How Fragile Are Physician Reputations?
Health Care Marketing Center of Excellence.
How fragile are physician reputations? Very. In a recent review of 12 case studies related to online reputation management for physicians, a serious issue was raised. For the majority of physicians, one negative comment online could severely impact new patient volumes, especially out-of-network.
As digital health and physician ratings companies are competing online to provide the best physician statistics, it's clear that this competition is not in physicians' best interest. With more than 100 patient review websites now in existence and more SEO companies entering the healthcare space with black-hat tactics, every one of these companies is competing for the same thing: physician names.
There's absolutely no doubt that patients Google their physicians. But if you have desire to increase your fee-for-service, out-of-network, or concierge volume of patients, this online behavior approaches 100 percent. Many of our client orthopedic practices are capitalizing on this behavior, while others are considering retiring due to dwindling cash patient volumes and lack of profit from Medicare volumes.
Think about it; it makes sense. If you're going to pay for something out of pocket, wouldn't you want to be seen by the best, most experienced, most popular and most talked about? It's only our nature to follow other people's advice.
I've had the pleasure of working with some of the best orthopedic surgeons in the country, with amazing clinical results, great customer services and patient experiences, happy employees, and extremely profitable practices. But these physicians are also the last ones on earth worried about their online reputations, and it's a mistake in a digital age.
Not every patient is going to be happy. Unless you have a system in place where you can identify their dissatisfactions and answer them, they're bound to go online and voice their opinions there. Nobody is spared. We're in a time when every person is empowered with social media and the internet.
If you're saying to yourself, "Oh, this only pertains to the big metropolitan areas where competition between practices is significant," you need to understand why patients' online behaviors have changed so much over the past few months. Online reputation checking, or as I call it, "background checks on physicians," has not caught on in all parts of the country because it's highly dependent on where the online physician ratings companies are advertising. In New York and New Jersey, there's an advertisement during prime-time every single day on radio, TV, and in newspapers asking the public to go online and review their physicians. The moment these companies turn more profit, they will advertise in other parts of the country, and either you're prepared for the inevitable, or you will fall victim.
"Best Doctors" — what it means
One of the most enlightening replies I received on Twitter last week was from an Empowered Patient. (If you're not familiar with what that means, please Google "ePatient movement.") The patient asked me if gathering patient reviews is fair to the public, on the premise that some physicians will inevitably try to spam the ratings sites with only positive reviews.
It is fair. Here's why:
1. Gathering patient reviews should be a process in every practice. We developed an iPad app that helps to streamline that process. Here's the interesting part: While there are integrated waivers in the app that can seamlessly publish the reviews on the biggest physician ratings sites, many physicians instead use the platform for internal purposes. They use it to see where their patients are getting dissatisfied. They use it to address their patients' needs in real time before they ever feel the need to go online and write something negative.
2. Patient reviews on the internet will definitely become the standard before scheduling appointments with new physicians. There will always be patients who won't use the application in the physician's office and will go on their review website of choice. Physicians will not always be able to control what is being said about them. It's up to the physician and his staff to be prepared for those reviews. You can do two things: Either sign up for alerts that will notify you when a review is posted, or proactively ask patients about their preference for a review site.
3. For many physicians, this process will be eye-opening. Most physicians only acknowledge when patients are happy and want to recommend them, but fail to acknowledge complaints. The majority of lawsuits and public complaints are due to lack of timely response to patients dissatisfactions. Many physicians will see how their practices are performing during patient visits.
4. For many physicians, this will also be a negative experience. Some are resistant to change or have other priorities besides patients' satisfaction. That's a huge mistake. These practices will suffer great losses due to an inability to attract new patients. Patient-to-patient word of mouth referrals will always be the most powerful, but in a digital age, it's going to be the physician's online visibility that will determine the success of his practice. If physicians fail to acknowledge negative reviews and complaints in real time (when the review is written), those patients will always go online to complain.
Reputation management for physicians and advertising
Publishing patient reviews is also an incredible opportunity to save money on advertising. Our Google Advertisements for orthopedic practices have increased to 10 to 15 percent click-through-rates simply by featuring more of the statistics that patients are looking for. And the conversion rate from "clickers" to patients has increased dramatically too, once we were able to devote specific sections of the orthopedic websites to statistics and patient reviews.
Prepare yourselves for the inevitable. Begin by Googling your name.
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