Online review sites have changed the way hospitals and healthcare providers receive feedback from their patients. In the online world, consumers rate healthcare providers on third-party sites the same way they rate coffee shops, restaurants, and clothing stores. Many healthcare providers find the prospect of being reviewed in such a public way to be confusing and sometimes scary. After all, there's really no way to prevent someone from posting a negative or inaccurate review about your practice or organization online.

Not only do consumers post reviews about their healthcare experiences, they also look to reviews and ratings when choosing a provider. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), 85% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. And, of those patients who searched for a doctor online – 35% selected a provider based on good ratings, and 37% avoided providers with bad ratings. The power of online reviews can be seen as an amazing opportunity or potential stumbling block for your organization – depending on how you manage your online reputation.

The Problem with Responding to Negative Reviews
While it may be tempting to respond to reviews without following a thoughtful strategy or process, organizations that do so run the risk of further damaging their reputations, or even worse, having legal action brought against them.

The trouble that healthcare organizations can get into when responding to negative reviews is that they may inadvertently disclose patient health information in their response. A natural inclination, especially if a provider feels a review is inaccurate or out of context, is often to respond with more details about the case. Unfortunately, such a response may reveal details that the patient hasn't given permission to share publicly.

Sharing patient information without permission is a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). And, if a patient decides to pursue legal action, the provider could face severe penalties, not to mention further damage to their (and the associated healthcare organization's) reputation.

In a recent Washington Post article, Deven McGraw, deputy director of health information privacy for HIPPA's Office for Civil Rights, explained that health professionals responding to online reviews are allowed to speak generally about how they deliver patient care. However, in order to discuss an individual case, even in response to a review the provider feels is inaccurate, the provider must be granted permission by the patient in question.

The Problem with Not Responding to Negative Reviews
Ignoring negative reviews can have an exponentially negative impact on your online reputation as well. So, while responding to these kinds of reviews can feel like navigating a minefield, it’s worth your while to develop a thoughtful strategy on what to say when negative reviews appear.
Don’t hide from the bad. Consider these criticisms an opportunity to right wrongs, learn from mistakes, and improve patient satisfaction overall.

Using Reputation Management to Benefit Your Organization
Another strategy to combat negative reviews is using reputation management software to stay on top of what’s being said about your organization online, across multiple platforms, and grow your positive review volume at the same time.

Rather than trying to block or remove negative ratings or reviews, organizations should encourage patients who are satisfied to share about their positive experiences online. If a doctor has only three reviews and two are negative, the best solution is to figure out a way to cultivate a process for requesting positive feedback from patients to help diminish the power of a few negative ones.

Marketers can be instrumental in helping here with organization-wide efforts to boost individual provider ratings at the same time as the hospital or health system’s reputation. Both digital and traditional campaigns can be effective, but since the goal is to accumulate 100% genuine, patient-generated reviews, you and your team shouldn't be collecting and uploading reviews yourselves. Instead build a manual process or leverage technology from a Reputation Management company to request feedback from your patients on an on-going with hopes of hearing their concerns, complaints and praise – while pushing those with positive feedback to online sources.

Reviews can also be a way for healthcare organizations to identify customer service issues and take steps to address them. In fact, a recent Accenture study found that hospitals that offer a superior customer experience can expect to achieve up to 50% higher margins.

Handling Reputation Management the Right Way
Even if your healthcare organization understands the importance of reputation management, it can still be a difficult process to manage in house. If you don't have the capacity for around-the-clock review monitoring, consider partnering with a vendor with the tools and expertise to manage the full spectrum of your online reputation. A comprehensive reputation management solution will provide real-time insights into the things people are saying about your practice locations and providers online, as well as the tools you need to engage healthcare consumers around positive and negative mentions or reviews.
Want more insight into how managing your brand’s reputation can help you improve the healthcare consumer experience? Download our guide to bringing the Amazon experience to healthcare.