As soon as we were ushered into the Digital Age, online reviews and review sites started popping up everywhere…Why? Because people love being critics (good and bad), praising great products and services and, yes, tearing down people/businesses/products that don’t meet their expectations.
Many businesses have mixed emotions about online consumer reviews, even though they cringe at any negative comment, they realize the power of both the negative and the positive reviews and seek to maximize the number of online reviews that are in their favor.
Even though reviews are quickly becoming a staple for people looking to choose a doctor, the healthcare community still shows signs of opposing consumer reviews of their services. Why? Some possible explanations:
The Personal Nature of the Business: Small business owners (including doctors) have a strong personal link between their personal identity and the business’ identity, but for doctors that link is likely stronger. There is no real product or service that the doctor is providing other than themselves, and the services are not being performed on a possession of yours, but on you! This makes the overall “transaction” incredibly personal.
Times Are A-Changing: Historically, patient opinions about the quality of their healthcare didn’t matter as much. Many doctors got patients through hospital/insurance affiliations and referrals from other doctors. Patient word-of-mouth played a role, but the voice that they spoke with was much quieter. Now, because patients can go online and EASILY speak publicly about their experiences and influence other prospective patients, they have new-found leverage over doctors.
Lack of Medical Degrees Amongst Patients: Doctors often complain that patients lack the medical expertise to evaluate whether the doctor gave sound medical advice. While this may be true and doctors certainly are the “experts,” patient reviews often address matters unrelated to a doctor’s medical advice (bedside manner, billing, wait times), and in those cases the patients’ lack of medical expertise is irrelevant.
Confidentiality Obligations Restrict Doctors’ Ability to Respond: Unlike most other industries, doctors owe their patients confidentiality. As a result, doctors feel like patients can criticize their medical advice but the doctor can’t respond adequately due to confidentiality obligations.
Given all of the above, why should doctors encourage their patients to write reviews?
Most Online Reviews by Patients are Actually Positive: The vast majority of patients’ reviews of their doctors are positive and doctors should get the public accolades for the excellent work they do, just as restaurants, plumbers and retail stores strive to achieve.
Reviews Provide Doctors with Useful Feedback: In addition to (relatively rare) concerns about medical advice, patients may encounter issues with parking, office managers, billing practices, operating hours or bedside manner. While none of these detract from the quality of a doctor’s medical advice, these issues do matter to both existing and prospective patients. Patient reviews provide doctors with honest and incredibly valuable feedback about what they are doing right with their practice, and what aspects might be holding their business back.
Individual reviews may not be credible, but the wisdom of the crowd usually is: Doctors are sometimes petrified that a single patient will post an unfair review online, and that review will permanently damage the doctor’s practice. But sometimes the solution to “bad” reviews is more reviews! Consistent with the “wisdom of the crowds,” any individual review isn’t necessarily credible, but the aggregate assessment of all patients becomes increasingly credible as the number of reviews grows. If a doctor’s only online review is negative, that particular review gains power. When grouped with dozens of positive reviews, prospective patients get a more complete picture. Often doctors, and other businesses, need a large enough set of reviews to achieve the wisdom of the crowds.
So, maybe you’ve been slow to adopt online reviews as part of your marketing strategy or (‘gasp’) maybe you haven’t done anything about them at all. But the benefits to encouraging your patients to leave online reviews are evident. And if you forgo such a strategy your digital footprint will likely be made for you, not by you.