When it comes to finding and choosing a healthcare provider, online reputation is today’s word of mouth. Healthcare consumers are making most of their decisions in a digital world — yet, according to recent PatientPop research, only 1 of 3 providers say strong online patient reviews are most important to their practice success.
Patients will tell you otherwise. In our 2020 patient survey, 70 percent of patients say they check online reviews when looking for a provider, making it the #1 online resource. That reliance on other others’ opinions has only grown over time, and is now nearly universal: only 3.8% of patients say online reviews aren’t important.
If you haven’t yet invested in online reputation management, now is clearly the time.
Take charge of what you can control. Start with online business profiles.
As you already know, your practice website isn’t the only place patients can find information about you. There are dozens of sites that list local businesses and healthcare providers, including Google, Yelp, WebMD, Healthgrades, and Facebook, just to name a few.
While you can’t control your online reviews, you can control much of what patients see about you when they search online.
The first step toward doing that across the web is “claiming” your online business profiles. That means telling each site you’re the person or practice they’re listing. Doing so allows you to optimize each profile, branding your practice to attract the right patients.
Claiming your profiles can also eliminate confusion or frustration for patients by doing away with inconsistent or outdated contact information. Across your entire web presence, you can ensure your practice name, address, phone numbers, and hours of operation are all accurate and consistent.
Depending on the website, you can also upload photos to your profile and link to your own site — additional opportunities to describe who you are and what you do.
Of all the listing sites out there, your Google business listings are the most important, based on the immense market share Google has for search (consistently 88 percent). By using the Google My Business tool, you can craft your Google business profile for all to see.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when claiming your online profiles.
- Add great photos. The more photos you upload, the more you can bring your practice to life. Consider professional photos of the exterior of your building, friendly staff, clean lobbies, and patient rooms.
- Get specific. When choosing your business categories, be as specific as you can. This will help Google connect you with the patients looking specifically for what you do. For example, “foot surgeon” is better than “podiatrist,” which is far better than “physician.”
- Differentiate yourself. When writing your profile, consider why your patients choose you over competitors. Maybe it’s your level of expertise, fellowship training, unique services or specialties, or convenient hours. Whatever it is, highlight it in your profile.
For help getting started, PatientPop has a Google My Business learning session that walks you through step-by-step instructions.
The link between online reputation for healthcare practices and local search results
Your practice’s online reputation doesn’t only impact patient perception — it can also affect your search results. A stronger online reputation can contribute to higher search volume.
That’s because positive reviews signal to Google and other search engines that your practice is relevant in the community, that it’s frequented often, and that it’s reviewed regularly.
There are 83 foundational factors that affect search. According to SEO agency Moz, two of the top 20 are related to the volume of reviews your practice receives, and online reviews can account for up to 15 percent of search result factors. Considering the impact search results have in driving patient acquisition, focusing on online reviews is a sound SEO strategy.
The power and influence of online reviews for private practices
As consumerism continues to redefine healthcare choice, the Amazon effect is real. Patients looking for a doctor want to know what other patients think.
Reading the experiences and opinions of other patients is the single most influential online element in a patient’s decision-making process. Our research shows that 73 percent of patients consider positive reviews very or extremely important.
There are three critical factors to online reviews:
- Total number of reviews
The average consumer for any business now reads about 10 reviews, according to an annual survey from BrightLocal, but you need more than 10 to influence Google or your patients. That’s because both will make decisions by simply comparing how many reviews you have compared to your competition. A healthy number of reviews implies you have a steady stream of patients and that reviews may be more relevant.
- Average star rating
Google’s star rating is based on aggregate data from all the major review sites. If you want to rise to the top, four stars or greater is the goal. Our research indicates most patients (59%) will only consider practices with an average star rating of four or higher. These ratings also impact search results: if someone uses the word “best” in their search terms, Google uses a 4-star threshold in response to that query. If your practice’s average star rating is less than 4, you’re far less likely to show up well in local search results, giving your competitors a real advantage.
- Frequency of reviews
How often you receive reviews tells patients and search engines how timely and relevant the information is. According to BrightLocal, 48 percent of consumers say a review older than two weeks won’t impact their decision. Ninety-four percent say any review older than three months is irrelevant.
Of all these factors, PatientPop research says the average star rating is the most important deciding factor for prospective patients, the choice of nearly half the respondents (49.2%). Improving that average star rating requires a concerted effort to get more reviews.
The key to more reviews? Asking for patient feedback
To receive more patient feedback, you have to ask for it. While a verbal request or snail mail survey may sound easy, neither is likely to impact your online reputation.
Sending automated patient satisfaction surveys allows you to request and receive feedback at scale. Surveys should be delivered to each patient (via text or email) soon after their visit. A hardwired process that’s easy for both patients and staff will make it easy to implement and manage. Most important, as shown in PatientPop survey research, patients who are asked for feedback are 50 percent more likely to proactively submit an online review.
Addressing patients’ negative feedback is an opportunity, not a hassle
Inevitably, when you ask for patient feedback, it will come back in all flavors. The majority of responses will reflect a positive patient experience, but negative feedback can work in your favor, too. It provides an opportunity to connect and regain patient trust by responding to said feedback, which can actually improve your reputation. Plus, constructive criticism can help identify areas of opportunity that can help improve your practice in the long run.
The key is simple: respond to all negative feedback. Patients who share negative feedback are 276% more dissatisfied if that concern is left unaddressed.
Whether they offer their opinion on an online review site, via a survey, or by sending you an email, unhappy patients need to hear from you directly. For review sites, reply to the feedback publicly so others can see your care and concern. When responding, be prompt (within 1-2 days is best) and concise. Avoid sounding defensive and never provide details that would jeopardize HIPAA compliance.
Establishing a coordinated strategy to improve and nurture your online reputation can have a lasting positive impact on your business, driving both patient acquisition and retention. From claiming business profiles to automating patient satisfaction surveys to addressing negative feedback, taking control of your online reputation is time well-spent.