Patient Satisfaction News

Utilizing Online Provider Reviews to Assess Patient Satisfaction

Online provider reviews are teaching tools, according to Press Ganey's Thomas Lee, and therefore must glean a breadth of valuable data.

online provider reviews

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- Online provider reviews and patient satisfaction surveying are not new concepts in healthcare. With consumer-centric care a stalwart in the industry, organizations are using these tools to better understand how to serve their patient populations.

But organizations are still hitting roadblocks with these patient satisfaction surveys and reviews. Providers aren’t always on board with patient reviews, which can sometimes drudge up administrative pitfalls beyond their own control.

And organizations don’t always know what type of patient reviews are most valuable. Should they be looking at CAHPS scores? Third-party review websites such as Yelp or Healthgrades? What about point-of-care patient satisfaction surveying tools?

The key to overcoming these issues is making sure the organization has the best data possible and reassuring providers that this data is an improvement tool. Positive and negative patient reviews are learning experiences that are not intended to be punitive, according to Thomas Lee, Chief Medical Officer at healthcare consultant Press Ganey.

“Physicians are concerned that they will be unfairly criticized for issues beyond their control,” Lee said in an email interview with “They imagine the worst things that can happen and the positive things (e.g., warm and appreciative positive feedback) don’t seem real – until they happen.”

READ MORE: Can Yelp Online Patient Reviews Inform Practice Improvements?

Data shows that online patient reviews can be stressful for doctors. A 2017 survey published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine revealed that online reviews cause stress for 78 percent of doctors.

But these online reviews can be valuable for the patient, many healthcare leaders contend. The JGIM article showed that over half of patients appreciate access to these reviews. Patients overwhelmingly research their providers online before setting an appointment. Access to satisfaction and quality data is important to patients as they make their healthcare decisions.

As such, organization leaders often favor publicly published online provider reviews.

The key to getting clinician staff on board with these tools is addressing specific provider fears, Lee explained.

“I tell physicians that the vast majority of comments from patients are positive, and that having an occasional negative comment isn’t the disaster that they might anticipate,” he said. “It’s feedback. Both the positive and negative feedback help us get better.”

READ MORE: Why Hospital-Run Online Provider Reviews Trump Third-Party Sites

Additionally, using the right type of online provider review system is critical. The JGIM article noted that providers are vastly more comfortable with online review websites that are under a hospital or clinic’s administrative control.

These types of platforms require the organization to disseminate surveys to all patients, synthesize that data, vet patients, and report to providers. This may be a tall ask, but it’s that type of monitoring that confirms to providers that patient satisfaction information is valuable.

Specifically, an organization’s own efforts to collect satisfaction data will likely yield more typical answers. With third-party review websites, it tends to be the extremely satisfied or the extremely dissatisfied who respond.

But when an organization offers a comment opportunity to all patients, it generally leads to the truest assessment.

“I think that the reviews collected by health care organizations are more valuable because the process that leads to someone writing a review is initiated by the organization - patients just have to respond to a query to provide a review,” Lee explained.

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

Further, this strategy should yield more responses, bringing more value to the data, and, for what it’s worth, combatting potential misinformation available in a Google search.

“If provider organizations take the initiative and solicit reviews electronically for every patient, they end up with many more surveys and comments than third-party websites,” Lee pointed out. “Search engines bring sites with fresher and more data to the top – and most viewers do not look below the first websites.  The result is that hospital sites with patient experience data become the sites that get viewed.”

And what organizations do with that data is also important, Lee said. Because the hospital controls the satisfaction data, they can use it as learning opportunities for providers as well as help inform patients.

“Health systems that collect these data themselves are in the best position to create robust transparency programs and build stakeholder trust, which is critical,” he noted. “When physicians are confident that the data being shared are truly reflective of their performance, they will pay attention to it and buy into improvement strategies derived from it. The provider-initiated process gives a more accurate reflection of reality.”

Third-party review websites offer healthcare organizations no avenue to verify the integrity of the reviews or that they’re coming from actual patients, Lee added.

There are many philosophies about how to handle certain types of reviews, especially negative ones. Some organizations have a targeted public relations or marketing staff in charge of mitigating negative situations. Others bring reviews to the providers’ attention. Organizations commonly discourage physicians from engaging in or responding to these reviews.

Ultimately, these stakeholders should use patient satisfaction data as a learning experience, Lee said. A negative response and positive response are equally useful in telling providers which behaviors to use and avoid during a care encounter. Eventually, this should drive a better overall experience.

“I don’t think that follow-up contact between the physician and patient is a great idea because it can be intimidating for the patient,” Lee said. “The best response is to try to minimize behaviors that turned patients off and be reliable in doing the things that led to positive reactions – which far outnumber the negative comments. Everyone focuses on the negative comments but the positive comments show where the real action should be.”

As organizations face more options for implementing patient satisfaction and review collection – point-of-care tools are currently emerging – Lee recommended organizations focus on more in-depth and quality data. Point-of-care tools have their place and can be effective at helping doctors improve their current relationships with patients.

But there will be a long-standing value to more traditional patient surveying, which provide a longitudinal look at how patients engage with certain physicians and the healthcare organization as a whole.

“We are heading into a world in which there is going to be feedback all the time on everything,” Lee concluded. “Point of care reviews will be more and more ubiquitous – and useful. But there will also be persistent roles for more extensive surveys, which provide more robust data that can be analyzed to yield deeper insights that providers can use to pinpoint and prioritize opportunities that can accelerate their improvement.”


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