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Doctor in a hospital thinks about online patient reviews

Should Doctors Care About Online Patient Reviews?

Social media use has exploded over the past decade. And as a result, user-generated content has become increasingly more important to businesses of all kinds. Even doctors are finding themselves on the receiving end of patient reviews. In fact, physician-rating sites such as Healthgrades, WebMD and RateMDs have recently been joined by more business-focused websites like Angies List and Yelp. And newcomers like Top Doctors and Care Dash are entering the landscape every day.

Obviously, consumerism in medicine is a concept that’s here to stay. What’s more, if you know that your patients are voicing opinions online, it’s probably worth your while to listen to what they have to say.

Why Doctors Object

Doctors have legitimate concerns about online patient reviews. One of the biggest is accountability. Most websites that rate doctors’ performance allows patients to post reviews anonymously. (Two notable exceptions are Angie’s List and Yelp, which are subscriber based.) So there’s generally no way to know if the opinions expressed are those of an actual patient or not.

Another drawback, many doctors say, is that patients rate doctors on nonmedical issues in their online reviews. And it’s true: nearly every website that collects patient opinions asks questions that are not directly related to the doctor’s care. For example, most review sites include issues such as ease of scheduling appointments; cleanliness of the office; and friendliness of the office staff in their online reviews.

Perhaps the most significant objection doctors voice about online patient reviews, however, is that they put “patient satisfaction” ahead of good medical care. Patients, they claim, are not in a position to judge medical quality. Nor do they have the knowledge and expertise to know if a doctor really is providing the best care. One very good example: a patient who demands antibiotics for a lingering viral infection may be unhappy when the doctor denies their request. And that unhappiness can translate into a negative review. Nevertheless, there’s no doubt that the doctor in question practiced sound, evidence-based medicine when they made the decision to say “no.”

Why Patient Reviews Are Important

On the other side of the coin is the unavoidable reality that doctor-rating sites fulfill a very real need. People seeking high-quality, affordable medical care are looking to online patient reviews to help them make decisions about where to find providers who can meet their needs. And for most would-be patients, that means finding a doctor who isn’t just knowledgeable, but one who is also compassionate, caring and engaged. And whether doctors like it or not, this includes things like a maintaining a clean office and setting expectations for staff performance that ensure patients feel welcomed and cared for by everyone they meet.

“We [doctors] are not seeing the larger picture, which is that the parking lot is us, the waiting room is us, the nursing staff and receptionist are us,” said Dr. Tara Lagu, M.D., lead author of a 2009 study that examined online patient reviews.  “There is a real lesson to learn about customer service here, and it’s not something that we doctors are trained to think about,” she added.

Improving Patient Care

So how can physicians use online patient reviews? First, they can begin by accepting the fact that patient feedback can help them meet their overarching goal of providing high-quality patient care. According to Dr. Lagu’s studies, most online patient reviews are positive. And most complaints are about nonclinical issues, such as wait times and helpfulness of the staff. Thus, honing in on issues that relate directly to medical care is easier than most physicians think. And finding fixes to other problems, such as cleanliness of the office or friendliness of the staff, is certainly much more likely when you’re aware that they exist.

Perhaps most importantly, however, online review sites provide a level of transparency that empowers patients to be better healthcare consumers overall. As Dr. Paul Rosen, MD, MPH, MMM writes in NEJM Catalyst, “I believe the chief motive for health care to join the transparency movement should not be to raise scores but to help patients make important decisions. We must acknowledge that medicine is at once a vocation, a profession, and a service.”

Putting A System In Place

Still, monitoring the ever expanding landscape of online review sites is something few physicians have the time to do. Some providers are hiring reputation management firms to monitor online comments and respond to them in real time. An easier and cheaper fix, however, is to set up a few online alerts that will let you know when someone posts a comment about you or your practice online. Here are a few places to start.

  • Google alerts: Sends notifications when it detects online activity based on specific keywords (for instance, your name and practice name).
  • Yext: Enter your practice information and the program searches all review sites in its database
  • Gofish complaint search: Searches over 40 online complaint sites looking for negative reviews and comments.
  • Twilert: Notifies you if your practice is mentioned on Twitter
  • Social Mention: Searches social media in real time and analyzes a number of indicators, such as number of positive and negative comments made

Although you won’t capture all feedback this way, it will certainly give you a pretty solid head start.

At the Carmoon Group, we provide physicians and other healthcare providers with risk management solutions designed for their practice needs. So give us a call today to speak with one of our experienced professionals. Or reach out online and we’ll get back to you right away.

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Floyd Arthur

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