If you care about attracting new patients to your practice, then you care about your online reputation. Patients utilize online reviews to form a perception of the value of your practice, and when it comes to marketing, perception is reality. Although it’s near impossible to avoid negative patient reviews online, it doesn’t mean you can’t use them to your benefit.
The healthcare industry as a whole is putting more emphasis on value rather than volume, which means the focus is increasingly on patients rather than treatments. Patients understand this model as well. They know they have options and use the internet to research which practices offer them the best value (aka the best experience and outcomes).
Although a physician’s office and a local restaurant couldn’t be more different, as businesses they share the same level of obligation to provide outstanding customer service. The sooner physicians start to recognize patients as consumers, the sooner their patient retention levels will increase. And keep in mind that it’s much less expensive to retain a current patient than it is to attract a new one; not to mention it decreases your chances of receiving a negative review online.
Patients have stepped into their role as empowered consumers by using online reviews to research providers and/or share their experiences. According to The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), a 2014 study revealed that 59% of patients said physician rating sites were “somewhat important” or “very important” when choosing a physician, and 37% of patients had avoided a physician because of a bad review.
Ways Negative Reviews Can Add Value
Whether positive or negative, online reviews are powerful and patients are definitely paying attention. By managing your online reputation, you can take control of the conversation online and actually use those reviews to your advantage as an effective marketing tool to attract new patients. Below are examples of how negative reviews can not only add value for your patients but also for your practice.
Tactic: Respond directly on the review site
How it Adds Value: Shows patients you listen
When a patient leaves you negative feedback online, many of the review sites will allow you to respond directly to the patient’s comments. This can be a slippery slope. Your first instinct might be to fire back with your side of the story. However, that may only damage your reputation further and can actually cause a HIPAA violation if you reveal PHI in the process.
Instead, consider a more generic, yet timely, response that doesn’t intend to solve the conflict online, but at least shows patients you are listening. Sometimes, just the fact that you responded at all is more important to patients than the fact that a negative experience occurred in the first place. Most patients are realistic and don’t expect medical practices to be perfect, but they do expect you to care about their experience – just like any other business would.
Tactic: Pick up the phone
How it Adds Value: May convert the patient to a satisfied customer
Many of the review sites no longer allow patients to post feedback anonymously, which means you can often identify the patient who left the review. So have you ever thought about actually calling the patient who gave you a negative review online? We recently had a client who tried this very tactic and it worked beautifully.
The patient had left the physician a harsh review online and we discovered it immediately since we were monitoring the practice’s reviews. We alerted the practice and the physician picked up the phone and personally called the patient. It turns out the patient had left a voicemail for the doctor’s medical assistant about a prescription, and she did not receive the message and therefore never responded. The patient assumed the doctor was just unresponsive. The physician politely explained the scenario to the patient and by the end of the call the patient had been converted to a happy customer; mostly because the patient was so impressed that the doctor would personally call him.
The physician asked the patient to remove the review and he took it down that same day. That one negative review could have cost the physician many new patients over the years. Sometimes a 10-minute phone call is all it takes to keep your online reputation intact. It also ensures this patient will speak positively about the physician in the local community as well.
Tactic: Use the feedback as constructive criticism
How it Adds Value: Improves the patient experience
When you start to notice a trend in the negative feedback you receive from patients, such as patients constantly complaining that wait times are too long, then more likely than not it’s a valid concern. It doesn’t make sense to change your internal processes or turnover staff every time you have an isolated complaint, but it also doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t pay attention when you notice a trend.
In this scenario, negative feedback from patients can actually be extremely helpful. If you are losing patients to long wait times or because your nursing staff is unfriendly, then it’s time to make a change. Paying attention to patient feedback and adjusting the service you provide accordingly can mean the difference between a thriving practice and a struggling one. The healthcare industry is more competitive than ever and if you aren’t willing to provide the level of customer service patients expect then they are happy to go down the street to your competitor.
Not only does this tactic add value to your practice by making the experience better for the next patient through your door, it also cultivates positive reviews which can in turn increase your conversion rate online. Now, not only are you retaining current patients but you are effectively attracting new patients as well.
Negative patient reviews can be discouraging and difficult to accept, but with the right attitude and strategy you can use these reviews to your advantage by improving your online reputation and growing your practice.