Your professional website, social media posts, review sites, and news articles all combine together to create an image for your business. This is your online reputation; how others see your medical practice when they find you online.
For Physicians, one of the most powerful tools for your online reputation is in the hands of your patients. Patients today are informed and empowered. They have the ability to strongly influence potential patients when they share their experiences on social media and physician review sites. A study from the Institute for Healthcare Policy (2014) shows an overwhelming 94% of internet users who have visited a doctors review site considered the reviews helpful. Another study by American Osteopathic Association (2014) reveals that approximately 1 out of 3 patients use consumer review sites as tools for finding doctors or healthcare providers. A customer review survey from Bright Local (2015), an SEO research company, shows that 80% of consumers say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. And these numbers are increasing; the same survey reveals 92% of consumers read online reviews (vs. 88% in 2014). Given these numbers, you can’t afford to leave your online reputation to chance.
Your reputation, of course, is how others view you. So as a Physician the best safeguard to your reputation is your own personal quality of care. Your dedication to patient experience will be evident in the satisfaction of your patients, so the next step is to help guide your patients to share their positive experiences. While approximately 9 out of 10 customers consult online reviews, the Bright Local study shows that only 10% of patients leave online reviews. Each patient has the potential to have a very strong voice.
Step 1: Create Your Profiles
The first step in managing your Online Reputation is to be sure you are the one creating it. Visit the top online review sites, such as Google+, Yelp, and HealthGrades; take the time to fill out the information on your practice. You want to be the person to describe your practice, ensure that the contact information is correct, and provide an accurate description of your specialties and experience.
Treat this as an opportunity to introduce yourself to new patients. Add a professional photo to personalize your profile, and if possible, add additional photos to showcase your location, office, and friendly staff. The added benefit of including yourself on various review sites is that it could improve your organic search rankings. For example, if your company is listed in several major local business directories and you’re mentioned on local news sources regularly, and if great user reviews of your business appear on the various sites, you’ll likely rank higher in searches.
Naturally, your reviews on Google+ carry extra ranking weight in Google searches, plus you’ll get some immediate visibility embedded in the search results, provided you’re in the top three search results in your field or key word search.
Online reviews are important for more than just your search rankings. As a general rule, the more positive reviews you earn, the more online traffic you’re going to get. If you want to do more to earn local reviews, make your presence on local directories known.
Step 2: Inform Your Patients
OK, you have created your online profiles, now what? You can sit back and wait for patients to review you, or you can be proactive. Let patients know where to find you online. Make sure your website has a link for Patient Reviews, which directs them to your profile where they can leave a public review.
As your patient is checking out, make sure your staff inquires about their office visit. If everything was satisfactory, find a gracious way to suggest they leave an online review for the doctor and share their experience. Reviews are most valuable when they are honest and unbiased, and certain etiquette applies to the solicitation of online reviews. Don’t offer or accept money, products, or services to write reviews. If you’re a business owner, don’t set up review stations or kiosks at your place of business.
One step further in encouraging patients to leave an online review is to send them off with an instructional handout, which walks the satisfied patient through the online review process. Whitespark, a software and SEO company, offers a free, printable instruction sheet for patients on how to leave a Google review. This printout, which you can customize for your business, is found at https://www.whitespark.ca/review-handout-generator. It is a step-by-step guide, taking patients through the process of leaving an online review. This can be a helpful tool for your less tech savvy patients who would be happy to leave a review, but find the process intimidating
Step 3: Monitor Your Online Reputation
So now that you have established your presence on the various online review sites, and informed your patients on how to review you, it is time for you to monitor your reviews. Managing and protecting your online reputation starts with awareness. If you don’t know what is being written about your practice, you will not have the opportunity to protect your reputation in the event that something negative is said, nor will you have the opportunity to maximize the glowing reviews.
Checking your profile’s regularly is important, however, a more effective way to monitor your online reputation is by setting up a Google Alert for your name or the name of your practice. A Google Alert is just as it sounds; you are notified with an email each time your practice gets mentioned online. Setting up a Google Alert is a simple process; go to http://www.google.com/alerts. The basic directions will walk you through setting up an account so you receive your updates.
You can also set up Google alerts for any specialized topics you would like to keep tabs on, or specific news you would like to follow. If you find yourself constantly searching for the same term, setting up a Google Alert is a great way to stay informed.
OK, so now you have created your online profiles at the various review sites, and you have encouraged your patients to review you online, and you are monitoring them carefully to see what is being written. Now what?
Step 4: Engage and Participate in Your Online Reputation
Acknowledge the good reviews with a thank you and a comment reiterating the compliment. Use those glowing reviews to your advantage; with the patients permission, add them to a testimonial page on your website.
No one wants a negative review, but should one appear, address it quickly with a public comment, and a follow up to the client. If you handle it publicly and graciously, you can still come out looking good. When you actively respond to negative online feedback, other potential customers can see that you’re engaged and that you care about your customers. And actually, one negative review can make the review process look more legitimate. Most often, the best response to an upset customer is to say you’re sorry without qualifying the apology to redirect the blame toward the reviewer’s feelings. Admit that a mistake was made, and ask what you can do to resolve the situation. With a consistent response policy, you can turn a bad online review into a positive outlook for your business.
One thing to address with regard to negative reviews is the concern of a false or malicious negative review. If you are able to determine that the statement is factually incorrect, you have the right to ask for the comment to be removed or retracted. This can only be accomplished if you are able to provide conclusive evidence that shows, without a doubt, that the comment is factually untrue. In reality, this takes time and effort, and meanwhile a negative review will be online. Therefore, even if you do have factual evidence, while you are in the process of requesting the removal, you should consider correcting the post in the comments section. Lay out the conclusive facts in a professional manner and don’t make it personal.
For medical professionals, social media marketing is changing how potential patients find your practice, how and where they share their experiences and, eventually, where they will spend their time and money. Patients are more likely than ever to seek health information and recommendations through review sites, medical social media blogs and online health websites. Take the time to be active in these arenas, look for places you can contribute your ideas. Enlist the help of a Public Relations firm who specializes in the medical industry. Most of all stay active and engaged in your online reputation; your business depends on it.