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    The Medical Group Management Association’s most recent MGMA Stat poll asked healthcare leaders if they manage their practice’s online reputation: 64% answered “yes,” while 32% answered “no.” Respondents who answered “yes” were then asked how they manage their practice’s online reputation. One-third said “review sites,” 22% responded “social media,” 8% specified “online marketing” and the remaining 38% stated “other.”

    Respondents who answered “other,” noted:

    • To be diligent, all of the options listed (social media, review sites and online marketing) are tasked to maintain and effectively manage our online reputation.
    • We convert patient satisfaction scores into star ratings. We also publish patient comments.
    • We have a reputation management team that monitors all scores and comments made on websites.
    • Trying to track reviews and respond to both good and bad.
    • Pay a third-party vendor to monitor and take care of it. Vendor reports to the company marketing director.

    Survey participants who answered “no,” pointed to impediments such as:

    • Financial barriers, resources, and provider resistance
    • Executive buy-in
    • Legal liability, HIPAA, etc.

    This poll was conducted on May 21, 2019, with 1,287 applicable responses.

    James Blain, chief technical officer and head of digital, filmMED, Kansas City, Mo., outlined major sources for online listings and reviews for medical practices during a March webinar for MGMA.

    Blain says it is important to have a functional understanding of online reviews, to understand “what you need to do in order to put together your online review strategy,” which is especially important for smaller practices to help them stand out.

    Star ratings aren’t the only concern when it comes to reviews. “You can actually end up in a scenario where someone is searching for your practice online, someone's got better reviews — that website’s going to rank higher,” Blain says. That then influences whether your site gets clicked. “These reviews are carrying more and more weight” for medical practices, he noted.

    The core of an online review

    Online reviews are a way for patients to share their experiences at the practice — good, bad or indifferent — as “social proof,” Blain says. A few sites run on letter grades, but most operate on a star rating of one to five and increasingly require some type of login by the user to add a bit more accountability than an anonymous review.

    As online listings have matured, the number of sites providing review information has grown to include the top search engines. Local search engine optimization (SEO) revolves around these online listings, he noted. For example, Google has a search card that shows a map, images and any available reviews, in one place.

    Map listings

    Blain notes that review and listing sites need your information as much as you need to be listed, since each site wants to create large content directories for communities. To that end, four major sites make core elements of managing your listing and reviews very simple:

    • Google Maps (claimed by registering at Google My Business): “They have the most powerful tool out of these four,” Blain says, that allows you to claim your listing, put your pin on the map, manage reviews, manage the search card and upload images.
    • Apple Maps (claimed through Apple Maps Connect): Apple Maps is more stripped-down than Google — it only allows you to view your map location and manage hours of operation. When it comes to reviews, Apple pulls that data from Yelp and some other non-search sources. If you don’t have an Apple product, you can create an Apple ID and do a phone verification to set up an Apple Maps login.
    • Yelp (claimed through Yelp’s Claiming Your Business page): Yelp carries more weight than Bing since many other sites pull their review data from Yelp. It also offers a premium option for managing information.
    • Bing (claimed through Bing Places): While it has map and search features, Bing pulls review info from Yelp and Facebook.

    Commonly missed opportunities

    In addition to claiming listings on these major sites, Blain points to three common missed opportunities in online reputation management:

    1. Forgetting to enter a mail verification code: Listing and review sites “are trying to validate and verify that your competitor or someone else is not trying to claim your location,” Blain says, so this is a top security priority for managing online reviews. Google, in particular, has focused on verification by mail, with a code printed on a postcard sent to the location listed.
    2. Not keeping office hours up to date.
    3. Not listing holiday hours.

    Keeping everything up to date on multiple sites is important, since many different sites are pulling listing information from other sources. “What ends up happening is bad information can either get pulled back in or it can spread out,” Blain says. “And then you wind up with conflicting listings.”
    Beyond this, Blain says that video testimonials are very popular and can be a powerful tool for setting the right impression for your organization.

    Who does the work?

    Assigning someone in the practice to manage the ongoing work of reviewing these sites will vary based on size and staffing. Google allows you to assign multiple people on an account at different levels: An office manager may be owner of the listing, but then other staff can be designated as managers of the listing with slightly less access, Blain says. Similarly, many sites also allow you to designate a reputation management service firm if your organization prefers to outsource the work.

    The front desk often is the unsung hero in acquiring new reviews, Blain says, whether it’s from a positive customer service experience or simply having flyers or appointment cards available to remind patients to provide feedback on various sites. Email and text message follow-ups also can be an effective method to drive patients to review sites.

    Blain said that prioritizing online reputation management work should also have an element of figuring out “who is your patient and where are they most likely to see the reviews,” he says. In most cases, it’s the big three of Google, Yelp and Facebook; beyond that, he stresses it’s also really important to sign up at HealthGrades, Vitals and RateMDs, and work to claim listings for specific doctors. Filling out information there, especially adding your practice’s website as a back-link, can be very valuable.

    Sites that allow you to include the history of a practice are especially helpful, as that allows you to tell a story about the practice and market your providers by telling that story. “The story really is what grabs people and gets their attention,” Blain says, and helps tell “how you're different from every single one of your competitors.”

    Tracking performance

    Blain notes that manually using the respective platforms has improved as sites have improved their offerings. Google is especially powerful for getting notifications of reviews, he says. Other practices may opt to use a reputation management service.

    In either case, practices inevitably will have to deal with a bad review at some point. Blain says it is vital to not take it personally and never respond that way — it’s also important to not have individual providers respond to reviews about them.

    While most people prefer not to admit to making a mistake or having an issue with a negative patient experience, Blain says it’s okay to respond to a bad review in a limited way on the site it was posted but then reach out to patients offline and ask them to discuss what happened and attempt to resolve it. This effort can effectively turn a bad review back to a positive one if the patient feels that the practice took the time to address his or her concerns.

    Tracking reviews helps to identify the weak points in your practice if you receive frequent feedback in certain areas, such as complaints about long wait times or poor customer service at the front desk. Blain says the same can be done with positive reviews: “If you’re looking for something that you can put in your marketing to try and build your practice up,” it’s likely in your five-star reviews, he insists.

    Vanishing reviews

    Almost every review site has some form of filtering, Blain says. “Although they’re set up for spam, chances are you'll probably have some legitimate reviews caught in a filter,” he adds, noting that Yelp has the most-aggressive filter for reviews and losing out on positive four- or five-star reviews can be frustrating when older, negative reviews weigh down a practice’s overall score. Having reviews from more-active Yelp users is helpful in avoiding filtered or vanished reviews, but “the only way to be ahead of this is to have a steady stream of positive reviews coming in,” he says. 

    Additional Resources

    Need professional assistance understanding your options for contracting? MGMA Consulting can help identify actionable solutions tailored for your organization.


    Our ability at MGMA to provide great resources, education and advocacy depends on a strong feedback loop with healthcare leaders. To be part of this effort, sign up for MGMA Stat and make your voice heard in our weekly polls. Sign up by texting “STAT” to 33550 or visit Polls will be sent to your phone via text message.


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