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Protect Your Online Reputation and Grow Your Patient Base
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Editor’s note: The following is written by Polly Wood, a manager for Reputation.com, which serves clients in more than 100 countries and offers powerful tools for managing online reputation. She participated in a panel discussion, “Physician Profiling and the Demands for Accountability – Will CMS be the Next ‘Angie’s List?’,” at the Academy’s 2012 Mid-Year Forum. She will join Tamara Fountain, MD, at the Technology Pavilion in Chicago on Saturday, Nov. 10, from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., to discuss, “Reputation Rehab: Prescription for Improving Your Online Presence.”

Whether or not you consider yourself Internet savvy, the reality is that patients are increasingly turning to the Web to assess potential health care providers. Four out of five Internet users now look online when they need health care information, and searches for specific providers make up a sizable portion of their requests.1 In addition, three out of four people consider online reviews as reliable as word-of-mouth recommendations,2 and a difference of one “star” in a business’s average rating can translate into a 5 to 9 percent change in revenues in other industries.3 

undefinedOnline reviews have a major impact on your business and that frightens a lot of practice owners. But online reviews cut both ways: they can drive patients away or they can serve as a powerful and free advertising tool. Below are some general principles for making sure your practice’s online reviews work for you rather than against you. You can use these ideas to develop your own in-house review-management plan or contact Reputation.com for more information on our specific health care solutions. Either way, incorporating a nuanced understanding of online reviews into your practice’s business plan can significantly boost the number of new patient inquiries you receive.

Low Volume Increases Risk
Many of the physicians and health care executives who approach Reputation.com about online reviews want us to somehow remove their reviews from the Internet. This isn’t possible, and even if it were, it wouldn’t help. Having no reviews is significantly riskier than having a large quantity of reviews.

Let’s take a hypothetical John Doe, MD, with three online reviews and an average rating of 4.2 out of 5 stars. That’s an above-average value that will give searchers the immediate impression that Dr. Doe is competent and trustworthy. Furthermore, since average ratings are usually embedded right into the search results, virtually all prospective patients will see this positive score. However, Dr. Doe’s good online reputation is vulnerable. Just two one-star reviews would move his rating to 2.9 out of 5, which is a below-average score. But now let’s assume that instead of three reviews he has 20, with the same average rating of 4.2 out of 5. His reputation would be much safer because it would take a lot more negative reviews to change the average significantly.

Scenario Initial score Impact of two one-star reviews New score
Three reviews
4.2 1.3 2.9
20 reviews
4.2 0.3 3.9

High Volume Correlates to a Stronger Average Score
Analysis of Reputation.com customer data shows a strong connection between a large review volume and a positive score. The more reviews your practice and physicians have, the more likely it is that their average scores will be positive. So, by simply encouraging patients to write reviews, you will improve your average ratings and reduce the chances that a few disgruntled patients can sabotage your practice.

A large review volume also increases the relevance of your practice in the eyes of search results and review sites. Go to Yelp and search for “ophthalmologist” in your city. You’ll see that the top results are all highly rated practices with a relatively large number of reviews. The same is true of Google search results, which prioritize the websites of highly rated practices.

Spreading Reviews Across Multiple Sites Decreases Risk
In addition to encouraging a large volume of reviews, you should try to spread those reviews out across multiple review sites. When prospective patients search for your practice online, they will probably find your website, some general business listings and several review profiles. If you have 43 reviews on RateMDs.com, you are likely to have a positive score there. However, RateMDs.com might not be the only review site showing up in your search results. Searchers might find another site, such as Vitals.com or Healthgrades.com, which has only three reviews, all of them negative.

A little research on the patient’s part would eventually uncover the fact that 43 good reviews are more important than three bad reviews. However, many patients don’t go that far. It’s much easier to glance at the search results, look for the yellow stars and judge based on the overall rating. Unless the searcher balances reviews across multiple sites, patient ratings appearing on low-volume sites will have a disproportionate impact on your online reputation.

Negative Reviews Offer Insights for Operational Improvements
Negative reviews are a great source of insight into areas where you could improve your practice. Make a point of reading and evaluating negative reviews regularly. Recurring trends or themes may point to systemic problems that need to be addressed.

For instance, if reviews frequently cite billing problems, you may need to review protocols for your front-office staff or provide additional training on billing procedures. If a particular physician is singled out repeatedly for poor bedside manner, you may need to bring the issue to his or her attention and/or suggest an appropriate CME course on patient interaction. Negative reviews can help you decide where to focus your attention by highlighting major bottlenecks in your practice’s operations.

Responding Promptly to Negative Reviews Increases Goodwill
When your practice receives a negative review, you can significantly mitigate its impact by responding quickly and appropriately. If a patient complains that the doctor was rude, you can respond to the review with something like, “I’m sorry that you had this experience. Would you mind calling us at 555.555.5555 so that I can look into the issue in more detail?”

This kind of response has a dual impact. First, it gives you a second chance to win back a patient who might otherwise switch to another physician. Second, when prospective patients come across the negative review, they will see that your practice tries to resolve problems when things go wrong. People don’t expect perfection. Your patients know that everyone makes mistakes. It’s how you recover from mistakes (real or perceived) that matters.

Patient Debriefings Prevent Negative Reviews
The best way to handle negative reviews is to prevent them from occurring in the first place. Including a short debriefing protocol into each patient visit can help you catch problems before the patient goes home and starts writing a negative review. This doesn’t need to be an elaborate or complicated process. Simply instruct physicians and staff to end each visit with a general follow-up question such as, “Is there anything else I can help you with before I leave?” or “Did we meet your expectations today?” Another option is to have a prominently displayed survey near the exit, with a sign that reads something like, “Do you have any feedback or concerns? Please let us know how we can improve.” All of these techniques provide patients with a chance to express any displeasure prior to leaving, and this in turn makes it less likely that they will feel compelled to post a negative review online.

Recap: Key Principles
Encourage patients to write reviews, and try to get those reviews spread across a number of sites. Monitor your reviews regularly, and respond tactfully to criticism. If trends appear in your negative reviews, use them to improve operational procedures. Finally, institute debriefing protocols for patient visits that will help you to catch any outstanding issues before the patient leaves.

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References

1 http://www.pewinternet.org/~/media/files/reports/2011/pip_healthtopics.pdf

2 http://www.searchengineland.com/study-72-of-consumers-trust-online-reviews-as-much-as-personal-recommendations-114152

3 http://www.hbswk.hbs.edu/item/6833.html

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About the author: This article is an adaption of the original version that appeared in the September/October 2012 AAOE Executive Update. It was written by Polly Wood, a manager of the Special Projects team for Reputation.com. In her role, she oversees the management of the firm’s most complex and sophisticated casework. Her clients include politicians, Fortune 100 companies and their executives.

 
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