Ever order a poorly-made kitchen gadget and then leave a bad review with the company in an effort to help other consumers avoid purchasing that gadget? Likewise, ever find the best salsa or Greek yogurt and want to share it with everyone you know? Leaving these reviews affects an organization's reputation, and the same way you felt about that gadget or yogurt is the same way patients feel when they've had a great — or poor — healthcare experience. They want to share or spare others from the same experience.

Of course you want your overall healthcare organization's reputation to be good, but reputation is important for individual physicians as well. In fact, physician reviews play a significant role in a patient's decision to choose a doctor. Up to 77 percent of patients use an online review as a first step to finding a new doctor. And a study published in the Journal of General Medicine found that 53 percent of physicians look at physician review websites, “likely to understand their patients' experiences and to improve their practices."

Clearly reviews are increasingly important in healthcare, but what can you do about such a self-motivated activity? How do you manage content you can't control? Good or bad, there are strategies that can help you with reputation management.

How Do Good Reviews Help?
Reviews are often the first thing a patient sees or knows about a physician, and online reviews contribute to a positive reputation – to a prospective patient, you’re only as good as what others say about you on Google, Healthgrades or other public directory. A good online review history can bring patients to your door, increase referrals, confirm recommendations given by friends/family and can even bring out-of-network patients in.

Beyond the importance of patient reviews as a selection criteria for prospective patients, reviews are also an important local ranking factor in Google. Search queries from "cardiologist near me" to "pediatrician in Atlanta” will bring up just 3 options out of the tens or hundreds of healthcare practices and physicians – with a major boost given to local listings with the strongest patient review signals. These signals include review volume, review sentiment, review recency and diversification of reviews on other top local directories.

While physicians focus primarily on quality of care, doctors must also acknowledge that patients are looking for the best healthcare experience, and all steps from intake to follow-up care is fodder for review. Reputation management begins with being proactive about the information available about you. When you have happy patients, you can send follow-up emails soliciting a review or encourage sharing positive experiences on social media and third-party review sites through other marketing outreach efforts.

What about Negative Reviews?
Though you might prefer to deal with the challenge of soliciting positive reviews, the reality is that negative physician reviews happen. You may be tempted to ignore these negative reviews, but consumers prefer a response. Not all review sites allow a physician or organization response, but posting a well thought-out reply when possible can help acknowledge a complaint or concern and show that feedback is taken seriously – and where necessary share “the other side of the story”. When crafting a response you should:

  • Be gracious
  • Thank the patient for their comment
  • Consider the patient's complaint or concern
  • Address any changes that can or will result
  • Respond privately, if warranted, to correct the situation and discuss further
  • Above all else, protect PHI

A gracious response can go a long way toward making a negative review less weighty, while also showing prospective patients that you are engaged with your patients and provide a personal experience.

What do Patients Focus on in Reviews?
Quality care and accuracy of diagnosis are high on patients' lists of healthcare review metrics, followed closely by listening and explaining skills. Don't forget that office environment, staff, and overall experience will also often be noted in online reviews. In fact, everything that happens in your office from the first phone call for an appointment through the waiting time, exam, and interactions with staff, diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up care is up for review.

If you do happen to receive negative feedback, you can look at this as an opportunity to grow in any of these areas as necessary.

Managing your Reputation
Since having a large volume of five-star reviews is an excellent way to ensure a good online reputation, ask your current patients if they would review you. Some ways to accomplish this are to include a link to a review site in your email signature, provide a tablet for patients to sign-up to receive a request via email to leave a review upon check out, or direct them from your website to your favorite star rating sites.

If you still need help managing this important task, there are experienced services teams and technology solutions that keep tabs on your reviews, alert you when a response is required, provide best practices for responding, help solicit reviews, and more. Focusing on your online reputation will serve to build trust, credibility, and a positive online presence – while also helping to keep your employed physicians happy.

Reviews are an unavoidable aspect of today's healthcare consumer experience. For more insight into improving your reputation and building an online presence that consumers respond to, download our guide, Bringing the Amazon Experience to Healthcare.