By KELLI MURRAY
It's easier than ever for consumers to provide near real-time feedback on their experiences. From Amazon, Yelp, FaceBook, and Google to GlassDoor, HealthGrades, and KLAS the consumer has multiple outlets to inform others about where to and where NOT to spend their time and hard earned dollars. What once started as 3rd party star ratings in the hospitality, restaurant, and automotive industries has now shifted to consumer ratings across not only those industries but also to product and service providers, employers, and yes, even, healthcare.
Through no choice of my own (my insurance pulled out of Florida), I recently went through a change in insurance payers. That change unfortunately, left me having to select new dental, primary care, and gynecological physicians. Already put off by having to give up physicians that I have trusted with my health for over 20 years, I did what most consumers do these days and took to the Internet for help.
My first stop was to my new payer, FloridaBlue, to see who was covered under my plan and, more importantly, who was accepting new patients. There was an overwhelming list of physicians to choose from. So I began the filtering process, which looked something like this:
Provider Type (Primary Care)
Specialty (Family Practice)
Distance (within 10 miles of my home)
Search Results - 66
Determined, I then scrolled one-by-one through 66 results looking for:
Practice Affiliation (Florida Hospital or Orlando Health)
First Language (English)
Qualifications (Years in Practice, Place of Residency)
Once the physician passed the above criteria, you can probably guess what I did next.
That's right, I Googled the physician's name. Then once I found the correct physician, I read various reviews across multiple rating sites, then headed to the physician's web site to see if I was impressed with what I saw.
Each physician took no less than 10 minutes for me to research and evaluate. One physician in particular had so many negative reviews (32 to be exact) that I read them simply out of curiosity. This physician's first-visit patients described her using adjectives like "condescending, impatient, rude, hostile, irritated, accusatory, and grumpy." I'd meandered down the proverbial rabbit hole without finding a primary care physician and I still had a gynecologist and a dentist to find.
The intent of all the hours spent filtering, searching, reading, and evaluating was to simply find ONE physician that I felt was "good enough" on the surface to provide me with a reputable, consistent, high-quality customer experience. Notice, I did not look at quality performance indicators - I would have - but that information was not readily available to me. And, I was already frustrated having to give up my trusted physicians and my time trying to find replacements I know very little about.
Which brings me to my point.
The unfortunate side of today's socially reported consumer reviews in healthcare, specifically the physician practice setting for purposes of this article, is not unlike other industries. But, let's not fool ourselves, there are several significant key variables to consider:
- Clearly, consumers are unable to provide a fully informed review using both objective (clinical) and subjective (experiential) data because they only have access to half of the information - which is how the practice made the consumer feel at the time of service. Things like bedside manner, staff friendliness, ease of access, clear communication, waiting times, cleanliness, out of pocket costs, and other traditional customer service criteria generally associated in evaluating things like products and/or a service experience, like a restaurant for example. "Blending objective measures with patient reviews would provide a more accurate, thorough evaluation of physicians. We are not yet there," says Kevin Pho, an internal medicine physician and the founder and editor of KevinMD.com.
- Unlike product reviews on Amazon or Yelp, most consumers of healthcare haven't yet personally identified with where to provide their feedback. In the old days [before the emergency of social media], they'd rave or rant to their neighbors or spouse. Today, as a proactive consumer, I rely heavily on Amazon reviews to compare price, product satisfaction, and buying experience. It's not unusual to find me standing inside a CVS Pharmacy with the Amazon mobile app opened on my mobile phone while reading product reviews and comparing prices. The "Amazon of healthcare" doesn't exist in the similar context and that leaves many consumers turning to Google for information and social platform like Facebook and Twitter to voice grievances.
- Further, in an outpatient setting, feedback isn't necessarily encouraged nor pulled from consumers once their "purchase" is complete. According to a 2014 poll published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, only 5% of consumers had reviewed a physician online. Small samples yield highly unreliable data yet research has shown that even a few reviews are enough to set an expectation in the mind of a potential consumer.
When consumers post negative feedback, I have to wonder how many of them first sought to inform or ask for remediation by the physician practice manager? Meaning that as a service provider, you may be the last person to know that your patient has had a negative experience that may have a downstream effect on future clients choosing your practice. What's even more difficult at first glance is that the feedback, good or bad, once published on social platforms, is there...forever.
So what is a provider and practice manager to do? Consider this - negative reviews can actually be a good thing and here's why:
Customers value seeing honest feedback, even if it's not all positive.
A 2013 study by Harvard Business School found the majority of consumers trust reviews more when they see a mix of good and bad feedback because people recognize that no one is perfect. To the contrary, if feedback is all positive, 95% of consumers believe the reviews are fake and/or company-screened. Amazon is a perfect example and it doesn't take long for consumers to call companies out about it.
Yotpo conducted a study of 1.3 million reviews and found that the most commonly used negative word in reviews is "disappointment" or "disappointed." It was mentioned 20,000 times. In comparison, the next most common negative word is "bad," which was mentioned 7500 times. Disappointment occurs when expectations are not achieved. You can leverage this information to find better ways to communicate to your patients about what they can expect from you.
Here are some simple tips that can help you not only manage reviews but increase the value of your brand experience:
- Be proactive. One simple and very inexpensive tip is to position signage throughout your practice encouraging consumers to reach out to a member of staff if they feel their expectations have not been met. It's best to manage issues head on at the time they occur than to try to course correct after the fact.
- Encourage your patients to provide an online review - it shows you value their input.
- Avoid deleting negative reviews.
- When possible, respond publicly to feedback. Consumers look for how complaints are resolved and compliments are received, and they remember the results.
Once customers know that you're making their experience a priority, it will help to lower their guard, anxiety, and expectations. This type of proactivity will also put your staff on alert to provide the best possible service. Empower them to ask the patients questions and bring any issues forward for immediate resolution. It not only holds the entire practice accountable but it sends a clear message to your "clients" that you acknowledge them and that they are important. Everyone wants to be treated like they matter and when they have a surprisingly stellar experience with a team that they trust, it is a beacon for referrals and a testimony to your commitment to care!
Kelli Murray is Founder of MedSpeaks, a team committed to nurturing the intersection of healthcare, entrepreneurs.