Your patients are bearing a higher percentage of out of pocket healthcare costs. Your patients are always connected and always on. These reviews sites (like them or not), have turned the tables on you. Your patients are voting with their pockets and they are reading your medical reviews before they ever pick up the phone to make an appointment with you.
Sure, you can use the 3rd party appointment booking websites (like ZocDoc). What that these websites like ZocDoc did was to arrange the information that google already had – better. Before ZocDoc, you had to compete to be found on google searches performed by patients.. With (more often than not) incorrect or incomplete information about you and your practice.
Before ZocDoc, more often than not, you had very few Google reviews and many of them were bad.. Mostly unsolicited reviews that patients left for you – behind your back.
ZocDoc made it 100 times better. They created a professional “website” for your practice on ZocDoc, added nice pictures to your doctors, a calendar for patients to book appointments (that doesn’t really connect to your EMR), added insurances that you accept to ZocDoc, added reviews to your ZocDoc profile.
We are hired to manage the online reputation of healthcare practices. Here are the steps we take to do so – you can follow the same as well.
Figure out whether your doctors and your practice are being found on Google Local Search
This is the most important step and also the very first step. Unless you are being found every time someone searches for your specialty (e.g. “eye doctor near me”), you are not really in the game yet.
Sure, you might show up on the 5th page of Google local search results, but at least you should be discoverable. If you can be “found” by google, then at least you can work on how often you are being found, how well your google search listing looks, what reputation you have.. Etc.
This is very easy to do. A couple of ways that you can do it
- While you are near or in your office location(s), google your specialty e.g. “eye doctor near me” — see the results and note how many sites you are listed on.
- If you are away from your office location, google your specialty around your office location e.g. “eye doctor in bronx” — again, note the results and see how many sites you are listed on (e.g ZocDoc, Vitals, Healthgrades, Yelp, RateMDs etc)..
- You can google a provider directly “Dr Sheldon Rabin” — again, note the results and see how many sites you are listed on (e.g ZocDoc, Vitals, Healthgrades, Yelp, RateMDs health.usnews, webMD, doximity, md.com, sharecare.com etc)..
Note that your name might show up even though you might not have listed yourself on a medical review listing website – that happens when patients themselves add your name / your practice’s name on these websites..
There is a lot more to be said about being found by patients when they are searching for you, specifically, or for the kind of patient care they are looking for. That’s covered in a separate article about medical practice SEO.
Assess your medical practice reputation before you start
You need to have a baseline of where your medical reputation currently is – however good or bad. The best way to do so is to google your providers and then google your practice as well.
E.g. You can google a provider directly “Dr Sheldon Rabin”
Note the reputation you currently have
Or, google your practice e.g. “new york ophthalmology reviews”
Note the reviews
This is your baseline, where you are starting from and what you want to improve
Assess your competitor medical practices’ reputation next
You know your competitors within the 4-5 block radius. Drill into that a bit further and truly understand what you are going to have to beat.
In this particular case, you will see that your competitors will always be listed right around your listing as well.. Those are the folks that are constantly going to try to drive google search traffic away from you.
Don’t stop with Google alone.. Try out the others like ZocDoc, Vitals, Healthgrades etc
Healthgrades, for example, is going to “suggest” other doctors right next to your provider’s name..
Keep in mind that these are the folks that are possibly going to get your patient.. While you are not looking.
Decide which online medical reputation websites you care about
You need to decide which websites you are going to monitor and manage your online reputation on. Of course, the gut reaction is “all of them” – but keep in mind that unless you are using some reputation management software to do this for you, you don’t have unlimited time (nor do your staff) to manage and monitor your listings.
Narrow down on a few choices.. The top ones seem to be
- Google local search (of course, google is the king and always will be)
- ZocDoc – they spend a lot of money on advertising
- US Healthcare news
Do NOT forget to check your listing on each one of your payers’ provider directories.
Also, do keep in mind that at a minimum, you need to show up where your immediate competitor shows up (i.e. as many websites) and you should also have at least 1 extra website where you are being listed – where your competition does not.
Start monitoring your online medical reputation
Whether you listed your practice on those online websites or not, you will notice that someone or the other might have listed you on those websites (patients). The first step is to “claim” those listings. After verifying your practice details, you are allowed to own your own listing on these websites.
Go ahead and do that first.
Once you are done with this, your next steps are to:
Regularly monitor these review sites for yourself and your immediate competitors
You can just set up reminders on your own calendar (or your staff’s) to monitor your online reputation at each one of these sites every 15-20 days. It’s quite simple and it really does not take you more than 15-30 mins to get it done (each time).
Just create a simple spreadsheet with your listings
Date | Website | Rating
12/12/2012 | https://health.usnews.com/doctors/neil-patel-256640 | Excellent
12/12/2012 | https://www.healthgrades.com/physician/dr-neil-patel-yk8xb| 5.0, 3 stars
… and so on
Simply bookmark your listings, visit them each time, check your ratings, add an entry to your spreadsheet.
Use google alerts (a little weird, but still works) for yourself and your immediate competitors
You can easily monitor yourself or your practice name using google alerts. To do, simply go to https://www.google.com/alerts and type your name on google search. E.g. “new york ophthalmology” and add an alert
You will start getting alerts whenever that name is mentioned / discovered by google
Social media or not? Decide and take action
Every marketing agency or consultant will tell you that you need to be on social media (e.g. twitter, facebook, instagram etc)..
They are correct – but think it through carefully. Do you have the time to manage and maintain these social media accounts? If not, do NOT start yet another channel that’s going to be just a listing/name and have no dedicated efforts put into it.
It’s better to be diligent about marketing on lesser channels with your limited time than to spread yourself thin by having to manage more listings, more social media accounts etc.
Instead of going a mile wide and an inch deep.. Go an inch wide and a mile deep.
If you are deciding to go ahead with social media accounts, then make sure you monitor your activity on it in addition to monitoring your competitors’ activities on these accounts.
Just like above, first, gauge what your competitors are doing.
Don’t do exactly the same thing – you need to and want to stand out, don’t you. Think about what else you can do to stand out.
These social media sites make it pretty easy to monitor your “social mentions” – there are free tools to do the same as well e.g.
Decide where you are going to focus on getting patient reviews
This is the most valuable part of your marketing strategy. Reviews top them all. Google (the search master) wants to present the most relevant search results and counts google reviews. There are some great articles from folks that have dug deeper into this (e.g. here, and here) to find proof.
Of course, before Google went all-in into reviews, ZocDoc and the rest had already been doing it for a while, with a niche of medical SEO and medical reviews. Google shows its own reviews and on the side results, it also shows reviews from sites it trusts. E.g. see “new york eye and ear”
See how it is showing reviews from Facebook?
That’s the game.. There are a few sites that google trusts reviews from.. Those are the sites you need to consider in your reviews strategy.
In general, you will not be able to nor want your patients to post the same reviews on multiple sites.. It simply is not going to happen because you cannot ping the patient twice to provide the same review on multiple sites.
What you can do instead, is to figure out your patients a bit more and ask for reviews, then let them provide you a review wherever they usually provide reviews.
E.g. for some practices, Facebook users account for more than Google/gmail users. When you ask for a Google review, google asks the user to login to their google account. Some people still do not use gmail accounts and don’t have a google account… Do you want to turn them away? Same goes for ZocDoc, vitals, Healthgrades.. They ask your patients (that came through them) to provide reviews. This means that the appointment has to be made on their website (e.g. ZocDoc).
Keep your options open.
Doctors’ reviews or medical practice reviews?
Sooner or later you are going to have to decide.. Should the patients leave a review specifically for a doctor or should it be for a practice.
We think of the medical practice (business) as the surviving entity. Doctors can (and will) come and go. If you ask for patient reviews of your doctors, the reviews will also walk out the door when the doctor leaves your practice.
It is better to get reviews of your business (medical practice) itself. Each patient does invariably end up writing something about their doctor in their reviews anyway – we believe that’s good enough.
Start a process of getting reviews
There are a few things you need to take care of before you start asking your patients for reviews. Get them in order before you get started:
- Tell everyone in your practice that you are starting a concentrated effort to get more reviews. This is a team effort and should NOT be handed over only to your front desk staff.
- Conduct a small training session for providers and staff on how to ask for online reviews from patients.
- Make it simple – It should be as simple as noting if the patient is happy with your provider / their appointment, asking them to confirm that they found everything to be OK and if they do thank you for the great service (staff and providers), ask them gently – “Thank you so much for saying so. If you have the time and don’t mind it, could you please leave us a review on Google or facebook? I can text you the link”.. And then proceed to text them the link. Stop right there. Don’t push any more.. The patient will leave a review on their own time.
- If the patient didn’t have a good experience, they will tell you that.. At least you have the opportunity to set things right – then and there. Make sure they are happy before they leave your medical practice.
- Designate someone on your staff to monitor your reviews daily.. Yes, daily.. It takes 15 mins to do so if you do it on a daily basis rather than waiting for an entire week to wrap it up.
- Designate the same person to respond to each and every review (good or bad) diligently. Teach them how to be very careful about not exposing any PHI information in review responses. All responses should be generic ones. Your staff cannot confirm that the patient did actually have an appointment at your practice or what they were seen for. They can only thank the patient for providing a review and to ask them to call the practice to resolve any issues the patient had with your practice – that’s pretty much all you can do in your responses to patient reviews.
- Designate this person to also respond to SMS and calls from patients on that number. We’ve found that even though you sent an SMS with a review request, patients tend to use that same phone number to call and SMS your practice.. It’s human nature.. Prepare for it and deal with it.
- Provide a tool for your staff to send patients reviews links. Nobody on your staff would want to share their personal cell phone number with patients, so, in all probability, will not send patients SMS from their own mobile. Give them a tool.
- There are so many free options available – most of them are not really HIPAA compliant (that’s the problem). E.g. opentexting, Globphone, sendatext etc allow you to send SMS without having to sign up or download anything. However, you need to choose an option that keeps your patient data HIPAA compliant.. Because information about a phone number + the specialist they went to, borders on PHI.. as any phone number can be enriched with social profiles these days and the actual human behind the phone can be discovered.
- Preferably, choose a vendor that allows you to send patient review SMS and that will sign a BAA with you. Several options to consider are
- Etc etc..
Select a software that integrates with your EMR or at least start with a spreadsheet
The ideal situation is where the reviews software ties in with your EMR to pull all the patient data, be able to send out an SMS within 10-15 mins of the patient leaving your practice.. However, if you do not have that luxury, don’t despair.
At a bare minimum, start with daily spreadsheets of patients that you want to send SMS to. For this, all you really need to do is to export all patients that were seen today, from your EMR. These exports are usually in the form of spreadsheets. Just download the daily spreadsheet, find the mobile number of the patient and prepare to send the review SMS.
Review Gating / Two step review process
We get it – you want to send our patients review requests but at the same time, you also want to know how your staff and providers are doing… so you can address issues.
You need to have a process that identifies patients that were NOT happy with your practice (yes, it happens more often than you think).
However, if you do cull out patients that you believe are not going to leave good reviews, keep in mind that Google frowns upon such behavior and calls it reviews gating. There’s a pretty extensive article here – read that up.
Of course, you want to protect your reputation by gating reviews, but as the study shows, not gating reviews allows you to gather MORE reviews.. And according to Yelp, Google etc.. more reviews is better than having a few, gated, positive reviews.
The penalties are also steep – so, be careful if you are planning on practicing review gating (we strongly discourage it).
Instead, here’s what you should do to avoid future headaches.
- Do have a first step that’s more like a survey wherein you ask a patient for a star rating (e.g. 1-5 stars). With that, have a little area where the patient can leave comments. This allows you to collect the true response of the patient and an explanation of their review.
- The most important thing to tell patients here is that they can choose to leave this review anonymously. If patients are allowed to leave reviews anonymously, they tend to leave more reviews.. And do tell you the truth. This allows you to truly diagnose problems in your own practice and categorize them based on the responses thus:
- Wait times
- Staff tardiness
- Provider tardiness
- Provider bedside manner
- Since this step is anonymous, patients will leave details like “Dr Patel was not courteous” or “Summaiya was rude” or “I waited to 4 hrs” etc.. This allows you to monitor your staf and providers as well, and provide them the much needed feedback.
- Next, ask the patient to post their review online (if they want to). This allows them to have a choice of going “public” with their review. Every reviews website forces users to sign in and have a profile before they can leave a review (for the reviews to be genuine) – this allows patients to provide you feedback and remain anonymous OR provide you feedback and post the same feedback online.
Create review request templates
In general, you want to communicate with patients in the language(s) that they prefer.. But don’t make assumptions. We see this all the time and one of our practices has also made this mistake multiple times.
As you can guess, patients in Jackson Heights and Jamaica are, invariably, going to want to speak Hindi, Bengali and other south asian languages. Meanwhile, patients in Washington Heights, Bronx are going to speak more in Spanish.. While Manhattan is going to have primarily English speaking patients.
However, do not make the mistake of addressing folks in a language that you assume they are going to prefer – until the patient actually tells you so.
The same theory goes with asking for patient reviews via SMS or email as well. Don’t assume. We made this mistake once.. Where we sent out patient review SMS for patients in Bronx – we chose Spanish as the language. Many patients wrote back in English.
Before you start this process, understand that you are going to have to play around with review request templates. It’s not a set-once and be done kind of approach/strategy.
Start with 4-5 different templates of review requests and see how each one performs. Here are a few examples.
- “Thank you for visiting us today. On a scale of 0-5 (5 max), how would you rate us?”
- “Thanks from New York Ophthalmology, Jackson Hts! Kindly review our doctors on google – https://g.page/NewYorkOphthalmology-Jackson-Hts/review . It helps us. Thx”
- “Thank you for coming to New York Ophthalmology 🙂 Our doc wanted to check in – does everything seem good?”
- “Good afternoon & thank you from New York Ophthalmology! Kindly review our doctors – good/bad? Here’s the google review link http://bit.ly/nyoph-jackson-hts “
- “Hi 🙂 Were you happy with our docs & staff at NY Ophthalmology? Kindly let us know here – http://bit.ly/nyoph-jackson-hts or reply back. Thanks so much! ~ Ron”
Keep in mind that your reviews templates for email can be much longer than those short text messages.
Also, keep in mind that to shorten your URLs, you can use services like bit.ly — this also allows you to track how many people actually clicked on your bit.ly reviews link and then left a review (or didn’t).
Create those same templates in languages that your patients speak e.g.
“Gracias de New York Oftalmologia… revise amablemente nuestro medicos en Google – https://g.page/NewYorkOphthalmology-Bronx/review . eso nos ayuda gracias :-)”
Keep track of the outcomes
You are going to have situations where patients leave reviews for your provider, staff or the practice in general. Make sure you categorize reviews responses and assign it to the appropriate staff within your practice to address the same.
The same goes for online reviews as well – keep track of those.
The only thing that’s truly difficult to do is to match patients with their online “names”. We have seen cases where a review request patient’s name does not match their online names at all.
You are going to have to learn to deal with it and live with it.
Send automated surveys and review requests to patients when they leave your practice
While you can start with a manual, spreadsheet based process – this only works with really small practices that see 15 patients or less per day.. Do the math.. Even at 15 patients per day, you are tracking and managing 300 patients a month, 3,600 patients a year.
It does get cumbersome.
Plus, sending SMS or emails with surveys or reviews requests being done once a day does end up becoming a chore.
Try to pick a software vendor that integrates with your EMR.. then make sure that you set it up so that surveys and follow up review requests are sent within 10-15 mins after the patient has CHECKED OUT (left your practice).
Hopefully this helps you get a better handle of your medical practice’s reputation. Reach out if you have any questions.