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Cover Focus | Nov/Dec '21

Seeing Stars

How to get more patient reviews and manage the bad with the good.

Reviews are a powerful tool for driving patient acquisition: 66% percent of patients perceive reviews as influential in their search for a new physician, and eight out of 10 patients start the search process by reading online reviews. Additionally, nine out of 10 millennials trust online reviews as much as they trust personal recommendations from family and friends. If there is an easy way to enhance your online reputation, it is working to improve your review profile.

Reviews are so powerful, in part, due to a psychological concept called social proof. Social proof is the practice of using the behavior of others to guide our own actions. If we feel uncertain about a looming decision, we look to others for guidance. If patients have had a great experience at a practice and are writing about it online, others may assume that is the norm and that they will have a good experience, too. Social proof can influence decision-making, so it is important for it to work in your favor.

Finally, online reviews are great for search engine optimization. The better your review profile, the more likely your practice website is to appear high in Google’s Map Pack and the better it will rank in search results. This, in turn, will boost your click-through rates and bring more traffic to your website. So, how can you get more patient reviews for your practice, and what should you do when faced with not-so-stellar public feedback?

WHY TO ASK FOR REVIEWS

For most physicians, the hardest part of collecting online reviews is asking patients to write them. Yet, this is the most powerful practice for boosting your online reputation. Research suggests that seven out of 10 people are willing to leave feedback or write an online review for a business—if the business asks.1

A driving force behind this willingness is a psychological concept called reciprocity. In his book Influence, psychologist Robert Cialdini, PhD, calls reciprocity the first principle of persuasion. Reciprocity works because humans are hardwired to return favors and pay back debts. We hate feeling indebted to others, so if someone does something for us, we feel obligated to do something for them. For physicians, this concept can translate into more patient reviews. Once you have treated a patient, they will typically recognize that you have provided a great value to them and be more likely to spend a few minutes reviewing their experience in your care.

SOLUTIONS FOR COLLECTING REVIEWS

The particular strategy (or strategies) a practice employs to ask for reviews depends on its patient demographics, its marketing channels, and its staff members’ workload. Many businesses use a combination of several of the methods outlined below.

Automated emails. A total of 70% of reviews come from post-transaction emails.2 Emailing a patient a few days after their visit can be an effective way to get feedback. The key here is personalization: Emails should include the patient’s name, and, if possible, have their physician’s name as the sender; a message that seems too automated may be a turn-off. Also, be sure to send the email only once the patient’s experience at your practice is complete.

Text messages. SMS messages are another effective way to obtain more patient reviews. According to Pew Research Center, 97% of Americans own smartphones, and the majority of users read every text message they receive.3 Keep in mind that SMS messages are not HIPAA-compliant, so refrain from sharing any health-related information in this format—only a simple request for a review should be sent via text.

In-office requests. More providers are choosing to ask patients for reviews immediately after their visits, while their experience is fresh in their minds. Some practices have a dedicated iPad or computer in their front office where patients can leave a review, while others ask patients to take a few minutes to write a review from their phone. This strategy isn’t right for everyone—for some, it can feel too aggressive. However, if you ask nicely and not forcefully, having patients provide feedback while in your office can quickly boost your number of online reviews.

Printed take-home materials. If patients receive any supplementary take-home materials at their office visit, consider slipping a business card into the mix with a link to review their experience. Even better, print a QR code on the business card that will direct patients to a page where they can write a review on Google, Facebook, or another platform. Built-in smartphone cameras can be used to scan the QR code and open a webpage, making this is a quick and convenient way for patients to leave a review.

Promotional items. Some practices give away promotional items such as mugs, shirts, or pens. Including a QR code or a link with these items can be a good strategy for getting more reviews. This tactic may not be as high-converting as others, but it can be a cheap and effective way to get new reviews from time to time.

Website links. Every practice should place a link for patients to write a review on their website. Some physicians create a page on their website with a list of their review profiles; others simply place an external link to a review profile such as Google or Facebook. Whichever method you choose, giving patients an easy way to leave a review will be a boon for your practice.

Good old-fashioned phone calls. Although a low-tech approach, calling patients to ask for their reviews can be incredibly effective. Of course, this tactic requires an investment of time and effort from your office staff, so it may not make sense for every practice. However, the human connection can go a long way, so a phone call system is worth considering.

Postcards. Sending postcards to thank patients for their visit and ask for a review can be effective as well. Like phone calls, this strategy takes time and postage isn’t free, so this may not be the best approach for every practice. However, postcards too contain a human element, and patients appreciate practices that go above and beyond to add a personal touch.

Social media. Social media can be a good way to get more reviews; however, this strategy is slightly more impersonal, as it does not enable you to identify specific individuals who have visited your practice. However, you never know who will see your posts, so it is worthwhile to occasionally share a link to your review profile on your social media channels.

Review generation software. Using review generation software to automate the feedback process is the most comprehensive strategy available. This software can automatically email and/or text patients to ask for a review, direct them to the appropriate review channels, and post their feedback on social media to spread the word. Some platforms can even aggregate all your reviews in one place and help you manage your profiles from a central hub. Although review generation software is powerful, it can be expensive and may be overkill for some practices. It is worth doing some research to determine if this tool is right for you.

HOW TO ASK PATIENTS FOR REVIEWS: DOS & DON’TS

As with any marketing strategy, there are best practices to follow when it comes to collecting patient feedback.

DO | Ensure HIPAA compliance. It should go without saying, but refrain from including any personally identifying information in your requests for reviews, including the reason for the patient’s visit, their outcomes, etc.

DO | Ask patients for a review of their experience—and nothing more. This is especially important if you are communicating with patients through non-HIPAA–compliant channels, such as text messaging. The goal is to generate positive publicity for your practice, not to incur an extra liability, so keep protected health information out of it.

DO | Time requests appropriately. Don’t ask patients for a review if they haven’t finished their experience at your practice. Ensure that patients are done with their treatment and don’t need any follow-up appointments before you ask for a review. If you ask too soon, you are likely to get no response—or worse, a bad review.

DO | Respond to reviews appropriately. Every now and then, a customer is bound to leave you a negative review—it happens to every business. Many practices are hesitant to respond to negative reviews for fear that it could elevate the patient’s complaints and attract negative exposure. However, I prefer to think of negative reviews as an opportunity to show new patients how much you care. Research suggests that when patients leave reviews, they expect a response, regardless of whether their feedback was positive or negative. Prospective patients want to see providers who care, so acknowledging any shortcomings and the steps being taken in response will go a long way.

A surgeon I know personally calls patients who have left a negative review of his practice. He says that nine times out of 10, the issue was a simple misunderstanding or miscommunication that could be cleared up with a short conversation. In the few scenarios when the issue is not so simple, opening the lines of communication helps the patient to feel understood. They appreciate the gesture and empathy, and some even go back and modify their review. This practice can turn naysayers into ambassadors for your brand and deliver an incredible return on investment. When patients are upset, summon the courage to face their criticisms head-on—it will pay off big time.

DO | Know when to stop. Once a patient has reviewed their experience at your practice, stop contacting them. Some automated systems will continue to spam patients with review requests, turning a positive experience into a negative one. Conversely, realize that you won’t be able to reach every patient and eventually will need to stop asking. In the long run, it is more important to preserve a positive patient experience than it is to have it reviewed, so know when to stop.

DON'T | Buy or incentivize reviews. Most important, never pay for or otherwise incentivize patients to write a review. Not only is this practice tacky, but it also violates the policies of nearly every online review platform, including Google, Facebook, Yelp, and Healthgrades. Ask patients for a review, but if they choose not to write one, move on without ever offering anything in return.

CONCLUSION

If you follow these strategies and best practices, you should be on your way to getting more patient reviews in no time. Additionally, bad reviews happen to all of us; attempting to address them can help to repair your relationships with existing patients and even attract new individuals to your practice.

1. Murphy R. Local consumer review survey 2020. Bright Local. Accessed December 21, 2021. www.brightlocal.com/research/local-consumer-review-survey/

2. Bassig M. How reviews impact consumer shopping decisions. Review Trackers. Accessed December 21, 2021. www.reviewtrackers.com/blog/shopping-decisions/

3. Mobile fact sheet. Pew Research Center. April 7, 2021. Accessed December 21, 2021. www.pewresearch.org/internet/fact-sheet/mobile/

author
Crawford Ifland
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