No physician wants to learn that her front office staff was rude or that a patient found the doctor dismissive, unprofessional, or incompetent. And she surely doesn’t want to find out about it from an anonymous review that may live online in perpetuity.
In a world in which crowdsourcing has developed from asking a few friends which physicians they recommend to asking hundreds of friends on Facebook or seeing what thousands of strangers think on Healthgrades or Yelp, reputation can make or break a practice. The good news is that a reputation headed south can be pointed back in the right direction.
Collie Shaw, MD, a general otolaryngologist at Central Arkansas Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic in Conway, Ark., only just learned that there was something he could do about bad reviews. “I didn’t realize until recently that it was possible to respond to a review,” he said. “I think I was a bit behind the curve.”
Dr. Shaw came across a review from a patient who said he seemed rushed during her appointment, but he didn’t reply to it, because he realized it had been written six years ago. He did, however, take it to heart and take action. “If it’s specific, I assess what I’m doing,” he said, adding that he made a concentrated effort to slow down when seeing patients.
While improving bedside manner and other skills are important, they are not enough to maintain your reputation. Online reviews have become a growing concern, given the many different places people can leave comments about their experiences with you, said Laura Mikulski, vice president of business development and physician relations at Physician Referral Marketing, a healthcare marketing agency based in Ferndale, Mich., that handles reputation management for physicians. “There’s such a high capacity for people to leave reviews when they don’t feel they are heard or valued as a patient,” she added.
According to a 2015 Pew Research Center survey, 77% of consumers use online reviews as the first step in finding a new physician. And, as the saying goes, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.
Build and Keep Your Reputation
Reputation management firms recommend taking these steps to make sure your online reputation is as excellent as your clinical skills:
When you get a bad review, take a deep breath. Then, respond in a positive and constructive manner, thanking the reviewer for feedback. Apologize by saying you’re sorry he had a bad experience, and encourage him to call the office and speak with a specific person. “Listening is a critical skill in delivering good healthcare,” said Andrea Pearson, chief marketing officer at Healthgrades. After you make your reviewers feel heard, let them know you take their input seriously, keep your response positive and constructive, and reiterate the qualities that make your practice great. This holds true for every review, whether it’s bad, mediocre, or glowing.
Be proactive. You may know you’re a good physician and that your practice is a good practice that is helping people, but if you’re not doing anything to get those patients to share that experience for you, you’re missing a big opportunity. “This is part of keeping your practice’s reputation sterling and keeping your own reputation flawless—and really doing that job of promoting your practice by way of soliciting those reviews,” said Mikulski.
Just by taking an active stance in asking patients if they had a good experience and if they have any feedback, you are protecting your reputation.
Be strategic. Mikulski advises physicians to ask for feedback after a patient starts seeing results from a treatment plan, as opposed to just after the first visit. “When a sinus infection starts clearing up or after you do a surgical procedure and the patient starts healing and is nearing the end of their treatment cycle, that’s when you want to solicit their feedback,” she said.
Another tip from Mikulski is to focus on reviews that appear on the sites that really matter and have a big audience—think Google, Yelp, and Healthgrades.
It’s also important that you publish positive reviews on your practice website. “A lot of what happens in the consumer referral space is that consumers have learned to crowdsource everything in their lives,” said Pearson. “It’s no different with finding a doctor. People will ask friends, neighbors, [and] parents at their kids’ school, and then they take those names and go online to conduct research. If they get a referral to an otolaryngologist from a friend who said, ‘Dr. Jones was terrific when I had this vertigo issue,’ the next thing most people do is Google Dr. Jones. This is why the practice website is really important in providing reviews.”
Capitalize on your happy patients. Even though a bad review may stick in your craw, most of your patients are likely happy patients, and most online reviews are good. “People love to love their doctors,” said Pearson, adding that more than 80% of the seven million ratings on Healthgrades are positive. Generating enough feedback from all of your patients means that the one negative review you get once in a while will be buried in a flurry of good reviews and won’t be representative of your practice.
Use tools to boost reviews. Pearson said some review sites provide tools that otolaryngologists can use to obtain reviews from patients, including ways to integrate a quick link from your website to your profile on a review site. There are even reminder cards physicians can print out and hand to patients as they leave your office. Physicians Referral Marketing uses an online portal that contacts patients by text message or email asking whether their experience was good or bad. If the experience was good, the service pushes the patient to leave an online review. If the experience was bad, it directs the patient to a private portal where they can provide specific feedback.
Pay attention to the accuracy of the data that is online about you. Search engine optimization increases the amount of traffic to your website through unpaid search engine results. If the information on your practice site is accurate (i.e., correct address, phone number, properly spelled names), chances are greater that your site will pop up first in a Google search. “Because it is all machine driven, what they’re looking for is consistency. If there are 64 Doctor Smiths in Anytown, Ohio, and they find they all have different data about them, they’re not going to rank as well as if there’s consolidation and they all refer to the same address, phone number, and specialty,” she said. Most sites have an easy way to update your information. Google has “Google my Business.” Healthgrades has “Update on Healthgrades.com.” The best strategy is to Google your name, practice, specialty area, and location, and you’ll see what the top ranking results are for your area. If there are inaccuracies, most sites allow you to submit updated information or review or validate information.
For most patients, said Pearson, looking up a physician online is the first interaction they have with their doctor. “You really have to think of that as an extension of your practice,” she added.
Renée Bacher is a freelance medical writer based in Louisiana.