Today’s discerning healthcare consumers have more information at their fingertips than ever when deciding on a provider. Whether it’s Nextdoor and Reddit, or review sites like Google, Yelp, and Facebook, prospective patients turn to the internet for recommendations on just about everything — including where to find the best doctor, surgeon, or dentist for their needs.
The power and influence of your healthcare practice’s online reputation cannot be underestimated. Seventy-four percent of patients say they find online reviews very or extremely important in their decision-making process. In fact, online reviews are consistently the number one resource for patients selecting a healthcare provider.
Arguably more important than the content of individual reviews is your healthcare practice’s average star rating on Google.
When your practice pops up in search engine results, those bright orange stars that summarize your online reputation hold a lot of power. Patients reading online reviews choose Google as their No. 1 resource. Thus, improving your star rating on Google is a top patient acquisition strategy.
How Google star ratings work
When patients leave a review on your Google My Business profile, they typically choose a rating between one to five stars. Google then calculates an average star rating for your healthcare practice from your patient reviews. Prospective patients use this key component of your online reputation to weigh their options. This is the case for patients seeking a new physician, as well as those following up on a referred specialist.
By quickly checking the star rating, patients can easily get a sense of how satisfied patients have been with the care and service they receive at that practice. If your practice lacks a robust reputation management strategy, you may not have many reviews, which has an inherent risk for your acquisition opportunities. One bad review can then have a serious effect on your average star rating — giving prospective patients the wrong first impression.
A subpar (or even poor) star rating can significant hinder new patient volume growth. In the 2021 patient perspective survey, 69 percent of patients said they won’t consider a healthcare provider with a rating lower than four out of five stars. The percentage of people with this threshold is up significantly from last year’s research (a 53 percent increase). Additionally, nearly one in five patients have even a stricter view and will only consider providers with a minimum of 4.5 stars.
That level of assessment isn’t just with patients. Google considers it, as well, when delivering their online searchers with the information they seek. Today’s patients — and overall consumers — want “the best” and include that phrase in their search terms.
The volume of “best” internet searches has been rising steadily, and Google relies on star ratings to help it determine which businesses to serve in response to these discerning search queries. The default setting for Google searches including the word “best” is four stars. If a patient searches for the “best [specialty] practice in [your area]” and you don’t have four stars, your practice will not surface in the local pack of Google results. Only practices or providers with a minimum four-star rating will show up in that box of local-based options.
With that in mind, your practice must aim for a minimum four-star Google rating, and PatientPop recommends at least a 4.2 out of five to show up well against local competition. While this may seem like a lofty goal for some, practices that fall below the four-star threshold risk losing out on prospective patients actively seeking care in the area.
Improving your Google star rating: A healthcare practice’s step-by-step guide
Although many healthcare practice owners think their Google star rating is out of their control, there are numerous proven strategies to help boost the volume, frequency, and overall sentiment of your online reviews.
These four steps can help your healthcare practice improve your online reputation, make a great first impression, and win over more new patients.
#1: Modernize the patient experience
Today’s sophisticated healthcare consumers conduct just about every important business transaction within a digital environment. Healthcare should be no exception. Medical and dental practices that prioritize digital convenience for their patients deliver a better patient experience, and are likely to get better online reviews.
PatientPop research indicates at least half of patients prefer a digital experience for these key interactions with your practice: scheduling an appointment; filling out registration and other forms; accessing health records; asking the provider a question; and paying their bill.
Practices that implement convenient digital tools for online scheduling, appointment confirmations and reminders via text messaging and email communication, telehealth services, and digital registration and intake forms show patients their time is valued. Implementing these digital tools also eliminate manual tasks from the front-desk workflow, giving staff more time to focus on delivering a better patient experience.
In return, patients will be more likely to leave positive online reviews, praising the practice’s flexibility, convenience, and commitment to excellence.
#2: Communicate with patients effectively
Communication plays an integral role in the patient experience, and regular, effective communication can drive patient retention. In a recent blog post, we highlighted how effective communication supports a better experience during each phase of the patient journey.
Aside from quality care, 67.1 percent of patients say what they want most from their healthcare provider is a good listener. Nearly 47 percent said they want a provider that offers prompt response to questions or concerns. By offering a variety of communication options to patients, your practice can better meet their preferences for connection. Give patients the opportunity to choose: phone, text message, email, website. Letting patients communicate on their terms makes for happier patients (who are more likely to leave positive online reviews).
#3: Ask for patient feedback
The only way to know what your patients think about your practice, providers, and staff is to ask them. Introducing automated patient satisfaction surveys after each visit gives your patients the opportunity to share their feedback, and signals that you value their opinion. In addition, patient feedback helps you identify potential problems or operational issues, which you can address before they have a chance to negatively affect your online reputation.
When you receive negative reviews or feedback, it’s very important to address them promptly. When patients don’t receive a response after posting a critical review, the negative effects are staggering: satisfaction drops 96.5 percent and the rate of patient dissatisfaction increases more than 7x. Acknowledging the patient’s feedback and responding to them directly within the same online forum can turn things around, and signal to onlookers that you’re attentive to patient concerns.
Practices that use the PatientPop all-in-one practice growth platform can respond to Google feedback directly from within the PatientPop dashboard, making it easier than ever to address issues promptly.
#4: Address staff burnout
Amidst the global pandemic, healthcare worker burnout is at an all-time high. Patients can feel when staff are unhappy or exhausted, which can have a real impact on the patient experience. This makes addressing burnout a top strategy to help improve your online reviews and star rating.
Ideas to consider include: communicate openly and engage with staff, shift job roles as needed, offer flexibility when possible, and automate certain manual functions, such as scheduling, appointment reminders, and registration and intake paperwork. Doing so will let your staff know you consider them a priority — and they can make patients a priority. The end result is happier patients and, over time, a stronger online reputation.
In conclusion, while improving your healthcare practice’s star rating may take time, it’s an investment that’s imperative based on today’s patient habits. As you acquire more reviews and improve your patient experience, your stellar online reputation will make a great first impression on prospective patients — in turn, leading to an even-better Google star rating and the potential for ongoing practice growth.