Patient trust: 7 ways physicians can earn it on- and offline
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7 ways to build patient trust on- and offline

Patient trust is the keystone of any relationship between physician and patient. Broadly speaking, health is of the utmost importance, but the subject can make people feel vulnerable. Earning patient trust is the first step on their journey to care — as well as to your office. Greater patient trust translates to higher satisfaction levels. It can even compel a patient to take a more proactive approach to their health and stick with a course of treatment longer. All this leads to more positive outcomes overall.

But the road to gaining patient trust starts well before they step foot into your office. As with many things, it begins online. As a physician, you need to establish a level of trust over the web before a patient will choose to visit your practice instead of the competition. Then, you need to continually prove your trustworthiness to build that valuable, potentially lifelong relationship so patients come back again and again. Here’s how to get started.

1. Establish reliability through consistent online listings information. 

There’s no more frustrating experience out of the gate than finding a physician’s phone number or website only to reach a dead end when a patient tries to call or click. But it’s an all-too-common occurrence, because third-party data sources regularly feed inaccurate or outdated information to the myriad websites patients use to find care. As a healthcare provider, you need to keep a finger on the pulse of where you’re popping up online to ensure you don’t lead patients down the wrong path. Bonus: Accurate, consistent listings information also improves your trust with Google and, accordingly, your SEO so you rank higher in search results.

2. Build out online profiles that showcase your personality and tell a compelling story. 

Having a presence on third-party sites is more important than your own website. Prospective patients gravitate to these objective destinations to evaluate you and your practice, and if you’re not represented there, you might as well not exist.

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Create robust, inviting profiles that tell prospective patients a little bit about yourself, your practice, and your care philosophy. A great profile will have a high-quality headshot, complemented by other pictures and videos that explore your office as well as the people patients might meet there. List all the conditions you treat and procedures you do so you both rank for them on individual sites and don’t miss patients looking for specialty care. Add any accolades or awards you’ve accumulated over the years. And consider calling out hobbies or extracurricular activities: You never know what might connect with a prospective patient!

3. Earn patient trust through honest online reviews.

Online patient reviews are the true currency of the digital age. 94% of patients look for and read them before making a healthcare decision — and 84% even trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation from someone they know! Patients want to see real feedback from their peers with firsthand experience on objective, third-party sites. It’s mission critical that you collect online reviews on a regular basis, as nearly 80% of patients don’t trust reviews older than three months. The good news? Getting just one or two new reviews per week keeps your online presence fresh and relevant.

Now, a lot of doctors hesitate to open the floodgates when it comes to online reviews. They’re worried about having to deal with negative feedback from an unsatisfied patient. But if someone’s set on leaving you a bad review, they can — and will — do so no matter what precautions you’ve taken to guard your online reputation. As long as the positive outweighs the bad, patients can suss out and overlook a disgruntled patient. Plus, a huge majority of patients don’t trust doctors with no negative reviews online, so the lone one- or two-star write-up actually plays to your advantage.

4. Respond to reviews to build credibility and show the human side of your business. 

Most patients like to see you or someone in your office reply to reviews, good or bad. Responding to positive feedback lets you further engage happy patients, giving them another reason to return to your practice or recommend you to friends. On the other hand, responding to negative reviews demonstrates that you’re listening — and, more importantly, that you care. Plus, by responding to an unhappy customer you have an opportunity to even turn their negative sentiment around: Most people who leave negative reviews just want to feel heard and validated.

For more on responding to patient reviews, download Doctor.com’s free ebook: Mastering Reviews to Become a 5-Star Practice.

5. Make scheduling an appointment uncomplicated and stress-free. 

Once you’ve won a patient over with your sterling online presence and reputation, facilitate the “last mile” of their journey to care by securing that appointment. Most patients prefer to book through digital means — a trend that will continue to grow as the healthcare industry catches up and online-scheduling tools become more widely available. Plus, as millennials and Gen Z step more into caregiver roles, online booking capabilities will become a key differentiator between practices.

But it’s not just these younger generations who seek digital methods of appointment booking. One-third of the over-60 crowd would rather make their appointments digitally. By casting a wider net in how people can reach you, you lock in more new and returning patients.

6. Communicate through your patients’ channel of choice. 

People’s communication preferences vary. Some are strict texters, letting phone calls go straight to voicemail (which they may never check). Others prefer to chat with you or your office over the phone. And still others just want to be emailed. Either way, about 70% of patients agree that good communication is an integral part of the five-star experience. Don’t force a phone call on the majority who prefer appointment reminders and follow-ups through text or email. Let patients opt in to how they get in touch with you, and follow their lead.

7. Deliver a great in-person experience. 

At the end of the day, it all comes down to the patient experience. High-quality customer service is the #1 thing patients point to that drives their loyalty. In fact, most patient complaints are about customer service issues outside of the care received. While that may seem frustrating to providers, keeping an eye on the logistical side of your business can lead to greatly improved satisfaction, which will be reflected in your online ratings and reviews. How friendly is your front-office staff? How comfortable and clean is your waiting room? What’s the parking situation? Are your wait times long, and, if they are, are you upfront about it? These are all components of a great customer experience, and prioritizing them more will help your practice thrive.

Interestingly, “told” is the one word most commonly associated with negative patient sentiment. Patients don’t want to feel their doctor is talking at — or down to — them. They want to feel like they have a role to play in their treatment. Practicing active listening by looking a patient in the eye, repeating what they say back to them, addressing concerns head on, and asking for clarification on issues will go a long way in showing your patients you hear them.

Expert care complemented by a seamless journey and five-star service will win patient trust, turning prospects into repeat customers who complete the cycle by referring their friends and leaving you glowing reviews. To take the first step toward earning patient trust online, measure the strength of your online presence and reputation with Doctor.com’s free practice diagnostic tool.

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