Last week, 50 doctors in New York gathered for a meeting to discuss one of the biggest controversial topics affecting their association: Each doctors' online reputation. Most of the attending physicians have embraced patient reviews into daily activities while others have not. How serious has the issue of online reputation become?
In less than one year, patients’ online behavior of how they look for doctors has changed by 65 percent. Eighty percent of new patient volume will screen their doctors on Google. In 2011, physician ratings sites accounted for only two percent of that behavior. Now it’s 60 percent, according to comparison of our 12 case studies vs. 120 online marketing campaigns in 2011. In early 2012, most of the digital health companies have started big advertising campaigns competing to list physicians and offer statistics about their practices.
Doctors are becoming very concerned about how their colleagues’ online reputations impact the profitability of their organizations. In one case study for an ambulatory surgery center, we showed that improving the reputation for six of 15 doctors brought in 33 new out-of-network cases in less than four weeks. Why was this so significant? Because previously the same ASC had to spend about $8,000 in advertising just to get five out-of-network patients.
Everyone agreed on the need to start taking online reputations seriously, but one doctor started another very heated debate: “Why should we embrace physician ratings sites only to build on negative reputations?”
Here’s the background on our volunteer. This doctor did not have a website for his practice as he's working at a surgery center which advertises heavily. His practice is at full capacity every day for in-network patients. He sees two out-of-network patients a month. Average wait time to get an appointment is about one week. He performs surgeries three days a week. He expressed no desire to embrace patient reviews into workflow.
So we Googled our brave volunteer and here are 10 organic results on Google from top to bottom:
1. Healthgrades came up first. A satisfaction rating of 40 percent (out of 100 percent) was assigned with only two reviews from three years ago. Commentary: In one year this doctor sees several hundred patients for surgeries and several thousand for office appointments. Are two outdated reviews representative of patient satisfaction? Is the 40 percent satisfaction rate turning patients away if that’s the first thing that comes up on Google for the doctor?
2. Vitals — One review. Patient glorified the doctor. Review was from two years ago. His medical school was rated as one of five stars. His hospital was rated with two of five stars. Commentary: Patients are screening doctors not for positive statistics but rather negative ones. At the point when they're looking for reasons NOT to schedule an appointment do you think seeing one of five stars for their medical school matters?
3. Yelp — One of five stars— Three recent reviews. All three reviews were people who refused to wait a week for an appointment because of an acute injury that needed immediate attention. Commentary: If you're advertising, you need to see patients within 24 hours and have a policy for emergencies. Your staff needs to be trained on each advertisement so they can be prepared to answer all questions, including whether the patient is a candidate or not. For medical spas and cosmetic procedures, the front office staff needs to be prepared with specific questionnaires. The last thing you want is a patient coming in for a consultation that could have been avoided with a simple question. That almost always leads to negative reviews.
4. Google+ — Three of five stars. No written reviews. The wrong address was listed from the last time this doctor was in a group practice seven years ago. Phone number listed was for his top competitor in private practice. We called the number, expressed interest to see Dr. X and were told "Dr X no longer works here because of reason 'Y'. However you can see Dr. Z tomorrow morning at 9 a.m." Commentary: Your competitors have no problem seeing your patients. This is your fault by all means if you do not pay attention to where you're listed.
5. ZocDoc — No reviews but here’s what we found: An empty profile with the doctor's name clearly displayed. This doctor never subscribed. There were also links to five other doctors that have subscriptions on ZocDoc. All the way on the top of Google was an advertisement from ZocDoc advertising for the doctor's name. Commentary: Again, you're losing patients to competitors, and companies have no problem helping your competitors at the expense of your reputation.
6. Four results from random articles from the doctor's past (going back about eight years).
7. A hospital website page dedicated to the orthopedic center. Doctor's name was nowhere on the page. The page displayed an empty profile, without a photo, only information that he's an orthopedic surgeon.
With physician ratings sites spending millions of dollars on advertising on TV, radio, and the Internet... where do you think your patients are going to do their background checks?
Five No-cost steps to get in control of your reputation:
1. Google your name
2. Immediately sign up for Google Alerts for your name and anything you hold dear about your practice, reputation, and brands. Put quotation marks around those key phrases.
3. If you have a website, install Google Analytics. After a week, review where people are coming from on the Internet under tab “Traffic Sources.”
4. Check the first page of Google results and look for negative comments or ratings sites with zero reviews to three reviews. These are the physician rating sites that can severely impact your reputation with even one negative comment.
5. You can do two things at this point: Embrace patient reviews and customer service into your daily routine or wait for the inevitable to happen.
And one last note to all doctors who don’t yet have a website: Please realize it’s 2012. Every successful business has a website. Keyword: successful.
Find out more about Simon Sikorski and our other Practice Notes bloggers.