How Online Reviews Are Shaping the Quality of Patient Care

Rising medical costs and higher out-of-pocket expenses are causing patients to become more discerning in their choice of providers. Increasingly, consumers are turning to online ratings platforms to make health care decisions. In fact, reporting from the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) indicates that consumer ratings for patient satisfaction carry more weight during the decision making process than considerations like network or specialty.

How Consumer Reviews Are Changing the Narrative

The importance of Google Reviews and ratings on other consumer-based platforms like Yelp, Vitals and Healthgrades overshadows clinical ratings from government agencies. This shift has changed the ways in which patients evaluate providers while forcing hospitals and other medical facilities to refine how they market their services. It’s no longer enough to earn high scores based on metrics like clinical outcomes; patients want something less tangible and more personal than that.

This trend was demonstrated by an experiment conducted for the Brookings Institute to evaluate the influence of clinical versus non-clinical metrics on patient perceptions. The results indicate a preference for non-tangible elements like patient satisfaction and Net Promoter Score (NPS), which is how likely a patient is to recommend a particular doctor, over statistics that are based strictly on care delivery. This preference was more pronounced in women who participated in the experiment, indicating a need to focus more on providing satisfaction in women’s health care services.

Peer-generated reviews on consumer websites serve several purposes:

– They offer a wider range of feedback categories for more comprehensive evaluations.
– They allow consumers to feel an enhanced sense of control and confidence in their decisions.
– They provide doctors and medical facilities with invaluable feedback.
– They allow clinicians to project an air of transparency and trust to the general public by openly endorsing and sharing consumer reviews.

The Problem With Relying on Consumer Reviews

Online reviews are most often used when a patient is shopping for a new doctor. Patients also look online when they want to evaluate their current care provider. However, relying solely on peer-based reviews has caused some issues that include:

– Perceived lack of objectivity; people who are dissatisfied with services are more likely to leave a review than those who are happy with their doctor
– Perceived lack of control; reviews don’t necessarily come from actual patients, but may be generated by online trolls or disgruntled ex-employees and spouses

Negative feedback has caused some doctors and dentists to publicly refute bad reviews in ways that may undermine trust and violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The answer is for health care providers to take control of their online presence in a proactive way that enhances their reputation without resorting to black hat practices or violating patient privacy.

Maintaining Online Reputation Without Sacrificing Transparency or Trust

Doctors, dentists and hospitals need to look at their patients as customers to be pleased and served. The three most important indicators of patients satisfaction are quality of care, online ratings scores and overall experience. Clinicians can enhance their online presence by encouraging patients to take actionable measures to generate more reviews. This can be accomplished by distributing patient questionnaires, by upgrading patient interaction mechanism on their practice website and through social media engagement.

In addition to using direct patient appeals and consumer-generated feedback to improve quality of care, automation can play a part in online reputation management. Doctors can use review generation tools to identify influential consumer review websites and pinpoint those that are most beneficial, track online reviews and analyze the data to refine their approach and upgrade SEO on their landing pages and websites to improve organic search ranking. These measures will allow medical practitioners to maintain long-term control over their digital footprint in a more meaningful way without compromising their principles or endangering patient trust.