A huge majority of patients will research your hospital and its physicians online before booking an appointment. And what pushes them to take that step is online reputation. Understanding how they find a doctor and what role reputation plays in the process is critical to attracting new patients and accelerating your business goals.
Consumers want access to convenient, quality care, and they do their own research to get it. According to a recent healthcare consumer insights survey, more than 60% of patients start their search for care on the web, and 40% rely on online reviews to inform their decisions. Even after getting a word-of-mouth recommendation or a provider referral, 80% will still look to online patient reviews to learn about physicians and validate their decision before booking an appointment.
In performing their due diligence before selecting a doctor, consumers check star ratings and online reviews to see what they can expect during an appointment. Generally, when they’re researching your organization and its doctors, they’re looking for information on the following.
- Quality of care
- Wait times
- Experience with staff
- Ease of booking appointments
- Accuracy of diagnosis
- Time spent with providers
While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to attracting consumers, strategically leveraging and boosting your brand’s reputation on the main channels will give your organization the competitive edge and help bring more patients through your doors.
1. Search engines (Google, Bing, etc.)
While Google isn’t a silver bullet, it’s still an important part of the patient journey. You want your brand front and center on the first page of search results to legitimize the organization and get more eyes on its physicians.
Reputation is a key consideration. Google takes the strength of your online reviews into account when recommending businesses and services to its users. That is, having positive reviews (and having many positive reviews) helps your organization rank highly in local search results. While it’s just one factor that impacts your SEO standing, it’s an important one.
More specifically, Google’s complex algorithm checks for:
- Number of patient reviews
- Review recency
- Overall star rating
- Engagement from the business (i.e., responding to reviews)
- Locality (i.e., locally relevant providers and businesses are displayed)
Of course, this data doesn’t just matter to the Google algorithm. It also matters to healthcare consumers and prospective patients. They trust and choose doctors based on how high their ratings are, the quality of their reviews, the strength of their online presence, and convenience factors like appointment availability and proximity.
2. Healthcare-specific review sites
While someone may start their search on Google, it’s just the jumping-off point. Most consumers check around three different online resources before choosing a provider. More often than not, they’re visiting healthcare-specific directories and consumer review sites. Maintaining robust profiles across these sites helps your organization build trust with Google and improve your search ranking while simultaneously expanding your audience reach.
Healthgrades is one of the most trusted sources for high-quality, healthcare-specific reviews. Physicians and organizations benefit from its massive user base: More than 30 million patients access the site each month. What’s more, these patients are ready and willing to take the next step: 64% of Healthgrades visitors will make an appointment within one week—which they can do directly from the site itself.
Like Healthgrades, Vitals is a patient-facing doctor directory and review site complete with robust physician profiles, patient reviews of doctors, and appointment scheduling capabilities. The site boasts over 1 million physician profiles and 9 million reviews and ratings—a huge draw for the 23.3 million patients who visit the site each month.
WebMD is a big-name brand in the healthcare consumer world. The site is packed with information about health, medical conditions, symptoms, and treatments. It also features a find-a-doctor directory where patients can search for specific doctors or local specialists, learn about their backgrounds, read reviews from other patients, and even request in-person or telemedicine appointments.
The Sharecare platform gives users free access to medical and mental health resources—including care via its physician directory, where people can browse 1.1M+ providers by specialty or search for locality-based doctors and treatment. Physician ratings and reviews round out provider profiles, which also feature pertinent information like insurances accepted and languages spoken.
Healthline supports whole-person and community health through rich content and a direct line to care via its find-a-doctor tool. In this directory, consumers can learn about providers and specialists who accept their insurance through provided information and objective reviews from patients.
As the name suggests, Wellness.com is a wellness-exclusive content platform. It offers a robust and detailed provider directory, where each month more than a million prospective patients read up on providers to find out their accepted insurances, education history, special services, hospital affiliations, and much more.
Patients have to sign up for a CareDash account and create a profile to leave reviews. This requirement helps verify that comments come from real patients. People can browse CareDash’s directory and view reviews and star ratings embedded within each physician or facility profile.
While these sites give patients a treasure trove of information, organizations have much to gain outside of patient acquisition too. Monitoring these widely used healthcare-specific review sites can help paint a complete picture of your doctors’ online reputations. They’re also a good learning mechanism to discover what patients love about your organization—and where it may be falling short of expectations.
3. Social media platforms
Social amplification lets patients make a lot of noise—which can be nerve-racking for individuals and organizations looking to protect their brand and reputation. But you can’t ignore social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter: Conversations are happening whether you’re there or not. When leveraged strategically, however, social media helps physicians and organizations gain exposure to more healthcare consumers and bring their personalities to life—digitally—so prospective patients feel a connection before booking an appointment.
Social listening also helps healthcare professionals take the pulse of what consumers are saying about the patient experience—and what prospective patients are seeing. Monitoring and maintaining a social media presence can benefit healthcare organizations and individual physicians alike. But to do so effectively, keep these guiding principles in mind.
- Engage regularly: Keep profiles up to date, post relevant news, and respond to reviews. Neglecting your profiles is a missed opportunity to foster patient engagement with a receptive, opted-in audience. Worse yet, an inactive profile might make people think you’ve gone out of business.
- Be real: Some physicians and healthcare organizations worry that they’re giving up control by opening their profiles to comments and feedback. While, yes, social media gives patients a voice, this kind of transparency and authenticity builds trust with your online audience.
- Don’t freak out over a bad review: If you get a negative review, don't try to hide it (unless it contains libel, profanity, PHI, or categorically false information). Instead, simply respond if the situation warrants it, offer to continue the conversation offline, and move on. As long as the good outweighs the bad, having one or two less-than-glowing online reviews makes the positive feedback from happy patients all the more powerful. Plus, if you continue to collect reviews regularly, a negative comment will be buried in no time.
Proactively collect and broadcast reviews to improve patient acquisition
Online review sites often hold a mirror to patient satisfaction. The more reviews a physician or organization has online, the higher their star rating tends to be. Collecting patient reviews also fortifies your brand’s reputation against the rogue negative comment or unruly patient while elevating its presence in search results.
The best advice is to take a proactive approach to online reputation management and encourage patients to leave reviews. Then, respond to feedback to show each current and potential patient you’re listening—and tell Google you’re engaged in the patient journey.
Healthcare organizations can’t passively expect a 5-star rating. A successful reputation management strategy must be comprehensive and encompass all the ways patients are searching for care.
But managing all these destinations isn’t easy. By teaming up with Press Ganey, you’ll tap into our industry-leading expertise in consumer experience as well as our best-in-class Review Publishing solution, which broadcasts the great feedback you collect across the web. Plus, you'll unlock direct access to our partner network—including Google, Healthgrades, and WebMD. Each month, this network reaches more than 100 million patients who are actively searching for care and ready to book an appointment.