Recently, Niam Yaraghi of the Brookings Institution caused quite a kerfuffle regarding the validity of online doctor reviews in a U.S. News and World Report op-ed piece titled, “Don’t Yelp Your Doctor.”
In it, he argues that customers are “generally qualified and capable” of reviewing a restaurant – anyone can tell if a steak is chewy or a server is rude, he says. (Of course, chefs may disagree.) Yet, when it comes to online physician reviews, Mr. Yaraghi argues that “patients are neither qualified nor capable of evaluating the quality of the medical services that they receive.” I can see many of you nodding in vigorous agreement with that last sentence.
Who among us hasn’t felt indignant after reading a negative online review? Particularly one that criticizes our office decor or billing, yet makes no mention of our expert clinical abilities? But here’s my advice. Have your moment of indignation, then start working on improving your online reputation, which may improve your actual practice as well.
Here are a few tips for optimizing online physician review sites:
• Google yourself and your practice to see which sites your patients are commonly using.
• Set up a Google Alert at https://www.google.com/alerts. Google Alerts are email updates that you receive based on your queries. Include your name and the name of your practice. This way, you’ll receive notice when you’re mentioned online.
• Claim your page on review sites. Be sure all of the information listed is updated and correct.
• Upload a professional photo of yourself. It’s much more effective to see a picture of you than an empty avatar.
• Be sure someone in your office is responsible for responding to comments online, particularly negative ones. It’s best to respond promptly rather than have it linger without a response for weeks. If you don’t write it, then at least approve it before it is posted.
• Respond to both positive and negative comments. Yelp, for instance, rewards business owners who maintain their site and actively respond to comments.
• For specific tips on how to respond to negative online reviews, see my column from July 2013 titled “How to handle negative reviews.”
When it comes to online physician reviews, I want you to remember a few things:
• Physician reviews are usually favorable.
• Negative reviews are sometimes opportunities to improve your service.
• In the long run, we should want more, not fewer, reviews. Which would you rather have, two negative reviews, or two negative reviews and eight positive ones?
• The more reviews you have, the more credible you appear to prospective patients. This is particularly true for cosmetic practices.
• Patients are more likely to leave a positive review when they see other positive reviews posted about you.
Let’s delve more deeply into the second point, “Negative reviews are opportunities for you and your staff to improve your service.”
According to the 2014 “IndustryView report” from Software Advice, when it came to administrative issues such as wait times, billing, and staff friendliness, 25% of respondents cited wait times as the most important factor in their experience. Moreover, their 2013 report found that 41% of patients said they would consider switching doctors if it reduced their wait times
We live in a consumer-centric society and service matters. For most patients, service equals quality. If you’ve got multiple negative reviews regarding your front desk staff, for instance, then address it directly with them. If you’ve got complaints about long wait times, then consider ways to improve it or improve the patient’s experience of waiting. You might hire a consultant to help with reducing wait times or you might provide Wi-Fi or light refreshments in your waiting room to make the wait more pleasant.
Let’s return to Mr. Yaraghi’s contention that patients are unqualified to accurately assess our abilities. It is a moot discussion. Patients have, and will continue, evaluating us regardless of how qualified they are to do so. A restaurant patron may not be an expert of sous-vide cooking but can judge his or her experience of the meal and restaurant staff. Similarly, a patient may not be an expert in psoriasis, but he or she can accurately assess an experience in our office and with our staff.
The good news is that there are sites that are trying to incorporate more objective data in the reviews. For instance, Healthgrades lists doctors’ board certifications, hospital affiliations, conditions treated, and procedures performed. The hope is that more objective criteria will improve the quality of the reviews and make the occasional angry and unwarranted rant less important.