The Impact of Patient Reviews on Physicians
By Brian Sparker and Logan Ferguson
In today's Yelp age, online reviews for everything from restaurants, to hotels, to places to shop have the power to influence consumer behavior and guide purchase decisions. A study by international market research firm YouGov reveals that 78 percent of Americans check out reviews before making a purchase decision, and that they do so in order to assess the quality of a product or service.
But foodservice, hospitality, and retail are not the only industries where reviews are making a significant impact. Answers to bigger questions — such as those involving important life decisions like where to seek physician care — are also becoming more dependent on the opinions and experiences that people share online.
Consumers Are Turning to Reviews to Find a Doctor
According to a survey by the American Osteopathic Association, as many as 33 percent of adults consult either a physician ratings site (e.g., Vitals, Healthgrades) or a consumer review site (e.g., Yelp) when selecting a physician for themselves or for a loved one. A report by Vitals, meanwhile, asserts that nearly one in four patients want to see at least five or six online reviews before feeling they are reliable indicators for assessing a doctor's ability and qualifications.
"More people than ever realize that online resources can help them find a better match when it comes to finding the right doctor," says Vitals CEO Mitch Rothschild. "(Specifically), other patients' feedback on doctors has become a critical part of the process of selecting a doctor."
In case you didn't know, even the ever-ubiquitous Yelp, an online review site and mobile app more commonly known for its reviews of restaurants and hotels, has its own category for "Health and Medical" services. In fact, CEO Jeremy Stoppelman claims he created Yelp as a way to find doctors.
"It all goes back to 2004," Stoppelman says. "We were kind of looking for the next big thing on the consumer Web: the next big Internet idea. But the first month, I got sick. I wanted to go to a doctor. So I did a search online to see what physicians were near me and who was good, but I couldn't find one. There was no information available that would lead me to a good doctor, and that just stuck with me. I was like: 'I should be able to know who the best doctor in the city is.' "
With a growing number of consumers relying on reviews, ratings, and similar user-generated content to make healthcare-related decisions, there is no shortage of patients volunteering to supply the information. And they usually have something nice to say: In Software Advice's report on patients' use of online reviews, 71 percent of survey respondents say they usually write positive or neutral reviews, and 32 percent say that their main motivation for writing reviews is to help other patients.
Embracing the Power of Online Patient Feedback
Whatever the patient's sentiment, the implications are clear: word-of-mouth has gone digital. Physicians must invest the time and resources necessary to manage online reviews and become more effective at driving engagement with today's increasingly wired patients.
This begins with a willingness to monitor all relevant review sites, hear what patients are saying as a source of critical insight, and explore ways to deliver the kind of healthcare experiences they're looking for. Does the receptionist in the waiting area have strong customer service skills? Do the doctors introduce themselves to patients often enough and sit down to talk eye-to-eye? What kind of adjustments can be made to establish more personal connections amidst a high-emotion environment that can so often be daunting to patients?
Review data can help answer these questions, allowing physicians to go beyond the mere treatment of symptoms, so to speak, and pinpoint the causes of negative patient interactions. Once the causes have been identified, doctors can implement solutions that will help to improve patient care and generate positive online feedback.
Physicians Need to Manage Their Online Reputations
According to Software Advice, Yelp and Healthgrades rank as the sites most trusted by patients, followed by RateMDs, Vitals, and ZocDoc — so it's a good idea for providers to get started by claiming their listings on these sites. Star ratings are also of particular importance: Nearly half of patients (44 percent) are willing to travel and go out of their own network to choose a doctor whose reviews are rated higher than those in-network.
Moreover, a survey by healthcare technology company Digital Assent shows that 85 percent of patients are not comfortable choosing a physician if more than 10 percent of the reviews have a one-star rating.
In these cases, responding to reviews professionally, promptly, and politely creates an opportunity to improve low ratings and change conversations for the positive.
"It won't be long before doctors' online reputations are as important — perhaps even more important — than their offline reputations," said Digital Assent CEO Andrew Ibbotson. "This may already be the case for physicians in elective and semi-elective healthcare specialties."
In fact, data by Vitals suggests that when it comes to determining professional qualifications, reviews are often perceived by patients as being just as important as a physician's years of experience.
"Online patient feedback is here to stay," said Dr. Tara Lagu of Baystate Medical Center. "We might as well use it to make ourselves better doctors. I recommend physicians encourage their patients to leave reviews and regularly examine their 'digital footprint' as part of maintaining their online reputation."
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1 Americans Rely on Online Reviews Despite Not Trusting Them, YouGov, November 2014. (https://today.yougov.com/news/2014/11/24/americans-rely-online-reviews-despite-not-trusting/)
2 Finding Dr. Right: New Survey Reveals Word of Mouth the Most Used Resource When Looking for a Physician, American Osteopathic Association, September 2013. (http://www.osteopathic.org/inside-aoa/news-and-publications/media-center/2013-news-releases/Pages/OMED-2013-finding-dr-right-new-survey-reveals-word-of-mouth-most-used-resource-when-looking-for-a-physician.aspx)
3 Top 5 Health Care Consumer Trends for 2014, The Vitals Blog, January 2014. (http://spotlight.vitals.com/2014/01/top-5-health-care-consumer-trends-for-2014/)
4 Patient Use of Online Reviews, IndustryView 2014, Software Advice, November 2014. (http://www.softwareadvice.com/medical/industryview/online-reviews-report-2014/)
5 Survey Confirms that Online Reviews of Doctors Influence Patient Behavior, Digital Assent, November 2013. (http://www.digitalassent.com/news/2013-11-04/)
6 Online Doctor Reviews, Vanguard Communications, April 2013. (http://vanguardcommunications.net/online-doctor-reviews/)