Online Reviews and Their Place in Healthcare

Dear House Rules,

I know online reviews are a crucial part of digital relationship-building for businesses like airlines and retail chains, but it’s hard for me to imagine that they really influence a patient’s decision-making process regarding their healthcare. Do online reviews matter for hospitals and medical practices?

Signed,

Want to get an A+ in managing my brand’s online review

Dear Get An A+:

Absolutely. The medical practice that ignores their reviews and scores on sites like Yelp, Google Reviews and HealthGrades does so at their peril. However, even though there’s no way to regulate what patients say – good or bad – there’s a significant opportunity for practices to build consumer loyalty regardless.

Online reviews are one of the first things patients look at when trying to decide what specialist to visit, what hospital to use, or even what medicine to ask their doctor about. This pre-doctor-visit research is the rule rather than the exception these days, as an increasing number of people have the internet in their pocket via smartphones. In fact, a recent Pew research study showed that 1 in 5 internet users had consulted online reviews when deciding where to go for healthcare services.(1)

Providers and manufacturers must be more aware than ever of their online presence – not just the messages they control (like their websites and ads), but those they don’t.

This new pattern of patient behavior has led some healthcare professionals to reassess their marketing strategy and online presence. As with any change, this can be uncomfortable, but it can also yield great rewards. Perhaps the hardest thing to reconcile is negative reviews. Yet even there, opportunity lurks. In fact, some hospitals and independent practices are staying one step ahead of the digital curve and encouraging their patients to share their experiences online.(1) This feedback helps the providers proactively improve any areas of deficiency before they become widespread issues.

Keep the following ideas in mind as you (or a surrogate you hire or appoint) manage the online presence of your own healthcare business:

Respond to everything

  • Reviews in the healthcare sector aren’t restricted to medical matters. Often, patients express negative opinions on issues such as billing practices, operating hours or even parking! Everyone has the right to express an opinion, and it is vital that you first thank the patient for taking the time to comment, and then inform the patient what you’ll be doing (if possible) to rectify the issue. Also, don’t forget to say “I’m sorry” – those simple words can defuse an angry patient more quickly than you may realize, and can keep a negative situation from escalating.(2) Everyone wants to feel that they are heard, and that they matter. You may be able to turn that negative reviewer into a loyal patient with a sincere and simple response.

Keep it short

  • Don’t extend the matter unnecessarily. Restrict your apology or explanation to just a few brief sentences. Lengthy responses could make the reviewer feel that he or she is being targeted in public, and this might lead to more negative comments from the same person. (2)

Use Negative Comments to Improve Your Service

  • In the healthcare business, as in any other, take the comments you receive as valuable insights, and learn from them to modify your services, work on your weak points, and focus on being the best in your field. Develop strategies to not only minimize the immediate damage caused by the negative reviews but also to prevent it from happening in the future.

Give the Responsibility to a Professional

  • Being the owner of a healthcare business is serious business, and you have many tasks, staff, and patients to manage every day. You may want to give the task of responding to such reviews to a public relations (PR) specialist who is trained and capable of dealing with public opinions. Together, you both can sit and sort out a marketing strategy that can help your business by turning annoyed customers into loyal ones.

At Xavier Creative House, we can partner with you to manage your online agility and response to consumers. Our expert team of strategists, PR specialists, and copywriters can make certain that your responses to online reviews are timely, respectful, and make every patient feel “heard” and appreciated, thus enhancing the credibility of your brand as a whole.

 

References:

1. http://searchhealthit.techtarget.com/feature/Healthcare-review-sites-make-physicians-reevaluate-online-presence. Accessed June 4, 2017.

2. https://patch.com/new-york/brownsville/5-ways-deal-negative-online-reviews-healthcare. Accessed June 4, 2017.

Visit House Rules for more on healthcare and marketing!

Sincerely,
House Rules

Sunny Beth White

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