One of the biggest changes wrought by Internet transparency is the ability of almost anyone to air both opinion and grievance to a wide audience. For physicians, and all other professionals in the field, this freedom has brought some challenges. Grievance, rather than praise, is more likely to motivate individuals to take to the web to make their comments public. Good reviews are expressed online, but don’t tend to carry as much weight as the cautionary tale. Angry patients often turn to the public and their peers online to register grievances, which in some cases can feel like character assassination.
In an era when people shop for, research, and compare everything online, including medical treatments, medications, and hospitals, online reputation management for physicians is crucial. Online reputation management can be good for business as well: a Harvard study from 2011 found that a 1-star Yelp rating increase can bring a nearly 10% revenue increase to those reviewed. Here you’ll find an overview of the state of online doctor reviews and suggested best practices for managing your online reputation as a clinician.
How Pervasive Are Online Reviews of Physicians?
The presence of reviews for medical professionals, hospitals, imaging centers, and other health care facilities is growing, as is the number of websites devoted to reviews in general (and medical reviews in particular). Reviews of medical professionals can be found on general review sites such as Yelp, Google Places, and even Angie’s List. A growing number of purpose-built review sites like RateMDs.com, Virals.com, and HealthGrades.com continue to proliferate.
The credibility of online reviews has become accepted even by hospitals, medical groups, and insurance providers, who often host reviews of their physicians and medical staff on their own websites. This brings doctor reviews somewhat within medical organizations’ purview, providing some mitigation of the influence of branded medical review sites not affiliated with medical groups. The ongoing conversation and legislation related to health insurance and health care costs will continue to bring even more attention to the need for quality care and for feedback about that care.
Just exactly how prevalent are online physician reviews? RateMDs.com alone hosts reviews of more than 1,370,000 US and Canadian physicians, according to The New York Times. As the information becomes even more available and more popular with new websites and a wider audience, the need for proper handling of physician reviews also grows.
You Can’t Take It Personally, but How Can You Not?
In a profession as personal and intimate as medicine, complaints and bad reviews can be hurtful in many ways. For doctors just starting out, bad reviews can hinder a promising career and stunt business growth. At this stage, bad reviews can even interfere with a new physician’s confidence and ability to perform his or her job.
For more established medical experts with many years of experience behind them, dealing with web criticism is still relatively new and most have no strategy in place to manage their online reputation. The good news is that online reviews can be beneficial to a medical practice when dealt with properly. Like other business owners and experts today, physicians must develop a strategy to generate good online PR and mitigate negative reviews.
The Positive Value of Feedback (Even Negatives)
The web’s transparency and the public’s ease in speaking out have brought some advantages for physicians in practice. Many “doctor reviews” actually focus on office staff attentiveness, office organization, and other overall factors. It’s good for a doctor to know what the public perception of his or her staff and office actually is. Knowing this information is better than wondering why many patients never return, for instance.
When trends are noted in reviews, doctors can take action to change perceptions, streamline processes, or educate staff. Making a simple correction or placing an emphasis on customer service with all your staff can often revitalize the practice and become a plus. In addition, showing how well you deal with and respond to negative feedback can build your reputation.
Overcoming Negative Doctor Reviews
- Monitor your online mentions and reputation with Google’s free Alert tool or employ a service to track this information.
- Use feedback constructively. Make changes in response to legitimate criticism.
- Don’t obsess about removing negative ratings. Lawsuits are costly, time-consuming, and demoralizing, and have a poor track record of success. Also, they can backfire in the court of public opinion.
- Don’t respond when angry because you might post a response that does not represent you well. Keep emotional distance when responding, or put a professional in charge. Make sure he or she consults you and reflects your desired image when responding.
- Counter with factual information, using your professional profile on each site. If you’re faulted for something in a review, turn it into a positive in your profile. You could counter a comment about “long wait times” with a sentence in your bio or profile about being committed to “providing each patient with personal attention.”
- Discuss individual problems privately. Confidentiality rules prohibit you from discussing details online, but a consultant or staff member can ask the patient to contact you directly for resolution.
Prevent Online Reviews From Tarnishing Your Reputation: Be Proactive
- Avoid asking patients to sign “will not review” contracts, which can make you seem paranoid or heavy-handed. This can backfire, as has been detailed in an NBC News story on medical “gag orders.”
- Make it routine to request patient reviews. Ask patients to “rate their experience with the practice,” without specifically suggesting a “good” review.
- Generate feedback: accept comments readily on your own site. Often, patients go online to post negative reviews simply because they don’t have a way to contact you directly. If feedback is encouraged and accepted, complaints may come to you first.
- Place a “We want your feedback” button on every page of your website or patient portal.
- Use waiting room signage to inform patients that you value patient feedback in person or via phone, email, or a website feedback button.
- Send follow-up email messages and encourage/remind patients to provide reviews and feedback. Be specific to attain the best response rate, such as “To post your review, just go to…” and include a link to your preferred review/feedback spot.
- Promote your good reviews/feedback. Quote positive reviews or list testimonials on your website, in lobby brochures, and on patient intake forms.
- Create positive web content. You can and should “push down” any negative reviews, keeping them off the first page of Google search results. This effectively mitigates any damage from bad reviews. Besides requesting reviews, regularly publish your own fresh, valuable, and topical blog posts or web content to make negative reviews less visible.
- Earn good reviews:
- Work on displaying attentiveness and a positive, involved “bedside manner.”
- Briefly and proactively apologize for a long wait, if necessary, as you enter the room to see your patient.
- Extend your personal attention by making your PA or nurse the point person and offer to respond to email.
- In order to counter the appearance of being rushed, offer patients both specific (give a staff member name) and open access on the back of appointment cards and/or online to get further information or ask questions.
Today, more than ever, it’s crucial to properly manage your online reputation and deal with doctor reviews online. When you monitor online reviews and take a positive, proactive stance, bad doctor reviews need not be a source of frustration or adversely affect your work. Using these simple tips, you can turn your online presence into a career-enhancing, positive opportunity.
- Aleccia J. Docs seek to stifle patients’ rants on Web sites. NBC News website. January 13, 2010. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/34794632/ns/health-health_care/#.U5i0GJSwJ2k.
- Lieber R. The web is awash in reviews, but not for doctors. Here’s why. New York Times website. March 9, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/10/your-money/why-the-web-lacks-authoritative-reviews-of-doctors.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.
- Luca M. Reviews, reputation, and revenue: the case of Yelp.com. Harvard Business School website. October 4, 2011. http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/6833.html.