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The 4 Steps to Managing Online Provider Reviews in Healthcare

Online provider reviews are critical to a healthcare organization's online reputation management plans and practice marketing.

online provider reviews

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- Online provider reviews have sparked debate across the medical industry as consumer culture in healthcare has prompted more patients to leave online comments. These comments are often to the chagrin of providers, who say feedback doesn’t always pertain to the clinical encounter and harms a provider's online reputation.

Data has shown that online provider reviews are stressful for clinicians, who work to maintain a squeaky clean online reputation and become frustrated by unfair and sometimes unvetted online comments.

Other researchers have suggested that poor online reviews do not equate with poor patient satisfaction scores, while other researchers have found some inconsistency across review websites.

Whether or not those findings are valid, healthcare organizations need to take online provider reviews in stride as a part of their marketing strategies. Online provider reviews boil down to creating a spotless online reputation, according to Elizabeth Davis, the manager of online reputation at HCA Healthcare.

“What matters is that patient comments are out there, so no matter how outdated the comment is or how irrelevant it appears, patients are still making decisions based on it,” Davis said in an interview with PatientEngagementHIT.com. “Comments are something that we can’t overlook even if we want to say ‘oh, well, this doesn’t match the actual perception in my practice.’ The question is, how do you get to a point where it does reflect the experience of the patient in your office?”

READ MORE: Online Physician Reviews Stressful for Docs, Useful for Patients

At HCA Healthcare, a system of 178 hospitals and 119 freestanding surgery centers, most online provider reviews yield high clinician ratings. But even though most patients recognize care quality, they still might have qualms with other parts of the patient experience – the facility, or bedside manner, or the billing process.

Davis and her team cannot simply ignore online reviews because they do not pertain to provider competency. A substantial number of patients make real healthcare decisions based on these online reviews, so meaningful online reputation management is necessary, she said.

For most healthcare organizations, this requires a step-by-step plan for addressing negative reviews. Davis has one of these plans at HCA Healthcare, including receiving notifications about new comments on their reputation management software, Binary Fountain.

“There has to be some level of investigation,” Davis explained. “That includes understanding who this patient is. Is there any back story associated? And then if we don't have all the information that we need about the patient, or if we want to carry on that conversation, we always recommend following up offline with that patient.”

Following up with patients offline is essential for patient privacy and HIPAA compliance. It is often difficult to address a patient complaint without mentioning protected health information (PHI), so communicating privately and offline is critical.

READ MORE: Using Online Provider Reviews to Solve Patient Satisfaction Issues

Davis and teams at individual practices usually respond by apologizing for the poor experience and elicit further feedback. Reputation management managers also work to address the problem with their individual practices.

However important this process may be, Davis says online reputation management is much broader that comment response.

“I think of reputation management really in four tiers that aren’t necessarily chronological or organized by importance,” Davis explained.

First, she works to ensure all of the online information about the practice – office hours, address, phone number – are all correct. This can prevent confusion for the patient and make it easier for the patient to contact the practice.

Next, reputation management experts must monitor all pages where patients may leave provider comments. Smaller practices with less capital may do this manually. A reputation management expert would receive notifications from Yelp, Healthgrades, Google, Facebook, and other pages with online provider reviews and monitor activity.

READ MORE: How Providers Can Address Online Physician Reviews, Social Media

With its hundreds of practices, that manual approach was unrealistic for HCA Healthcare, which led to its adoption of a digital tool to monitor online reviews. That tool allows Davis and other team members to complete the third step to online reputation management – managing feedback and responding in the manner detailed above.

Finally, organizations must optimize those online reviews.

“This means not only optimizing and using the data to improve the patient experience, but also growing the volume of feedback and getting more of that feedback online,” Davis stated. “Practices must activate the people who have had positive experiences that may just not think to go online and write a review.”

Healthcare organizations are not allowed to offer incentives for patients leaving online provider reviews. However, clinicians at HCA Healthcare facilities do verbally encourage patients to leave reviews, as well as create business cards prompting reviews and use office signage.

HCA Healthcare’s efforts to manage its practice’s online reputations may sound extensive, but that is only because of the health system’s far reach across 20 states in the US. Smaller health systems and individual practices may have more limited resources than HCA Healthcare, but can take the same incremental approach to reputation management.

“There are scales within that of ways you can manage online reviews,” Davis concluded. “There are practices that may not have the capacity or bandwidth to go in and update their Facebook page every day. But at least they own that data and account and can manage it as necessary.”

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