5 ways doctors kill their online reputations

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If you were to poll your colleagues on their methods of attracting new patients, many would undoubtedly say word-of-mouth referrals are their bread and butter for practice growth. It’s true that people who have a positive encounter are inclined to share their experiences one-on-one. In fact, 83 percent of Americans have made a word-of-mouth recommendation.1

However, word-of-mouth is not enough for steady practice growth. Not only is there a limit to how many people word-of-mouth can reach, but a referral isn’t evidence enough for most patients to select a doctor: Some 91 percent of patients always or sometimes conducts additional research after receiving a referral.2

What’s more, most patients don’t start their search for a healthcare professional by chatting with their primary care physician, family, or friends; they start online. About three out of four patients (74.6 percent) say they have looked online to find out about a doctor, a dentist, or medical care.3

To continuously attract new patients, healthcare providers must make an exceptional first impression online. But successful online reputation management isn’t always easy. In this whitepaper, we share five mistakes doctors commonly make when engaging in reputation management. Are you unintentionally killing your online reputation? Read on to find out.

Online reputation management mistakes doctors commonly make

1. They deny the importance of patient reviews

Online patient reviews are the single most important factor for patients when selecting healthcare providers. Not only do 78 percent of people trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations4, 72 percent of patients say checking online reviews is their very first step in finding a new doctor.5

Nearly three out of five patients (59 percent) say online reviews from other patients ultimately contribute to their decision when choosing a doctor, dentist, or other healthcare provider.6

This is higher than other factors, including a doctor’s website (38.4 percent), response time to an online request (21.1 percent), and quality of social media and blog posts (7.5 percent).

Like it or not, prospective patients have made it clear that online reviews are important to them. Denying their importance negatively affects your healthcare reputation management efforts, so doctors must learn to embrace patient reviews, both good and bad.

2. They do not claim important business and healthcare listings

More than half of patients (50.5 percent) say information found on business and healthcare directory websites helps form their opinion of a doctor, dentist, or other healthcare provider.7

Claiming, auditing, and optimizing important provider and practice listings is an easy online reputation management task that can have a big impact on patient acquisition. This entails:

  • Verifying that you are the owner of a healthcare practice 
  • Ensuring all business information (name, address, phone number, hours of operation, and so on) is correct
  • Writing a detailed description of your practice and its unique offerings, or providing details on your education and experience
  • Uploading high-quality photographs of you, your staff, and the exterior and interior of your practice

Failing to claim important business and healthcare listings is a reputation management mistake because incomplete or inaccurate listings are frustrating for patients. They’re also confusing to search engines. Google considers online directories highly reputable and uses information it finds on directories to build your healthcare practice in the online world. When different directories contain different information, Google does not know what information is accurate, so it often won’t surface anything to searchers.

Many doctors do not claim their listings simply because they do not recognize the important role they play in online reputation management. Others do not because there are hundreds of online directories, and they’re unsure which are the most important. Our advice is to prioritize the directories where patients look for reviews of healthcare providers. These include Google (48.8 percent), WebMD (32.8 percent), Yelp (22.8 percent), and Healthgrades (21.8 percent).8

3. They do not continuously ask patients for their feedback

The majority of doctors (62 percent) spend anywhere from 13 to 24 minutes with each patient.9 But between filling out paperwork, interacting with intake staff, and waiting in the exam room, patients usually spend significantly more time than this while visiting a practice.

You might think doctors would want greater insight into the experiences patients have outside of the exam room, but …

... two out of five patients (40.6 percent) say their healthcare providers do not ask them for feedback.10

This can be detrimental to one’s healthcare reputation management because, without patient feedback, doctors aren’t able to identify any frequent problems that could easily be remedied.

For example, doctors could find many of their patients think phone hold times are unacceptably long and that they would prefer to schedule appointments online. (81 percent of patients say they would utilize online scheduling, if given the option.11) By giving patients the opportunity to provide feedback like this directly to your practice, you could deter them from sharing any displeasure publicly via an online patient review — too many of which chip away at a positive online reputation.

In a similar vein, proactively asking for feedback could give happy patients the nudge they need to write complimentary online reviews. Continuously acquiring reviews is important for online reputation management because search engine optimization experts agree that review velocity (or frequency) is an important search ranking factor.12 Furthermore, 85 percent of people think online reviews older than 3 months are not relevant.13

4. They fail to celebrate positive patient feedback

If a patient paid you or a member of your staff a compliment face-to-face, your natural inclination would be to thank them. The same should be true of digital compliments; however, many doctors fail to appropriately celebrate positive online patient reviews and feedback.

When responding to positive online feedback, a simple thank you is often enough. Many social media social media platforms allow you to “like” comments, which is also an easy way to acknowledge a patient’s kind words.

Taking it a step further, you can privately reach out to patients to obtain their written consent to feature their feedback in marketing materials. Feature their compliments on your practice website, share them on social media, and showcase them on printed materials such as brochures.

5. They do not reply to negative patient feedback

Many doctors think negative patient reviews are an online reputation killer. But that’s not true. Failing to appropriately reply to negative feedback is what kills an online reputation.

Acknowledging patient reviews is a customer expectation: 70 percent of patients say that it is very or moderately important to them that providers answer negative reviews14, yet …

51.8 percent of patients who’ve submitted negative feedback say they were not contacted about their concerns.15

Negative reviews can deter prospective patients from choosing you as their doctor, so it’s of special importance to reply where appropriate. Plus, replying to disgruntled patients offers the chance to mend relationships. When a provider responds to a negative patient review, the rate of satisfied patients doubles, increasing 99 percent.16

Best practices when responding to negative reviews include:

  • Responding quickly. Patients generally expect to receive a resolution within one business day. If you miss the 24-hour window, respond as soon as you can.
  • Being concise. The longer your reply to negative feedback, the more likely you are to share protected health information (PHI), which is a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accessibility Act (HIPAA). Thank the reviewer for their feedback, assure them their opinion matters, and offer options for the reviewer to contact you privately, so you can better understand their concerns. Even if the reviewer never contacts you, prospective patients will see that you were dedicated to finding a resolution, which is a benefit to your healthcare reputation management efforts.
  • Being careful. Never apologize or admit fault if the reviewer is complaining about care, as this could be used against you should a malpractice lawsuit surface. (It is OK to apologize for a long wait or difficulty finding parking, however.) Do not confirm that a person is a patient or refer to their symptoms or diagnosis in any way, even if the patient references these.

If your online reputation management efforts are lacking or you’re engaging in reputation-killing activities, now is the time to change your course. Revive your online reputation by taking stock of your reputation management efforts to date, and then taking small yet consistent steps to correct any mistakes.

If your online reputation is on life support or you’re simply too busy running a practice to tackle new healthcare reputation management activities, consider investing in reputation management software. Reputation management software like PatientPop helps you make an exceptional first impression online with automated patient satisfaction surveys that collect more patient feedback as well as an easy-to-use dashboard that allows you to monitor incoming patient reviews. To learn more, visit patientpop.com.

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5 ways doctors kill their online reputations