The online patient review

October 22, 2019

Expert advice on how to get patients to review your practice and (importantly) put it in a positive light.

It’s no secret that consumers are checking online reviews before making appointments with doctors.

In 2017, Consumer Reports reported that almost 60% of consumers claim to use online reviews when choosing a new healthcare provider. In another article published June 4, 2019, on Forbes.com, the author writes, “… online reviews are one of the most trusted and frequently consulted sources for patients. Yet many medical practices leave patient reviews to chance.”

Historically, online reviews were made primarily for restaurants and hotels, but today there’s significant growth in online reviews in the medical field, according to Jon Dinchak, senior product manager at AdvancedMD, an ambulatory healthcare technology company.

Patients are becoming savvier about searching for dermatologists and other providers, and they do, according to Mr. Dinchak.

“Previously you’d go to your insurance provider and type in, for example, ‘dermatologist.’ They’d show the three closest people, and you’d randomly pick one,” Mr. Dinchak says.

Online reviews reveal much more, including how patients felt they were treated, if they had to wait too long, if the staff was pleasant or grumpy, as well as a star rating, which gives a visual message about the experience, whether it was great to dreadful.

While doctors and practice staff might think online reviews are largely out of their control, that’s actually not the case. In fact, there are ways to manage reviews, learn from them and act on them to improve patient recruitment and retention.

Tips for Survey Success

AdvancedMD is among a number of companies that has developed software to manage online surveys and patient feedback. It’s critical, Mr. Dinchak says, that doctors and staff review data, which his company provides in reports and dashboards, on a daily or weekly basis.

Practices should not only survey and monitor new patients but also existing patients after their appointments.

Ideally, practices should give patients the choice between responding anonymously or by name and office. Practices tend to get more responses when patients can respond anonymously, but the data from those surveys isn’t as useful.

Mr. Dinchak recommends reputation management software that’s automated, so patients automatically receive a survey by text, email or phone, depending on their preferences. The practice can configure and personalize the message, taking into account patient privacy, as well as set up the software so surveys go out at a certain time. Mr. Dinchak recommends that most surveys go out immediately after appointments.

“From the doctors’ standpoints and for the office, it’s set and forget. They don’t have to worry about it,” Mr. Dinchak says.

A best practice is to keep surveys simple, short and to the point, according to Mr. Dinchak.

“When researching for our product, we found that nobody wants to do a longer survey. They want it to be very fast.”

The AdvancedMD survey asks the simple question: How was the visit? If the patient’s response is 4 to 5 stars, the follow up question asks if the patient would be willing to share the rating on a review site, like Google, which the practice predetermines, or on the practice website.

If the patient responds with 3-star or below rating the survey asks more probing questions, including if the patient’s dissatisfaction was related to the staff, a doctor, wait time or something else.

“The neat thing is we have reports and data on a dashboard that doctors can read or the practice can see every day, telling them the overall score [and trends],” Mr. Dinchak says. “Practices can get individual data on doctors to find out if there’s a doctor who is having lower reviews. Or they might find out that it’s the office manager. If you have an office manager that’s a little rude or abrupt, a patient may be able to handle that the first couple of times, but then might go somewhere else without telling you. If you’re able to get that data, you can correct that problem.”

The challenge for practices is to check the data daily or weekly, according to Mr. Dinchak.

Doctors and practice staff should look for trends in responses and address them if they’re negative. Practice staff or doctors should reach out to patients who have shared bad experiences in an attempt to address and possible correct what went wrong.

Practice staff responding to reviews should never be aggressive or defensive. Rather, they should respond to the specific complaint and ask the patient if it’s ok to reach out to the patient personally. This shows others looking for reviews that a practice took the time to respond respectfully. Responding with a cookie-cutter “We’re sorry you feel this way…” response could backfire, too, making the practice look like it’s not really engaged.

Of course, all correspondence should keep patients’ private information private.

Reaching out personally is worth the effort for a lot of reasons including that, sometimes, those patients that have negative reviews initially end up practice advocates, according to Mr. Dinchak.

Andrew Frankel, chief operating officer and co-founder of Pennsylvania Dermatology Partners, writes in an email that the dermatology group practice with 14 offices in the state, uses the AdvancedMD reputation management technology to manage and address patient feedback.

“Our practice management software interfaces with Google Reviews and asks patients to rate their experiences right after their appointments. Our physicians can now quickly reach out to a patient if he’s had a perceived negative experience. It goes a long way with satisfaction when our doctors want to listen and try to find a way to address the issue and do better,” Mr. Frankel writes. “We can also then push positive reviews out to our Facebook page, and plan to do so with other sites like Health Grades, Vitals and Yelp to help maintain our reputation and further expand our practice.”

The practice’s reputation management efforts are yielding positive results, according to Mr. Frankel.

“In one week of receiving 1,267 online reviews, 1,076 patients (or 85%) of patients rated our service as five stars (out of five), while 157 (or 12%) of patients gave us four stars,” Mr. Frankel writes.

In a survey sent to 30,000 of Pennsylvania Dermatology Partners’ patients, early results of 1,200 responses show patients are generally happy with the practice and like specific practice aspects, including online scheduling; patient portal access; text, email and voice reminders; and automated birthday messages, according to Mr. Frankel.

The Review Reality

AdvancedMD surveys in medical practices are getting about a 20% response rate, according to Mr. Dinchak. That might sound like a small percentage, but it could translate to patient feedback from hundreds of patients a week.

The chances of getting patients to share their ratings on sites like Google or Facebook are even lower, Mr. Dinchak says.

For best results, practices should keep a few tips in mind. One is that they don’t want to over-burden patients with surveys.

“My advice is to make sure you’re not sending a survey out for every single visit, if visits are in a short time period. Make sure if you purchase a software for this that it has a frequency setting,” Mr. Dinchak says.

It’s important to also be able to override the frequency setting for special cases, including if a patient has had a procedure that makes them unable to complete a survey post-visit.

Another tip: Staff should give patients a heads up that they’ll receive a survey and encourage them to give honest feedback.

Finally, pay attention to the good and bad.

“You’ve put all this money and time into developing your practice, make time - even if it’s five minutes a day - to go on social media and check the reviews. That’s going to give you data before a bigger problem happens - before you start losing patients,” Mr. Dinchak says.