Once upon a time, an unhappy patient might talk to a friend or two to complain about his or her experience. Not anymore. These days, they don’t pick up the phone; they grab a mouse and share their feelings with the world via an online review.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em — and let’s face it, love is rarely any doctor’s first response — online reviews are here to stay.
“Ignoring patient reviews with the anticipation they’ll just go away is no longer an option,” says Maureen Ezekwugo, executive vice president of the doctor community at RealSelf.com. “Both consumers and Google, which makes review content very discoverable, love the information. And likewise, they have a significant influence on how consumers choose their doctor.”
Doctors, of course, aren’t the first business owners to experience that brave new world where everyone with an Internet connection can weigh in on a product they’ve bought or a service they’ve received. It can be frustrating, aggravating and downright infuriating but as other business owners have come to discover, it can also present an opportunity.
Consider the evolution of the relationship between hotel owners and TripAdvisor.com. When TripAdvisor launched in 2000, many hotel operators viewed it with equal parts fear and loathing. Allowing John and Jane Q. Traveler to post reviews, they believed, would open the door to a litany of bad reviews and lost business. No doubt that did, indeed, happen to some hotels but a funny thing happened to the others.
They started listening to their guests, made efforts to address valid customer-service complaints and accepted that the best defense against bad reviews was to make sure they were outweighed by the volume of positive ones. Resisting online reviews, they realized, was futile.
In fact, some forward-thinking hotels have embraced the concept to the point that they include user-reviews on their websites. And some, including Four Seasons, are promoting those reviews — good, bad or otherwise — direct and unfiltered from TripAdvisor.
How much business those reviews will generate remains to be seen but given that TripAdvisor now features 60 million reviews on 1.3 million businesses, it’s clear that hotel owners have accepted that online reviews are, indeed, here to stay.
1. Encourage more reviews, not fewer
Most people will accept one bad review out of 100 as an anomaly or angry rant. If that same review is one of just five, however, it’ll likely carry more weight. By the same token, a preponderance of older reviews raises eyebrows, so to speak, so keep them fresh by asking patients to share their satisfied experiences.
2. It’s not the reviews themselves that define you; it’s how you deal with them
Negative reviews, in particular, can provide opportunities to review and possibly improve services and procedures. Respond quickly to complaints, treat the complainants with respect and use the experience to avoid similar situations in the future.
3. Respond to reviews
There’s a common misconception that doctors legally cannot post a comment to a review. Indeed you can, but do so without referencing the reviewer is a patient or by revealing patient confidential information. You are wise to state that your practice is dedicated to happy patient outcomes, that you stress patients come to you with any concerns, and that your office is ready to handle these matters.