Republished: February, 2019

When it comes to reputation management, many healthcare organizations place significant emphasis on receiving a great HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) score. That's understandable, because HCAHPS is truly important: not only is it a nationally reported assessment of performance from the patient perspective, but organizations are reimbursed from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) based on their results.

However, HCAHPS should not be the sole focus of organizations looking to manage their reputations. Given that consumers exist in a digital world, an organization's online presence is usually the first experience that they have with that company. Moreover, many online resources offer consumers a level of detail and accessibility that a survey like HCAHPS is unable to provide.

Among the most important considerations are online reviews and ratings, which, being mostly unsolicited, provide consumers with an honest reflection of patients' experiences. That's the reason why 84% of patients use online reviews to evaluate physicians, and 77% use them as their first step in finding a new doctor.

Patients leave online reviews across the web informing other health consumer about experiences in hospitals and with medical staff. As we know, HCAHPS surveys are limited because they ask a rigid set of questions and don’t allow patients to expand on their answers. But online, patients can mention any aspect of the visit as they see fit!

These online reviews cover topics not addressed in HCAHPS surveys including:

  • Compassion of staff
  • Cost of a hospital visit
  • Ease of scheduling
  • Facilities and amenities
  • Family member care
  • Insurance and billing
  • Quality of care
  • Quality of nursing
  • Quality of staff


Of course, the management of your online reputation — and reviews in particular — is no easy task. Yet, it's one that cannot be ignored. Here are some basic strategies that organizations can use to manage their reviews:

Addressing Negative Reviews
Negative reviews are unavoidable in many circumstances, but they don't have to ruin your reputation. In general, you want to handle them cautiously, with a mind to learn from the review and remedy the situation. Here are few pointers:

  • Try offline options first. As Forbes notes, if the review isn't anonymous, it's often easier to contact the patient by phone or have them come into the office than try to resolve the issue with an online comment. By personally involving the patient, you demonstrate that you care sincerely about their issue, which can sometimes even prompt a patient to remove a bad review.
  • Take time before responding. When we respond immediately to a scathing review, emotions usually get the best of us — take time to clear your head and carefully prepare a response. In the meantime, satisfied patients may even intervene to defend your organization, lending you significant credibility. For this reason, it's always a good idea to cultivate strong relationships with patients.
  • Do not disclose personal information. As AMA observes, HIPAA very much applies to online reviews, meaning you can't discuss the particulars of a reviewer’s case, or even acknowledge that they are your patient, unless the reviewer personally consents. You should respond only in the context of your general protocols and best practices.
  • Keep encouraging reviews. Though it's tempting to avoid bad reviews at all costs, it won't help to discourage patients from commenting. The majority of reviews are positive, and a sea of positive reviews will more than offset the impact of one dissatisfied patient.

Soliciting Feedback
Of course, organizations will want to maximize the number of positive reviews that they receive online. While you can't force patients to review you (much less review you positively), there are a number of strategies you can use to help get the word out:

  • Simply ask. According to BrightLocal, 7 out of 10 consumers will review an organization when asked. If a patient is satisfied with your services, chances are the only thing standing in the way of a good review is a little reminding. You should ask patients directly after care and post flyers in your office. Even better, you can provide the ability to review directly on your website. It never hurts to remind patients that, by reviewing, they are helping other patients make informed decisions about their care.
  • Follow-up by email. It's a good idea to reach out to patients, making sure to include links to preferred review sites and social media profiles.


  • Provide incentives. While you can't pressure patients to submit reviews, it can help to sweeten the pot. For instance, you can create a contest or raffle to help reward those who have taken the time to review you. Incentives of this variety also serve to breed goodwill with patients, in general.

Maintaining Constant Vigilance
Of course, reviews and ratings are just one part of a larger consumer experience strategy, which includes monitoring and engaging not only all online chatter pertaining to your organization, but of the entire consumer path to care. Though it is critical to constantly be aware of the ways that consumers can experience your brand online, it can be a daunting task to supply the manpower necessary. If you don't have the capacity internally, it's often prudent to partner with a vendor with the tools and expertise to manage the full spectrum of your online reputation.


Bottom Line
Although HCAHPS is, and remains, one of the most important factors in an organization's reputation, it's important to remember the many variables that can influence a patient's perception of it. Online review sites can offer healthcare organizations a fresh perspective, and acting on that information will allow for a better overall experience for patients. Given the domination of technology in our lives and our access to information online, the digital realm will always hold significant sway in consumer choice.

Reputation is just one part of your organization’s digital presence. To learn more about how to create a digital presence that ranks in search, read our ebook: The Quest to Be Found.