Consumer behavior has shifted in recent years, with more people depending on online reviews to make informed purchase decisions. What’s more, a survey by Pew Research found that more than half of Americans who read online reviews pay more attention to negative reviews when making a decision.
This reliance on digital word-of-mouth and sensitivity to poor feedback is not limited to diners looking for a great restaurant or tourists searching for a nice hotel. Patients also consider testimonials and reviews when researching and choosing a physician or healthcare service provider.
However, as every person running a business knows, no one can please everybody all the time. Patients who are unsatisfied or unhappy with their level of care, whether fairly or unfairly, can and often post negative doctor reviews on public forums and websites such as Healthgrades and Vitals.
When that happens, your instinct is likely to respond as quickly as possible to deny the patient’s claims or at least explain your side. However, like many physicians, you might also be likely to hold back because of the common belief that responding to online patient reviews in a public forum or website goes against the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and other privacy laws or regulations.
This belief is a myth that the American Medical Association (AMA) is working to debunk. According to the AMA, physicians are well within their rights to respond to online patient reviews as there are no federal laws preventing them from doing so. In fact, they should reply: Negative feedback, whether true or untrue, has a significant impact on a doctor or medical facility’s online reputation and, consequently, their bottom line.
The Importance of Online Reviews
Doctor review websites rank medical professionals and practices by utilizing user-generated content (UGC) to create a star rating. By allowing patients to post reviews, these platforms provide visitors with helpful information. A doctor reputation check does wonders in giving hesitant patients peace of mind and guiding their choice of provider. At the same time, reviews strengthen the doctor’s or practice’s online presence.
Reviews Directly Impact Patient Acquisition
When choosing a health care provider, patients view physician and hospital reviews created by peers as a valuable resource. Meanwhile, reviews for doctors and practices are a double-edged sword.
The following fact is supported by research: Consumers have become dependent on reviews to judge the quality of a service or product and the trustworthiness of a professional or an organization before making a purchase decision.
This serves doctors well until a disgruntled patient leaves a bad review. While dozens of glowing reviews for doctors gradually boost a hospital or practitioner’s reputation over time, a single negative or untruthful review can instantly tarnish it.
Negative doctor or hospital reviews can result in a loss of patient trust. In turn, this may cause damage to your business. For instance, a potential patient who looks you up on Yelp or a similar website and discovers a scathing take-down of your practice is more than likely to look elsewhere.
Reviews Impact Relationships With Existing Patients
These reviews may also affect your relationship with your current patients. For example, someone you’ve been treating for months might discover complaints about you on a patient reviews website and reconsider their choice of physician. They might start looking for a doctor who’s more “trustworthy.” Even patients who choose to stay with your practice might be hesitant to refer friends and family to you, fearing that doing so might damage their own reputation.
These consequences can be extremely damaging to a physician or health care facility. They could experience revenue loss, lower website rankings and reduced traffic to your website or landing page.
Moreover, doctor rating websites allow anonymous doctor reviews or hospital reviews. So anyone, whether it’s an angry ex-employee, a competitor or someone having fun at your expense, can leave feedback that instantly brings down a positive reputation that took years to build.
Because of the Internet’s wide reach, online feedback is even more harmful than word of mouth. These comments also stay up for as long as they go unchallenged. When it comes to reviews for doctors, the saying, “What goes on the Internet, stays on the Internet,” is too true.
Mitigating Risk With Brand Reputation Management
The importance of online reviews to the success of a medical practice is why physicians should be more proactive and reactive when it comes to brand reputation management. Hiring a well-versed professional in doctor or hospital reputation management is also essential to help craft a strategy for dealing with negative reviews.
A study published in Social Science & Medicine found that not responding to negative physician reviews or responding by denying the reviewer’s claims caused reputational harm to doctors. Interestingly, it also suggested that complaints related to friendliness and professional competence resulted in the worst damage.
Now that we’ve established the importance of online reviews to doctors and hospitals, you might be wondering how to proceed with physician or hospital reputation management. First, it’s critical to avoid knee-jerk reactions to less-than-stellar reviews. However, it’s also not helpful to ignore them and wait for them to go away on their own – they won’t.
Instead, communicate in a way that aligns with an overarching strategy designed to mitigate the risk of reputational damage by restoring and rebuilding patient trust. Be timely, caring and of course, mindful of laws and regulations that prohibit discussing patient information in a public forum. Better yet, invest in brand reputation management solutions to ensure timely, respectful and fully compliant responses to negative reviews.
Dos and Don’ts of Review Response
You should also remember that responding to physician reviews personally is not your only course of action. One option is to try reaching out to the websites directly; this might work if you suspect the review is false or misleading.
If you do decide to respond, keep the following dos and don’ts in mind.
- Ensure your staff has HIPAA training and create specific policies on responding to patient complaints to avoid disclosing patient information on review websites and other public Internet forums.
- Consider sending a personal or direct message to the reviewer instead of responding publicly. Sometimes, a patient just wants to feel heard by the physician or practice. In fact, they may consider taking down their review if they’re assured that you take them seriously and are intent on improving their experience.
- Read up on hospital reputation management or healthcare reputation management best practices. These include encouraging patients to leave reviews, sending timely responses, following privacy laws and regulations and improving or strengthening your branding as well as your online presence.
- Consider hiring an expert on search engine reputation management and make sure to choose the best fit among the online reputation management companies offering their services to doctors and practices.
While you can pay for a do-it-yourself reputation management tool, learning how to use it is time-consuming and takes your focus away from your patients and your practice. On the other hand, offloading this task to a healthcare reputation management company saves you time and resources. This will ensure that patient reviews are dealt with and responded to promptly, appropriately and legally.
However, keep in mind that not all reputation management consultants or online reputation management companies are aware of the nuances and restrictions of dealing with doctor reviews or hospital reviews. For this reason, it’s best to do your due diligence when choosing a company to provide you with reputation management services.
- Panic if you do a doctor reputation check and find a few negative physician reviews. It’s important to remember that bad feedback, while serious, is not the end of the world. Careful handling of the situation, with the help of reputation management consultants, can turn it around.
- Reply immediately. Instead, take time to sort through your emotions and respond only when you’re in a calmer, more logical state of mind. Then, reach out to the person in charge of your practice’s healthcare reputation management for tips on crafting a response, or better yet, let the experts manage your reviews.
- Ignore the review. As previously discussed, negative reviews won’t go away unless you do something about them. Even if they can’t be taken down, your response to negative physician or hospital reviews can improve how you’re perceived by any potential patients reading it.
- Be dismissive. Read the review carefully and determine whether the reviewer has a point. You can use the feedback as a guide in improving your services or facilities.
- Confirm that the reviewer is indeed one of your patients. Doing so can put you afoul of HIPAA and other privacy laws. Note that the patient disclosing your relationship does not allow you to do the same.
Protect Your Practice From Negative Reviews With Reputation Management Services
Doing a doctor reputation check by reading reviews from former patients is fast becoming the standard for most Internet users. Therefore, it’s critical for doctors and practices to have a strategy in place for efficiently addressing all comments, especially negative ones. A communications policy that complies with HIPAA guidelines is also a must to avoid putting your practice at risk for lawsuits.
Responding to reviews is time-consuming, and because you also have to worry about inadvertently breaking privacy laws, stressful. Physicians and their staff already have a lot on their plate without having to draft responses, check with legal and reach out to review websites directly.
A trusted reputation management team with experience in working with medical practices will help you preserve and even improve the reputation of your practice or hospital. At Rize Reviews, we equip our clients with a reputation management tool to help them manage negative reviews and encourage positive feedback.
Our all-in-one search engine reputation management solution can be tailored to meet the unique needs of medical professionals and health care facilities. These services may include:
- Review monitoring to help you keep track of your reviews and mentions.
- Review generation to improve your brand reputation.
- Smart review response to ensure fast, personalized and HIPAA-compliant responses.
- Integrated search engine optimization (SEO) services (in partnership with Thrive) to optimize your online presence.
Our many clients have gotten excellent results from our services. They include New England Neurological Associates, a multi-specialty neuroscience group practice in Lowell, MA.
Our reputation management consultants worked closely with their staff to design the best approach to reputation management and marketing for their situation. In less than a year, Rize generated 121 new reviews and improved the review ratings of 12 out of 15 physicians.
Connect with us today, so we can help you manage your review ratings and improve your online reputation.