the success of their group practice, health system, network, or accountable care organization. Reputation can make or break the achievement of value-based purchasing.

How to Get Started

One of the most impactful ways of changing physicians' behavior is by using public third-party metrics. By using online ratings such as those found at Healthgrades, Vitals, and RateMDs, a hospital or group practice can show a physician, with these independent and subjective metrics, where he stands compared to his peers. These are ratings, of up to five stars, created by the patients, not some proprietary score the hospital put together internally. In these metrics, the patients are doing the talking.

By using these online ratings, physician leaders can guide their peers toward improving these ratings, helping them see the cause and effect of their practice of medicine when it comes to ratings. By embracing these public, subjective metrics concerning reputation and opening this dialogue, physician groups can take it a step further and introduce transparency of physician performance centered on productivity and clinical quality performance. Online ratings can be the catalyst to influence physicians and their organizations and ultimately help them better align with value-based performance of each physician and the practice in general.

The readiness of some physicians to embrace transparency is still limited, but that doesn't mean they won't learn - and fast - when given the right tools. Value-based care isn't going anywhere. It's here to stay. Physicians need to ensure their safety in this new market by using everything in their power to succeed, including online reputation management.

Have you begun to help your physicians embrace their online ratings so that they can improve their reputations?