- Posted by Nigel Edelshain
- On March 27, 2014
“This specialist was recommended but their online reviews are not very good. I don’t feel comfortable using them.”
This comment was made by a friend of mine just a couple of weeks ago. It drove home the fact that online reviews really are becoming important for medical practice marketing.
You can do a great job of your marketing to get prospective patients to notice you and research you but if your online reputation is weak those prospective patients may never show up at your practice.Google says consumers in the Internet age have changed the way they buy products and services. In the “old days”, consumers first interaction with a product was in the store. The first time a shopper found out about the TV they were considering buying was when they walked into the TV store and spoke to the sales person.
Not so any more. Consumers research purchase decisions online before ever entering a store. The bigger the decision, the more research they do. Almost nobody goes to the car dealership without extensive research beforehand—to do so would be like skipping your school homework.
In fact Google’s research of 5,000 consumers across 12 product categories (from groceries to cars to financial products) found that consumers used on average 10.4 sources of information to research a product before ever entering a store, including online reviews.
There’s growing evidence that medical practices are not exempt from this kind of consumer behavior. Selecting a doctor is a big decision. It stands to reason consumers are willing to invest some research time to find the right provider.
The situation I mentioned in the opening to this post shows that this even applies to specialists. A primary care physician recommends more than one specialist and a consumer goes online to compare their online ratings & reviews. The one with the best online reviews has a strong chance of being the provider the consumer picks.
It’s still early days. A recent study published in JAMA showed that 19% of consumers said that online reviews of physicians was “very important” and 40% said they were “somewhat important”. 2013 research from Software Advice found that 25% of patients use online reviews to research doctors.
Should medical practices put the effort in to manage their online reviews? Probably. Online reviews are not yet as key for medical practices are they are for cars or restaurants. But it’s probable that this is evolving.
The Jama study found that of those that had looked at online reviews 35% had selected a physician based on a good review and 37% had avoided a physician based on a bad review.
It’s also likely that small changes in your ratings can make a significant difference. Consider a 2012 study from two Berkeley professors showed that a half-star improvement on Yelp’s 5-star rating makes it 30-49% more likely that a restaurant will sell out its evening seats. Could this apply to medical practice patient volume in a few years? It’s quite possible.
What should you do? A good first step is to look at the major review sites that consumers use to evaluate doctors and see if your practice is listed. The 2013 study from Software Advice found that Healthgrades is the most popular site for physician reviews and Yelp is the most trusted so start with these. We recommend also looking at Vitals.com, ZocDoc and RateMDs. We frequently pick up comments for our medical clients on these sites.
Keep in mind Facebook now also includes a review module on your business page. This results in your page having a “star” rating.
Some next steps
If you don’t appear on one of the major review sites you should set up your profile. Being invisible to consumers does not inspire confidence.
- Start tracking these sites to see how your reviews change over time and to pick up any new reviews.
- Reply to comments as appropriate. If you feel comfortable you can reply in public but often replying privately is more appropriate. Of course always abide by patient confidentiality guidelines (it’s surprising what patients themselves will post online sometimes.)
- Use all comments to improve your practice. Reviews can be a great version of market research. Patients may give you some great tips on how to make your practice stronger if you read their reviews.
- Set up ways to encourage your happy patients to go online and add their reviews to the major online review sites. Positive online reviews can be a great asset to your practice.
Online reviews appear to be growing in importance to medical practice marketing. What strategies are you employing?