How Patients Use Online Reviews
Internet reviews sites, such as Yelp and Healthgrades, have a growing influence on medical providers’ reputations and ability to attract new patients. We’ve conducted surveys in the past showing how, why, and when patients use reviews sites, and now we’re revisiting the topic with fresh data from our 2020 survey* on how patients use online reviews.
One of the most interesting trends we’ve found over the years of conducting this survey is that the number of people who use online reviews sites to help select a new physician is growing. That means practices that have a small online presence—or worse, a negative one—could be missing out on hundreds of new patients each year.
In this report, we’ll talk about how reputation management software made just for medical providers can help you manage your online presence, as well as some tips for addressing negative reviews.
We’ve found that spending as little as 10 minutes a week cultivating your online presence and addressing feedback publicly reduces the impact of negative reviews by up to 70%.
A healthy online presence is crucial for your medical practice, as this year’s findings show that 90% of patients who responded to our survey use online reviews to evaluate physicians.
Almost three quarters (71%) of surveyed patients use online reviews as the very first step to finding a new doctor, so your online reputation is often the first impression you make on many potential patients.
A positive review history could bring out-of-network patients to your practice, as nearly half (43%) of respondents would go out of their insurance network for a provider with favorable reviews.
Only 1% of patients leave “very negative” feedback on reviews sites, and just 10% leave “somewhat negative” reviews, so the majority of reviews should be either positive or neutral and therefore easier to engage with.
Sixty-six percent of respondents feel it’s “very” or “moderately important” for providers to respond publicly to online reviews, so addressing complaints head-on (without violating HIPAA laws) is a smart strategy.
Most patients use online reviews
To collect the data for this report, we surveyed over 500 U.S. patients to ask them about their use of online reviews sites. We found that the trend of patients using online reviews sites to research medical providers continues to grow.
If you compare these results to our research back in 2013 when only 25% of patients used online reviews to evaluate doctors, it becomes obvious that online reviews have become a trusted and essential tool for the vast majority of patients.
The frequency with which patients use reviews sites varies, but a combined majority do so regularly; 65% report using them “often” or “sometimes,” while a quarter of respondents use them “rarely.”
This isn’t surprising to Todd William, founder and CEO of Reputation Rhino in New York City.
Founder and CEO of Reputation Rhino
“I think it’s clear that the internet wields a tremendous influence over people’s choices in all areas of their lives. From where to eat, what to wear, where to travel, and who to choose as their doctor. I believe healthcare professionals must carefully curate their online image with the same thoughtfulness and intentionality as their bedside manner or office decor.”
This data suggests patients are finding a great deal of value in online reviews of medical practices. What’s more, this dynamic can make or break a medical practice’s online reputation. It’s not just that so many patients are using reviews—it’s that those reviews are often the first thing patients see.
Search engine optimization (SEO) experts agree that user-generated content, such as reviews, is heavily weighted by search engines. This means reviews are often the first impression a patient will get of a medical provider when they search for a practice’s name.
This is especially true in the age of Google, and we found that carried out in our survey results when we asked patients which reviews sites they used the most. The majority, 37%, said they used Google reviews.
Fortunately, there are marketing tools specifically designed for healthcare providers that make acquiring reviews easier. Some of these systems are set up with event-based communication features that will automatically send out emails asking patients to leave reviews on popular reviews sites after they come in for an appointment.
These automated invitations help increase the number of reviews you’ll receive which makes your page more visible on search engine results pages.
Of course, you want those reviews to be positive in order to ensure review readers are seeing the best of your practice. Luckily, as long as you’re providing the best care for your patients, you’ll naturally garner positive reviews. More on that later.
Most patients use online reviews to find new providers
A good online reputation is important for more than just visibility. Seventy-one percent of patients in our survey use online reviews as a way to evaluate and select a new doctor.
These results show that while online reviews do play a role in patient retention, most patients are consulting reviews to decide whether they should make a first appointment with a provider at all.
The good news for providers is that you can leverage reviews sites as marketing channels and use them to grow your patient base thanks to healthcare CRM software. Many of these systems are equipped with dashboards that let you keep track of metrics and evaluate the success of your online marketing strategies.
Performance dashboard in Kareo‘s medical marketing software
Having this data at your fingertips allows medical professionals to identify patient engagement trends, offering greater insight on which channels new patients are using to find providers. It also reflects how current patients are interacting with the practice (e.g., via phone, email, or a patient portal).
Positive reviews could attract out-of-network patients
Almost half of respondents in our survey (43%) said they’d be willing to go out of their insurance network to see a provider if their reviews were better than those of an in-network provider.
When compared to the same data point back in 2013, the number of patients who are willing to pay more for an out-of-network provider has nearly doubled.
This means a significant percentage of patients are willing to overlook important factors such as cost and convenience in favor of positive online reviews when selecting a new healthcare provider.
Most patients post positive reviews online
Again, you’ll only be able to take full advantage of online reviews to attract new patients if your reviews are positive. That’s something that scares many doctors off from asking for online feedback from patients, as satisfaction is such an inconsistent thing to gauge.
The good news here is that most patients leave positive reviews for health care providers.
Of the patients in our survey who said they leave online reviews, a combined 72% of patients said they leave “very” or “somewhat positive” feedback when reviewing healthcare providers.
Physician concerns about negative reviews are incredibly common, so the fact that so many patients are sharing positive experiences online (rather than focusing on negative ones) is probably surprising to a lot of readers—and encouraging!
The data suggests that bad reviews don’t actually happen all that often, and I suspect the fear of patient feedback stems more from the perceived severity of negative reviews rather than the number of them.
We’ll talk more about how to handle these negative reviews later, but for now let’s focus on the positive: With patient engagement and feedback software, you can easily capture these positive reviews and promote them on your own website.
Most patients want providers to respond to negative reviews
Unfortunately, negative reviews do happen sometimes, and based on the number of hits that come up from a Google search of “how to deal with negative patient reviews,” a lot of physicians struggle to deal with them. That’s why we asked patients whether or not they believe it’s important for providers to respond to negative reviews publicly on reviews websites.
Sixty-six percent said it’s either “very” or “moderately important” to them that providers answer negative reviews in a reasonable way that presents their side of the encounter.
Rick Ostopowicz is the marketing director at Eurofins E&E North America and has been working as a marketing and public relations specialist for 20 years. He coaches his clients on the value of responding to even the harshest reviews.
Marketing Director at Eurofins E&E North America
“One thing that providers need to remember is that the responses given are not just for the patients leaving the feedback; in fact, many patients will simply rant online and then move on to rant about something or someone else. Rather, the responses should show other potential patients who are researching a practice or facility that the provider listens, empathizes, takes all feedback seriously, and addresses matters promptly (if possible).”
William agrees and adds advice about the competitive edge that responding to reviews can give providers.
“I generally advocate for responding publicly to all reviews, public or private,” he says. “It shows a responsiveness and level of engagement that distinguishes ‘good’ from ‘great’ and in any competitive business, that is a huge advantage. It is also a relatively easy edge to obtain with minimal investment, time, or resources.”
A lot of patients are willing to overlook negative reviews for a number of reasons so the key here is not to feel overwhelmed or too threatened by negative reviews, and instead address them head-on.
That’s easier said than done when you consider how many individual reviews sites there are for medical professionals these days. But thanks to CRM software, you can easily monitor these reviews sites and quickly respond to serious reviews without taking too much time out of your day.
Some of these systems are even equipped to send email or text alerts directly to you when a negative review comes in so that you can provide your measured response as quickly as possible.
There are a few things to keep in mind when responding to negative reviews:
Don’t take it personally. Things can get nasty online, but it’s imperative that you respond in a professional, courteous tone.
Acknowledge the reviewer’s concerns. Unless the review is entirely unreasonable or untrue, don’t spend the whole response refuting or debunking their complaints; instead, pay attention to what caused the patient to have the negative experience, acknowledge it, and offer a solution if possible. Do note though: you should not offer discounts or placations as doing so in a public response could encourage other reviewers to leave negative reviews in an effort to get similar compensation.
Do not violate HIPAA laws. This is one of the main reasons that responding to negative reviews in the healthcare industry is so difficult, because you can’t actually confirm whether or not the reviewer visited your practice or was treated by you or your team. Do your research and establish your guidelines before responding to any reviews in order to avoid costly HIPAA violations.
Here are a few more “do’s” and “don’ts” for responding to negative reviews of your medical practice:
Most patients disregard unreasonably negative reviews
Here is some more good news—In many cases, patients reading extremely negative reviews will automatically disregard them, so the potential damage these bad reviews can have on your reputation is limited.
A majority of patients tend to ignore negative reviews that seem unreasonable or exaggerated, and 36% of patients overlook negative reviews if the provider responded to them thoughtfully.
Ostopowicz recognizes the validity of this data point and gives a great example:
“Online reviews have their good points and bad points based upon the type of feedback given,” he says. “For example, someone who leaves a 1-star rating for a hospital with the comment, ‘This place should go out of business or be burned to the ground,’ is not giving any feedback that would be useful to me as a consumer. But a 1-star rating that talks in specifics—wait times, appointment issues, or horrible staff attitudes—will give me pause and make me read more reviews from others.”
These results show that patients are looking at reviews with a critical eye, and they won’t automatically believe everything they read. This is great news for providers who have dealt with those exaggerated and/or fake reviews before, especially since many reviews sites don’t require verification before reviews can be posted.
If you suspect a review is fake, you should still gather credible evidence (e.g., show your office was closed on the day the reviewer claimed they received care), then contact the website administrator to see if it can be removed.
This knowledge, combined with the number of patients who leave positive reviews, should encourage you to start asking for and promoting online reviews more than ever.
Most patients look for quality of care in reviews
So now that you’ve embraced the power of the online review, let’s talk a bit about what kind of information patients are looking for when they’re evaluating your review history.
We asked our survey respondents to rank the most important information in three categories:
Delivery of care
For our “general” category, we found that most patients are interested in reading about other patients’ experiences and ratings as well as the quality of care provided.
It’s both encouraging and unsurprising to see “quality of care” among the most important information on reviews sites. Take, for example, the transition to value-based care, a model in which provider pay is tied to the value and quality of care delivered rather than the volume and frequency of services rendered. This is not only a priority for patients, but for government healthcare officials, as well.
For our “delivery of care” category, patients are most interested in the accuracy of diagnoses and then how well the provider listens to patients.
In fact, a quarter of patients selected “accuracy of diagnosis” as one of the most important elements of care delivery. That’s not surprising when you realize that about 20% of patients have dealt with a misdiagnosis in their lives, and the consequences for an inaccurate diagnosis can be severe. It then stands to reason that so many patients seek information related to diagnosis records when researching providers.
For our “administrative” category, most patients want to know how easily they can schedule appointments and how friendly the medical staff is.
This goes to show that online reviews aren’t solely focused on the delivery of care. Thus, it’s important for providers to consider a patient’s perspective beyond the exam room. The entire office must have a good bedside manner or doctors will risk negative ratings from patients due to issues with staff outside their control.
Next steps: What does all this mean for you?
Our survey shows that medical practices must keep an eye on their existing online reviews, but providers should also be proactive about recruiting more so that they don’t miss opportunities to attract or retain patients.
When it comes to how patients use online reviews, most focus on writing and reading the positive stuff. The reward eclipses the risk of the occasional negative feedback.
Negative or fake reviews are still a concern. However, our data shows they are not as common as doctors may think and can be mitigated by responding directly to the reviewer or contacting the reviews site with contrasting evidence.
Physicians interested in improving their online presence should consider taking the following steps:
Designate or hire a staff member to monitor and manage the online reviews presence of the practice at large as well as for individual physicians.
Evaluate software programs that integrate with practice management systems to automate the process of recruiting reviews.
Keep the patient experience in mind from intake to diagnosis making all communications courteous and clear along the way. In some fields, software such as picture archiving and communications systems (PACS) and radiology information systems can help maintain open communication with the patient through diagnosis and beyond.
Consider investing in a healthcare CRM system with functionality designed to support medical professionals in marketing their practices.
Interested in what other practices are using for their software solutions? Schedule a 15 minute chat with one of our consultative advisors for free and we can help to guide your research.
Methodology and demographics
To find the data in this report, we surveyed a total sample of 854 patients in the United States. Using screening questions, we narrowed the number of respondents down to 498 with relevant experience. We worded the questions to ensure that each respondent fully understood their meaning and the topic at hand.
We surveyed over 1,000 patients in the United States. We used screening questions to narrow the number of respondents down to 990 with relevant histories and experiences. We worded the questions to ensure that each respondent fully understood their meaning and the topic at hand. For more information, see our methodologies page.
Note: The information contained in this article has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. The applications selected are examples to show a feature in context and are not intended as endorsements or recommendations.