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    Aaron Clifford
    Aaron Clifford

    As patients increasingly look to the internet to help make their healthcare choices, it is critical that physician practices act on what patients are saying about them online to improve their reputation, brand image and bottom line.

    Implementing a reputation management approach can be beneficial to your practice. According to a Harvard Business School study, a positive evaluation on third-party rating and review sites leads to increased business. A one-star change in the average rating of a typical company can lead to a 5% to 9% difference in revenue. In another recent study, 48% of consumers would consider going out of network for a doctor with more favorable reviews than to an in-network doctor.

    As the importance of reputation management grows, healthcare practices need to be vigilant in monitoring what patients say about them online. Practices should follow best practices for managing online reviews and leverage patient experience survey data to drive improvement initiatives. When implementing a reputation management program, physicians need to know where to begin and what can help drive results.

    Get started

    Unfortunately, many practices do not have a clear understanding of their online reputation. Ignoring their online presence is no longer an option.

    Start with some preliminary research by monitoring and analyzing your online footprint and search rankings. To better understand how prospective patients are finding you online, search for “doctors near me” to find out how your physicians compare to competing physicians and their practices. More than 70% of healthcare consumers start their physician search this way, so it would be beneficial to know how your practice is perceived by existing and potential patients online. 

    Once you review current ratings and scores, you can set a baseline for what existing patients are saying about you and use this to improve. Set goals for improvement and consider starting a patient experience survey program to gather feedback from your patients on a consistent basis.

    Gain buy-in

    Success depends on gaining buy-in from key stakeholders, particularly physicians and management. This can be easier said than done, as many physicians are skeptical about online reviews. In fact, physicians are often concerned about their reviews and/or unaware of how their reviews affect consumer choice. The reality is, online reviews are not going away. For instance, according to a recent survey conducted by Binary Fountain and OnePoll, 95% of Americans found online patient ratings and reviews somewhat or very reliable.

    To gain buy-in from physicians and management, you must communicate how implementing a reputation management program can be beneficial. In the same survey, 75% of Americans said online ratings and review sites influenced their decision when selecting a physician. Sharing online reviews of your practice and how they compare to competitors can bring the point closer to home and be a real eye-opener, especially when looking at reviews that indicate a previously unknown patient experience trend. Case study snapshots of other practices’ reputation management program successes are also helpful.

    Actively seek reviews

    To request feedback, consider sending follow-up text messages, email campaigns or even implement in-office iPads so patients can rate their experience. It is also essential to train front desk staff to encourage patient feedback. Create in-office collateral and signage that can instruct and direct patients on how to leave a review.

    Digital patient surveys also can help you acquire patient reviews. KureSmart Pain Management, a leading pain management practice in the Mid-Atlantic, used email campaigns to conduct digital patient surveys. The survey insights helped the practice to upgrade its customer service by educating and developing staff members, which in turn significantly improved patient experience and retention. After implementing the new initiative, KureSmart enhanced its online reviews and scores by 95%, positive reviews increased by more than 30% and patient loyalty increased about 35%.

    Assign roles

    It is imperative to establish who monitors and responds to patient reviews and how issues will be resolved, as promptness is key when responding. Practice managers, for instance, can serve as the point of contact for resolving issues. For practices that find manually managing online reputation to be too time consuming, a reputation management tool can ease that burden and can be easy to implement. It also can streamline processes and flag online feedback that needs some form of a response. 

    Respond to reviews

    Practices should respond to both positive and negative reviews within a day or two of receiving them — this shows that your practice cares and is listening. For a positive review, thank the patient and reaffirm your commitment to the patient experience. If you receive a negative review, reach out to the patient as soon as possible and assist him or her in contacting a patient relations staffer instead of discussing the issue online. Unfavorable online reviews can potentially torpedo your reputation and negatively affect revenue.

    Waiting too long to respond will likely further frustrate the patient. A complaint that goes unanswered signifies that your practice does not care about your patients’ experience. Patients often will go back and change a negative review to a positive one if timely and appropriate service recovery is performed.

    Keep in mind that HIPAA Privacy Rule violations are heightened when dealing with online reviews. For reviews that have legal implications, such as revealing Protected Health Information (PHI), seek the advice of your legal department before reaching out to a patient about his or her issue and requesting the comment be removed.

    Analyst reviews and surveys

    While maintaining a positive online presence is vital to your practice, the underlying denominator is the patient experience and determining ways to improve it. To do this, you will need to digest and assess the feedback you have received to uncover actionable insights. Because physicians are data-driven and competitive, sharing benchmark data with them can build healthy competition and help them understand how they can improve. Consider sharing and discussing various patient comments and insights during team meetings. This can fuel constructive teaching moments as well as highlight successes. Sharing positive comments can be a great way to build morale and motivate your staff to create a better patient experience.

    To expedite this initiative, practices should invest in time-saving technology that will aggregate and analyze patients’ online ratings and reviews and survey data, helping identify areas for improvement and understanding where they are meeting patient expectations. A reputation management platform can help your practice benchmark performance across a range of patient experience categories and efficiently manage and respond to all feedback in a single platform.

    In the age of healthcare consumerism, reputation management can help your practice increase new patient volume, enhance your brand and build a better patient experience in a competitive healthcare market. Implementing a reputation management program allows practices to streamline communication with patients and shows them you are listening, you care and you want them to choose your practice.

    Aaron Clifford

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    Aaron Clifford

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