Building a great reputation for your medical practice…a great online reputation…is a bit like being famous in business.
Ultimately, what separates the moguls from mongrels is a lifetime of disciplined activities…habits.
To understand the drivers of a great online reputation, Doctor.com studied patient-review behavior of more than 65,000 individual patient reviews collected by 2,500 medical practices.
Based on our research, we’ve determined that acquiring and maintaining an excellent reputation is very much the product of a disciplined, focused process. It doesn’t involve large sums of advertising and promotional expense, but it does involve a marathoner’s dedication and training.
This blog post will report on the behaviors and strategies used by those practices that seem to get a disproportionately high number (and high score) for online reviews versus the average. Future reports and white papers will analyze technical factors including website and local directory presence.
Here are the five most important habits or procedures used by doctors and healthcare professionals who seem to get a disproportionate share of positive reviews vs. their peers.
The most vital aspect of your online reputation is making sure patients who find you online know you’re an excellent healthcare provider. Being a regular presence on the internet bolsters this image. This means engaging with patients and the general public on a regular basis: social media, public relations, direct mail, email. You needn’t post every day, and you can pick and choose social media sites that you prefer, but we found that doctors that engaged in more frequent public communications seemed to receive consistently greater numbers of online reviews.
One reason, we suppose, is simply that being more visible creates more patient reminders to interact. When a patient sees regular mentions of a doctor on their own social media channels, they can’t help but feel entitled to join the dialogue lest they be left out. To an extent, being active on social media also lowers a perceived patient-physician psychological barrier. But this could be more of an old-school prejudice or excuse to not engage. Clearly the physicians we studied felt comfortable with a more active social media profile, reflected in at least one active social media account, monthly or bimonthly newsletters, frequent blog posts, or email newsletters.
There are professional and ethical considerations in ANY use of social media. We recommend this physician’s guide to social media by the American College of Physicians, and this downloadable PDF from the Federation of State Medical Boards. Increased social media posting is a good way to keep your reputation visible and tacitly invite your patients to voice their opinion along with others. It’s a free, simple way to give your practice a voice across a wide swath of online real estate.
Keeping your online data consistent is vital not just to your reviews and reputation, but for patients finding you in the first place. NAP refers to Name Address and Phone Number. Search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo look for precise NAP consistency for your practice across all directories and listings. The more NAP consistency you have, the more credible you appear, which is rewarded by search engines with higher search ranking (i.e., top of search results). Great for search engine optimization (SEO), but how does this tie into your reviews?
For one, NAP consistency creates a powerful & beautiful wall when patients search for you by name. You may (or may not) be the top search for ‘implant dentist, Des Moines’. But when a patient gets your name as a potential referral, NAP consistency will ensure that the first 10 listings of search results all look fabulous, with the same address, phone, name + lots of listings with lots of fresh reviews. Think about the obverse: inconsistent NAP means that same potential referral patient sees your name spelled three ways, and two old addresses, and sparse or stale reviews. You will likely lose you that patient’s confidence…or even her call.
Search engines will likely discount reviews attached to neglected or obsolete listings. Worse, old (bad) reviews from popular sites may trump more current reviews from less popular review sites. Again, our best-reviewed doctors had a diligent process in place for ensuring their name, address and phone number were accurate and up to date, especially on the websites that publish doctor reviews.
A 5-star doctor understands that not every aspect of her 5-star reviews is under her control. If you look up negative reviews and filter by search terms, the five top words used are “staff,” “wait,” “rude,” “billing,” and “insurance.” Curt staff, billing issues, long wait times due to scheduling and confusion about insurance coverage. In other words: things you don’t control. Ultimately about 60% of a patient’s experience in your office is in the hands of your staff. You can provide the best care possible and still garner ire from a patient.
The best antidote to this is staff training – investing in making sure your managers and receptionists field phone calls, emails, chats and of course in-person visits with kindness, patience and clarity. This will boost your patients’ satisfaction immensely. In our conversations with best-reviewed doctors, we found better than 40% had some sort of formal staff training program on a topic such as phone etiquette and customer service. For further reference on this topic check out EasyPay Solutions’ blog post on best practices for office staff.
Patients understand that nobody’s perfect…even you. You want your reputation to be the best it can be, but not every patient is a happy patient. One of the factors about best-reviewed doctors was their ability to bounce back from the occasional bad review. Perhaps due to their willingness to be more engaged with patients online, these doctors tended to respond – and not ignore – bad reviews.
This is perhaps the most controversial aspect of online reputation management: to engage or not engage when dealing with a ranting patient. Our impression is that the doctor’s with the best reviews are not afraid to address the occasional bad review. The thought process goes something like this: Having a few bad reviews amongst a large number of positive reviews actually makes the good reviews more credible. It shows patients that your reviews are from real people, not fabricated, and that you yourself are a real person. Most patients are reasonable. So reading your REASONABLE response to a bad review is a golden opportunity to demonstrate your good nature. Therefore, you can gain much by engaging and responding since your audience is far larger than just the unhappy patient.
Complaints about a specific issues – poor care, rude staff, billing confusion – are the ones to embrace. If you address these comments and offer a solution in a polite and savvy way, sometimes that patient will retract the negative review altogether. If they don’t, there’s value in knowing a potential new patient browsing those reviews will see that you took the time to address this concern and they will respect you for it.
“Leaders are people who do the right thing; managers are people who do things right.” – Professor Warren G. Bennis, University of Southern California.
Leadership is the key trait in successful practices. According to customer service expert Belinda Jackson, this comes down to three key things:
- Being clear about what you really want for your business – set goals.
- Making sure your team understands those goals.
- Ensuring that everyone on staff is actively working towards them and actually understands how they contribute to the results.
Remember “you are your brand” – as the owner of the practice you set the tone and call the shots. So, what patients experience is in large part what you show them. Patients infer the brand message based on their total experience. You may be a warm, caring provider, but the patient is often evaluating your processes, procedures and staff, not just you.
As a leader, you must consider and manage the big picture.
Getting more reviews, and better reviews, is the product of a disciplined process, not expensive promotion or luck. The best reviewed doctors stay aware of their online presence and reviews, keep feedback fresh (within the last year) and put effort into making their patient’s office experience enjoyable and review-worthy. Staff training is key: leadership, good systems, and great staff prevent patient frustrations that can lead to bad reviews….and create delight which will lead to great online reviews.