The Prescription for Positive Patient Reviews

In healthcare today, more and more patients are inclined to Google a doctor’s name and read patient reviews before scheduling an appointment. Doctors hate asking their patients to post a positive review. It can be awkward and uncomfortable, but on the flip side, a positive review can be immensely rewarding. Positive reviews from prior patients create trust.

According to several consumer studies, 72% of patients consider a doctor more trustworthy based on patient reviews vs. just 18% who look at board certification and/or education. Patients were most interested in information about overall ratings, quality of care, accuracy of diagnosis, communication skills, and wait times. 44% of people surveyed said they would consider going to an out-of-network doctor if their reviews were better than those of in-network doctors.

Popular sites for patients to read or write reviews are Facebook, Google, Healthgrades, RateMDs, Vitals, Yelp, ZocDoc and others. Healthcare is one of the fields in which reputation matters the most.

Online Reviews and Privacy Concerns

Many doctors who think about online reviews are rightfully concerned about privacy laws dictated by HIPAA. Requesting reviews is not a violation of HIPAA, but if you’re reaching out to patients via email or text to ask for reviews, do so only with patients who have agreed to receive communications from you. Most patient registration forms include a section that addresses how you may communicate with them. 

You do need to be very conscious of HIPAA when replying to reviews posted about the provider or your practice. If you are operating a restaurant, it may be legal to respond to an inaccurate review by reporting the facts of what really happened. However, in healthcare, you can’t risk violating a patient’s privacy by revealing anything about the patient, their treatment plan, or whether or not they followed pre or post-treatment instructions. 

Getting Started

What makes a medical practice exceptionally good at what it does? How does it stand out from the competition and attract top talent? Great clinical care, solid strategic plans and exceptional employees all make a difference, but what top notch medical practices have that mediocre practices lack, is a culture of excellence – beliefs and behaviors demonstrated day in and day out that enable and inspire everyone in the practice to do their very best. 

In a medical practice, the practice culture would be defined as a set of shared attitudes, values, goals and practices that characterize who you are. Culture is not a “goal” to be mandated, but rather the outcome of a collective set of behaviors. Doctors can influence those behaviors in several ways and, in so doing, shape the culture of their medical practice. Start with a practice philosophy that every patient must come away from their appointment feeling that they were the most important patient your office treated that day. 

As a doctor and an individual that your staff looks to for leadership, follow three steps daily to enable a new culture to be ingrained into your practice. 

  1. Convey your vision of a winning culture. Define your aspirations, what will be different, and how these changes make a difference for the success of your medical practice. 
  1. Demonstrate how desired behaviors advance your practice. Nothing reinforces new behaviors more than success. Once you define these behaviors, work with your staff to apply them to areas that need improvement. 
  1. Reinforce your culture by integrating it into personnel management processes. Staff tend to focus on what’s measured and rewarded. The third step for building a new culture is to use the desired behaviors as criteria for hiring, promoting, rewarding and disciplining staff. 

Developing and managing a positive online reputation requires a consistent approach and attention to detail. Remember, your patients will search you online whether you want them to or not. You can’t control which patients write a positive or negative review. The only thing you can control is what kind of experience you give each patient. 

Every doctor is unique in his or her practice goals, marketplace, budget, personality, interests, etc., and as a result of that uniqueness each practice needs a customized marketing strategy and marketing plan that is tailored to the interests and goals of the physician (or group). A “one-size-fits-all” approach doesn’t work. 

The majority of doctors I talk to want to communicate a caring and compassionate branding message that strongly differentiates them from everyone else. They want to grow by maintaining current referral patterns, winning new doctor referrals, and recapturing referral sources that have slipped away. 

While the Internet gives consumers an important and convenient way to search for a doctor who treats vein disease, my recommendation is not to rely on your website alone. It takes a savvy digital marketing strategy to reach patients and compel them to call your office to schedule a consultation. To succeed in a competitive environment, it’s vital to distinguish your vein practice and your clinical capabilities in a way that builds trust and inspires patient and physician referrals. 

So, the first part of the process is giving your patients the best experience you can. The second part of managing your online reputation? Getting those happy patients to write positive reviews.

How to Grow Your Reviews From Patients

You can ask your patients to write reviews yourself, but it might be more comfortable to let your staff handle these requests, rather than putting patients on the spot in the exam room.

  1. Have your reception staff make friendly, polite conversation with every patient at the end of a visit. In order to get positive reviews, it’s important that they take just a little time to connect with each patient.
  1. Tell staff to ask for verbal reviews by saying things like, “How was your visit today?” Note that they shouldn’t ask leading questions about any particular aspect of the visit which could be interpreted as prying or an invasion of their privacy.
  1. When a patient says that the experience was good, your staff should respond by saying something like, “That’s great! If you have a chance we’d really appreciate it if you’d post a review on Facebook, Yelp or Google – it helps spread the word and helps other patients find us.”  Staff should possess the emotional intelligence to not ask patients who are unhappy, uncomfortable or rushed, to post an online review.
  1. The “Wow” Moment. Many patients have that moment when they’re overwhelmed with happiness and full of gratitude for their results. This is the moment to ask for a review. Whether you simply make a verbal request, hand them a card, or send them their before-and-after photos via email (another great tip), do not miss this window of opportunity. 
  1. Build the request into the conclusion of the post-procedure appointment. 
  1. Rotate the review sites that your staff mentions to patients. Some people will search healthcare-related sites like Healthgrades, RealSelf, ZocDoc, etc, while others will gravitate towards more general review sites like Yelp, Facebook, and Google.

Patient Reviews Improve Your SEO
Having a steady stream of (hopefully positive) reviews is about more than just appealing to the people who read these review sites. When patients write positive reviews about your practice online, it positively affects your SEO (search engine optimization).

For example…

  • Dr. Smith and Dr. Jones both have a vascular practice in Dallas, TX. Their credentials are about equal, and they’re both liked by patients. Dr. Smith has 100 online reviews across several review sites, while Dr. Jones has just a few old Facebook reviews.
  • Patient A searches Google for “varicose vein treatment in Dallas”. Because Dr. Smith has a stronger online presence and more reviews, Dr. Smith comes up first in the search results, while Dr. Jones is on page two or three of the results. Patient A will probably end up choosing Dr. Smith. 

  More reviews lead to better rankings in local search engines.

  There’s Nothing to Fear. Patients primarily write reviews to help other patients, and the majority of reviews for medical professionals are overwhelmingly positive. 

Conclusion

Ask real patients for honest reviews: Real patient reviews are an easy way to improve your practice’s online reputation. Be sure not to ask staff, family or friends to post fake reviews, though. Fake online reviews, once identified, will damage your reputation.

Be polite: When patients are happy with your service, ask them to write an online review of your practice. However, you should never pressure your patients to contribute if they are not willing or convinced. The most convenient time to request them for a review is at the end of their appointment at your office. Not all patients will be willing to write a review, but with consistent effort, you can grow the number of online patient reviews and enhance your ratings.

Make it easy: Your patients are more likely to leave a review for your practice if the process is easy. You can consider providing a link about where to review your practice on business cards, on your practice website or at various places in your office.

Address negative feedback: You will never have a 100 percent positive rating. There will be days when the staff is in a hurry, or when your appointments are running behind, or your patients are having a bad day. When you see an online review that is negative, you must follow up quickly. You should reach out to the patient, apologize for the unpleasant experience and offer to solve the problem. This will not only allow your practice to fix an issue but also shows that you are concerned about patients’ comforts.

Don’t forget to follow up: Make a habit of sending a follow-up email to each patient after they leave your office and request them to write a review for your practice. In your follow-up emails, you should provide the link to sites where you want your patients to post feedback about your practice.

Deliver unmatched service: The best online reviews are usually the result of exceptional customer service. Be kind to your patients, and they will return the favor in the form of positive online reviews.

Stay active on social media: Practices that maintain an active and positive presence on social media sites can gather more reviews than those that do not. That is why it is important for you to spend quality time on social media activities such as responding to comments posted by your patients and sharing informational articles.

Involve your staff: You should cultivate an environment in which your team feels responsible for enhancing your practice’s online reputation. You must train your team to respectfully ask patients to contribute online reviews.

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