- When it comes to online provider reviews, ensuring the healthcare organization has full control of the content of those reviews is essential, according to Donna Hill, a marketing strategist at the University of Arkansas Medical System (UAMS).
When looking at their own online provider reviews, Hill said she wanted full control of the conversation surrounding the health system because being the arbiter of those conversations tends to work in the hospital’s favor.
“People were going to be talking about UAMS,” Hill said in an interview with PatientEngagementHIT.com. “Were we going be part of the conversation? Or were we just going to let people talk about us? From an online reputation management standpoint, it's the same scenario now with our physicians. People are out there talking about them. What are we going to do about it?”
Hill and the team at UAMS tapped NRC Health, a company that specializes in hosting online provider reviews for hospitals. This tool puts control right in the hospitals’ hands, rather than leaving these reviews – which can have a serious impact on hospital reputation and patient retention and acquisition – up to a third-party website.
“I oversee our Find a Doctor directory, so I'm constantly looking for new bells and whistles to add and really wanted it to be at the top of its game,” Hill explained.
"The reasons why we wanted to publish this information is that reviews are very common with other websites," she added. “But a lot of our physicians are being rated on third-party sites, and those ratings are – in our opinion – unfair.”
This isn’t a brand new or striking revelation. Research indicates that providers harbor an unfavorable view of these online physician ratings, especially those hosted on third-party websites.
A 2017 survey published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that 78 percent of doctors say online reviews make their jobs more stressful. Fifty-three percent of doctors think hospital-sponsored review sites yield better numerical data, and 62 percent think hospital websites yield better anecdotal data.
Physicians may trust hospital-sponsored review websites because they have a better ability to verify online comments, Hill suggested. Some third-party sites, like Google or HealthGrades, will publish any comment without verifying if the user was a patient. These websites also usually publish comments on a rolling basis.
At UAMS, a provider's online profile only includes star ratings once he or she has accumulated 30 verified ratings. That way, the provider does not suffer if only one or two very outspoken patients comment. This creates a more complete picture of patient perceptions of this provider, Hill said.
“Third-party websites have different ranking rating systems. They publish when they have fewer than 30 comments,” Hill explained. This can create misrepresentations of provider competency.
“You might have three comments, and a doctor has a 2 star-rating, but in our system they're a 4.9. The physician really provides excellent patient care, but if you have just a few people who are really happy or unhappy, it can really skew the results.”
But there is a flip side to this approach. That same JGIM survey revealed that patients do not trust hospital-sponsored provider review websites. Forty-seven percent of patients said they trust reviews hosted on a hospital website, whereas 57 percent trust those third-party sites like Google, HealthGrades, and Yelp.
Some patients might perceive third-party characterizations as less biased, but according to Hill simply having information out there will be enough.
“We implemented a program we think is more accurate, and I do think that patients pay attention to those in the absence of any other information,” Hill explained. “It is really important for a hospital to be transparent with their patient ratings so that there is a more accurate and complete picture of the physician's practice.”
Hill and the UAMS team have ensured that patients see their reviews over third-party websites. By rejiggering the search engine optimization, UAMS provider profiles show up on top of third-party websites. The end goal is for patients to click the top links first to access what Hill says are the more accurate ratings.
Implementing an online review system is difficult for many healthcare organizations. Providers often push back against online reviews and have a difficult time accepting criticism, Hill stated.
“If you think about the physicians that are in these health systems, some of them have never gotten a B in their whole life, so it's hard for them to see negative comments,” Hill explained.
Providers also have trouble handling criticisms that might not be within their control or a part of their domain as clinicians. A poor patient interaction with a front desk staff member might taint a healthcare experience and reflect poorly on a provider who otherwise delivered quality and compassionate care, Hill explained.
Hill was able to overcome some of these barriers with the help of a physician champion. One physician within the practice did agree with Hill about the benefits of online reviews, and allowed himself to be the example of how the review systems could work.
This physician’s experience with the online reviews also showed his colleagues how his patient-provider relationships fared after seeing online reviews. Many patients and providers are apprehensive of online comments because they think it will be damaging to their relationships. This provider showed that comment transparency in fact strengthened this bond.
Hospital leadership was also helpful in creating widespread buy-in for online review comments. Often, individuals at the executive level might be hesitant to adopt online comments because of negative online press or because comments are bothersome to providers.
At UAMS, leadership was on board with Hill’s initiative and helped support providers in making the transition. For example, when providers said they did not want to be penalized for shortcomings in other areas of the hospital, leadership has intervened.
“Our leadership said, ‘Well, then you need to be part of the solution to that,’” Hill recalled. “’If you're concerned about how that's going to impact your ratings, then you need to help us fix that problem or we need to help that person find their happy elsewhere.’”
UAMS hospital leadership worked to ensure providers cooperated with other hospital staff members to ensure a seamless experience for patients. For example, in areas where patients complained about long wait times, providers worked to mitigate patient frustrations when the patient walked into the exam room.
Ensuring patients access reliable online physician reviews is important in healthcare, especially as it becomes more consumer-centric, Hill explained.
“As high-deductible health plans become more common and people are spending more out-of-pocket for their healthcare bills, they're doing a lot more research online,” Hill concluded. “They don't necessarily take the referral given to them by their physician. They want to go look and see, and they love having this type of information to help them make decisions about their healthcare.”