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The importance of online reputation for healthcare providers - the Practice Growth Podcast

Learn the role online reputation plays in attracting new patients and tips for improving how you appear on the web.

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The Practice Growth Podcast is an educational resource for doctors, dentists, and other healthcare providers about how to market and manage a thriving healthcare practice.

In Episode 3, host Lisa Christy is joined by PatientPop representatives Reva Gindi and Emy Husmoe. The trio discusses doctor online reputation management.

A robust online reputation is critical to attracting new patients, yet a recent PatientPop survey found more than half (55.4 percent) of healthcare providers do not know or aren’t sure how to affect their reputation. Gindi and Husmoe share how to get a good understanding of the current state of your online reputation, how to effectively respond to online criticism, how to improve your online reputation, and more. Click below to listen.

Find new episodes of The Practice Growth Podcast every other week on the PatientPop blog, or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.

Lisa Christy: Have you ever Googled yourself? You know, typed your name into Google, hit enter, seen what comes up? It’s something I do pretty regularly. It’s because I know the information Google surfaces — the websites, photos, videos, articles and so on — will help shape people’s opinions of me. People I’ve never met. People I might never meet.

Today, more and more people are using search engines to find doctors. They could search your name, or they could search something like [best dentist austin texas]. Do you know what these prospective patients see when they find your practice? Do you even know if your practice shows up? That’s the topic of today’s podcast.

Hi there and welcome to The Practice Growth Podcast, the doctor’s resource for marketing and managing a thriving healthcare practice. I’m Lisa Christy. It can take months or even years for a healthcare provider to build a strong online reputation. Many providers don’t even bother with online reputation. This could be because they don’t know how to start, or because they think it’s impossible to counter a handful of bad reviews written by a few dissatisfied former patients. Rock ‘n Roll legend Joan Jett didn’t give a damn about her bad reputation, but local search marketing experts say healthcare providers definitely should.

Joining me today to talk about this more are PatientPop Senior Manager of Customer Integrations Reva Gindi and PatientPop Manager of Customer Performance Emy Husmoe. Ladies, thank you both for being with us.

Emy Husmoe: Thank you. It’s great being here.

Reva Gindi: Thanks for having us.

Lisa Great. So, Reva, let me start with you. What exactly is online reputation?

Reva: So your online reputation is how you appear online to both prospective patients, as well as search engines. We recognize that the front door of practices has really moved online. And as a result, your online reputation is essentially an extension of your practice.

When we think about an online reputation, we understand that it’s impacted by several key factors. First, your average star rating across websites and the total number of reviews across the web. The frequency of reviews published on your site and on third-party publishers.

Emy: Yeah. I mean, reviews and testimonials, they are beneficial outside of what we’ve been talked about there, but also just even to your website. So they add a valuable content. That content on your website, it influences ranking through improved relevance and prominence, which we’ll probably talk about in a little bit.

But for onsite testimonials, those reviews allow star ratings on your site to actually show up in search results, and then reviews across the web. So not on your website, but instead on those different publishing sites like Google, Healthgrade, things like that.

They provide prominence to business information in search engines. Again, they also create that relevant content, and with rich snippets they allow star ratings to appear in search results and things like that.

Reva: So kind of in conclusion, not only does a well-managed reputation increase provider prominence and search results, but it also highly influences patients when they’re choosing a provider, and it also uncovers some actionable feedback that can be directly used to improve practices.

Lisa: One thing I did kind of want to go back, Emy, you mentioned rich snippets. Can you explain what that is?

Emy: Sure. Rich snippets, it’s a way for in Google search results, if you have a search query, sometimes you see things like stars underneath the title tag or the title of your result. And those rich snippets, Google is getting information from your website if it’s marked up.

With PatientPop, we mark up all of the sites with schema and because we’re doing that, those rich snippets, those stars, they actually show up in your search results tied to your website results, but also tied to, again, those third-party websites.

And it really helps with click-through-rate. If somebody’s searching, checking out the reviews — I’m searching for my doctor and I’m seeing all these results, seeing those stars, and especially if I am seeing four or 5 stars with those results, can really help the patient make the decision to go with you as a doctor.

Lisa: Got it. So what exactly does a well-managed reputation look like?

Emy: Yeah, so when we talk about a well-managed reputation, I know a lot of times when you talk about online reputation in general, we’re talking about how do you get good reviews? How do you get positive reviews online? And how it relates to conversions online and your SEO.

But what we also really want to remember, is that asking patients for feedback, when and if an issue actually arises, you need to also make those changes to how your actual business runs to ensure that it gets resolved.

If you are seeing things, like, for instance, the front office staff, maybe somebody didn’t have a good interaction with them or maybe billing was messed up. Whatever it is, it’s not enough to just necessarily see that, maybe respond online. You also have to remember that this is feedback about your actual business and it’s important to take that back and actually make improvements to your business offline, because that’s gonna impact your online, too.

Lisa: So here’s a question that I’m sure a lot of healthcare providers are wanting to know the answer to. Does online reputation really affect whether prospective patients will choose one healthcare provider over another healthcare provider? Like is it really that important?

Reva: Surprisingly, it is. And we have some interesting facts that we’ll share with you as to how important that can be. As Emy said, online reviews really provide valuable insight into how customers think about your business. And a well-managed reputation really does highly influence patients when they’re choosing a provider.

When we looked at a recent survey, it showed that 84 percent of respondents actually use online reviews to evaluate a physician. And on top of that, 77 percent reported that they use reviews as their first step in finding a healthcare provider.

Even further, 37 percent reported that they were wary of a provider with a negative reputation. When we’re looking at how patients choose a provider, almost 50 percent out of all the respondents to a consumer survey reported that they would go to an out-of-network doctor with great reviews before seeing an in-network doctor who was reviewed less favorably, even if both doctors have the same qualifications.

Lisa: Oh, wow. So patients are even willing to pay more just to see the better — or supposedly better — doctor. The doctor that has the better online reputation.

Emy: Yeah, and I think, when we’re thinking about patients and their experience, people don’t want to have to waste time by potentially going to somebody that’s gonna have a bad experience. So being already, having that feeling of confirmation that other people have had a positive experience with a provider can really influence their decision to go with one versus another. And I think that also goes to show, not having any reviews can also impact you just as much maybe as negative reviews online. Right?

Lisa: So say I’m a healthcare provider, and for whatever reason, I have not looked to see what my online reputation is. How would I go about finding out, you know, what people are saying about me online? Is it just do I type my name into Google and see what comes up, or what is it?

Reva: Absolutely. You know, Google’s protective of exactly how they determine search rankings, but they do release some recommendations. And what they’ve shared with us is that local search rankings are primarily based on three factors: relevance, distance or proximity, and prominence.

When we say relevance, we’re saying, what’s the best answer for that search query? What’s most relevant? Right?

For distance or prominence, Google actually takes into account where the user is in comparison to the results that they’re going to show. For instance, if I’m here, you know, we’re in Los Angeles, we’re in Santa Monica. When I do a search for a doctor, I’m going to see other doctors that are closer to Santa Monica, more so than another doctor maybe in the South Bay or in the Valley.

And then finally, prominence. How much information can Google find about a practice? Google’s overall intention is that they want to represent what’s happening in the real world. Right? So with prominence, what they’re doing there, they want to give results that are popular, right? That people have already showed that they like. So they have different signals, reviews are one of them, that really helps to show the prominence aspect.

Lisa: We’ve been talking a lot about online reviews already. And to me, it seems like healthcare providers don’t really have control over what patients say about them online. Do they? Can they talk to patients and say, “Hey, give me a positive review,” or, “Hey, you patient who wrote me a negative review, take that down.” How does that work?

Reva: It’s a really good question, and again, while we can’t control everything that patients write about you online, the best thing to do is just to be prepared to address any issues that arise. And a lot of times, patients will equate a positive experience with quality. Studies show, in a wide range of medical specialties, that when patients are shown courtesy and care and concern, patients are really more likely to be loyal and compliant.

And a few changes in the communication process can lead to a better outcome for everyone. And just making sure that the office is providing exceptional service to your patients, and that really goes a long way. We’ll talk about this in a little bit more in detail too, but the interesting thing is that it’s actually been shown that a perfect 5-star rating isn’t the most effective for getting patients. Perfect reviews can actually cause doubt about the the validity and authenticity of reviews.

Emy: A study by Power Reviews and Northwestern University, actually showed that an average rating of 4.2 to 4.5 is the most trustworthy, and it actually increases the likelihood of a conversion.

Again, if somebody is gonna do a search and they only see 100 5-star reviews, they might just dismiss that listing altogether or that business altogether because they just don’t trust, they think maybe they’re spamming. And again, some negative reviews can actually help you.

Lisa: So instead of fake news, it’s fake reviews.

Emy: Exactly.

Lisa: Or at least that’s what people are thinking.

Emy: And I mean, again, me as a consumer out there, I actually totally trust this when I go to do my own searches and I see that. I feel the same way. I’m skeptical of something that’s too good to be true.

Lisa: We did mention negative reviews. Yes, they can be beneficial a little bit because they bring that star rating into a more desirable range of 4.2 to 4.5. But you know, no one likes negative reviews, no one wants to hear people complain about their business or the care or the customer service that they received at their practice. If a provider gets a negative review from a patient, what do you advise they do?

Reva: I think it’s actually a little bit of a mindset shift, and we can think of a negative review as actually an opportunity to connect with the patient and make them feel better about choosing your practice as their source of care. Now, your attention when responding to their concerns can really help keep a strong reputation intact, and even turn a potential negative review into a positive one.

When we’re looking at the best preparation for negative feedback is really to have a process ready to go. You can always modify the particulars based on your schedule or specialty and practice size. But, there are three things that I want to quickly highlight, too, that we really recommend that you follow.

The first is to be prompt. If a negative review can damage your reputation, consider the fallout if you wait to respond to that feedback, or if you actually don’t even respond at all. Assuming you have a reputation management process in place, you’re quickly alerted to negative reviews, and we’ll talk about how you can keep yourself up to date about reviews that are being left about your practice. But, it’s really important to act swiftly. After you understand the issue and how you want to address it, respond directly to that patient within about 24 hours.

Then second, we want to be succinct. We want to be short and sweet, and make sure your response gets to the point. But also, specifically focusing on the reviewers’ concerns, let them know that they’re being heard. Remember to thank the patient for their feedback. Part of that is also ensuring that you understand their concern or frustration, making it a top priority. And then, make sure your response is also unique to their situation. You can always offer to call the patient directly to discuss and resolve the issue.

The third thing, and being in healthcare, we really, really want to be cognizant of being careful. When we’re communicating with patients, keep in mind that we don’t want to admit fault or ignore HIPAA guidelines. Admitting fault or apologizing for treatment or care or diagnosis can sometimes be construed as malpractice. We really want to make sure that you’re sincere and helpful, but even if a patient is mentioning their own health information within a review, healthcare providers are still bound by HIPAA.

Emy: And I really love what Reva was saying here about, just really being prepared for negative feedback. I think that everybody … this is for everybody, even the best practices with the best reputation. If you already have that process ready to go, if you do get a negative reputation, it’s not gonna be as devastating, it’s not going to be as hard to handle.

Positive reviews, negative reviews, how you’re gonna be getting reviews, it needs to be part of your business strategy. And we actually have a ton of great articles in the Help Center that speak directly to this. We know that it can be kind of scary when it comes to how to respond to a negative review and we have some great tips in there.

Lisa: Great, and that’s help.patientpop.com?

Emy: It sure is.

Lisa: Perfect. One thing I did want to ask you guys is, Reva, I think you mentioned, kind of turning a negative review into a positive review. I know if I think about, you know, products I’ve bought on Amazon, I have the opportunity to kind of go back and edit my review if maybe I thought the customer service was terrible, but then the customer service was great and I can update and give them more stars.

Have you ever seen that happen for healthcare providers? Have you ever seen patients go back and say, you know, “Dr. Smith reached out to me and we resolved this quickly. And I’m so appreciative of that,” and they update the star ranking?

Emy: Absolutely. And again I think that can be even more impactful to potential future patients to see a negative review, the response from the business owner or from the practice, and then seeing somebody actually go back and improve their review. I think that can be really impactful.

Lisa: Sure. Because most often, the reviewer will point out and say, “I hated this, but now I love it,” you know? That’s the first thing that they always say is, “I gave it a negative review, but now it’s a positive.”

OK great, so here’s the question, the million dollar question, that healthcare providers want to know. How do they get more online reviews? Is it as simple as just saying at the end of every appointment, “Hey, patient, make sure you give me a positive online review.” What can they do to get more reviews?

Reva: There’s definitely a couple different things that practices can do. I think, you know, online reviews and social media sharing are really the norm these days. Instead of feeling intimidated or not sure how to approach it, because again, it can be kind of an uncomfortable process to ask somebody for a review of your care, or for very intimate healthcare-related needs, that can be tricky, too. Instead of feeling intimidated, you really think of it as another tool at your disposal.

We can absolutely say that, during appointments, regularly ask patients and encourage them to provide feedback. If a patient thanks you in person or tells you how you’ve helped them, ask if they’d be willing to take a few minutes to share it in an online review.

Right after patients leave a visit, it’s always a really nice opportunity to follow up by email, for that kind of post-appointment feedback to ask for that to include links to reputable review publishers. Just make it easy for patients to provide that feedback externally, too. And if you can also include these review requests and appointment reminders, or even in the mail. Kind of the same thing, just simply as a patient’s walking out the door.

But you know, to improve your online reputation, it’s getting in that habit of actively asking for feedback. We’ve talked about ideas for even posting a sign at check out. Personally, like we’ve talked about asking patients and then, you know, sending the feedback request after their visit.

Lisa: So, really don’t be intimidated. Just go ask them. And more often than not, they’ll oblige.

Reva: Absolutely. And as Emy was saying, it’s, you know, it’s so common for patients to look for those reviews, but you know, let them be the ones to provide that helpful feedback to others that they’ve been in that same situation before too.

Lisa: Got it, great. What are some other ways? I mean, we’ve talked a lot about online reviews. It’s really been the lion’s share of our conversation today. But, what are some other ways, other than asking for and responding to online reviews, that a healthcare provider can improve their online reputation?

Emy: What we really recommend is just taking a really proactive approach. Sometimes, when I’ve worked with our customers, they’ve said, “Delete my Yelp, delete my Google. I don’t even want one out there that people can leave reviews on.”

But that’s not actually that realistic because unfortunately, anybody can suggest to create a listing. Let’s say you delete one, or you remove it or whatever else, that doesn’t mean that it’s not going to pop right back up.

Instead of taking a passive approach or just trying to avoid it, we really recommend taking that proactive approach, claiming your online listings, make sure that you’re verifying that you’re listed as the practice owner on your profile, making sure that just your name, your address, your phone number, your NAP information is accurate, your website is accurate.

How awful is it if somebody already has an intention to convert, they try to contact you and it’s incorrect? You know, you’ve lost somebody that could have converted. Actually, I had some stats I thought were really interesting.

10 percent of consumers who read a positive review will immediately contact a business. Right? You need to make sure that your phone number or your website are accurate so they can actually do that.

Another one is 37 percent will visit the business’s website before they do anything else. Right? Again, they want to know that these ideas that they have about the practice, they think that it’s going to be good, that it’s validated through a positive experience on that website.

Lisa: Let’s go back to the example. I’m a healthcare provider, I’ve Googled my name, I see what my online reputation is now. I’m now proactively reaching out to my patients to give me this positive online feedback. How do I go about monitoring it from now on? How do I stay on top of my online reputation?

Emy: Besides just the solution that PatientPop offers — we have a reputation monitoring aspect — there are other ways that you can continuously monitor your reputation online. Reva, I know that you have some good ideas.

Reva: There’s definitely some some steps we can take. We want to make sure that it’s just a consistent process for monitoring them. It’s really important, but you know, every week or so, check the rating sites to see if any patients have left a review, whether it’s positive or negative. But we always want to highlight championing positive reviews as well, too. It’s always nice and helpful to to see what patients think you’re doing right.

Don’t keep quiet. If you see a negative review on your site, again, we should always respond with a courteous, informative explanation. And the last thing is really just be proactive. Your staff should be trained on what type of problems to look for, and also start monitoring and reporting issues and making sure that you have a central source at your practice for that individual follow up. On follow up, it may take form of a call or letter or even just an additional office visit.

Emy: Online reputation is not going to go away. If anything, it’s going to become even more and more important. So again, it’s going to be part of your business. This is a core aspect. We definitely recommend both on and offline just really making sure you have a strategy, procedures in place to really handle it. If you have that already, then when you get those negative reviews, it’s going to be in easy thing to respond to, not a crisis or anything like that. Definitely take it by the horns and be proactive.

Lisa: Excellent. Well, ladies, thank you so much. I found this very enlightening. I hope that the audience found it very enlightening. Until next time.

Emy: Thank you so much.

Reva: Thanks.

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