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 2019 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 review sites to help select a new physician is growing, and 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 reputation management software made just for medical providers that 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 percent.

Key Findings

  1. A healthy online presence is crucial for your medical practice, as this year’s findings showed that 94 percent of patients who responded to our survey use online reviews to evaluate physicians.
  2. Almost three quarters (72 percent) of 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.
  3. A positive review history could bring out-of-network patients to your practice, as nearly half (48 percent) of respondents would go out of their insurance network for a provider with favorable reviews.
  4. Only 2 percent of patients leave “very negative” feedback on reviews sites, and just 10 percent leave “somewhat negative” reviews, so the majority of reviews should be either neutral or positive and therefore easier to engage with.
  5. Seventy 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 growing.

Last year, 82 percent of respondents said they consulted reviews websites with some frequency to view or post comments and ratings for health care providers. This year, that number jumped to 94 percent.

 

How often patients use online reviews 2019
 

If you compare that to our research back in 2013, when only 25 percent 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: 72 percent report using them “often” or “sometimes,” while nearly a quarter of respondents use them “rarely.”

This isn’t surprising to Todd William, founder and CEO of Reputation Rhino in New York City.

Todd William

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 health care 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 percent, said they used Google reviews.

 

Most used reviews sites for medical providers 2019
 

Fortunately, there are marketing tools specifically designed for health care 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, making 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, so your priority will be taking great care of your patients in order to 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-two percent of patients in our survey use online reviews as a way to evaluate and select a new doctor.

 

When patients use online reviews of medical providers
 

These results show that online reviews do play a role in patient retention, but it’s clear that 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 you can leverage reviews sites as marketing channels and use them to grow your patient base thanks to health care 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 (Source)
 

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 patient portal).

Positive Reviews Could Attract Out-of-Network Patients

Almost half of respondents in our survey (48 percent) 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.

 

Patient willingness to go out-of-network for a highly rated medical 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 like cost and convenience in favor of positive online reviews when selecting a new health care 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 of 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 percent of patients said they leave “very” or “somewhat positive” feedback when reviewing health care providers.

 

Most common types of reviews patients leave
 

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.

Seventy 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.

 

Importance of medical providers responding to negative reviews
 

Rick Ostopowicz is a Senior Account Executive at Nevins & Associates who has been working as a marketing and public relations specialist for twenty years. He coaches his clients on the value of responding to even the harshest reviews.

Rick Ostopowicz

Senior Account Executive at Nevins & Associates

“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 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 a minimal investment or time or resources.”

As we’ll talk more about later, 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.

A few things to keep in mind when responding to negative reviews are:

  • Don’t take it personally. Things can get nasty online, but it’s imperative that you respond in a professional, courteous tone.
  • Acknowledge the reviewers’ 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 a negative experience, acknowledge it and offer a solution if possible. (Though you should NOT offer discounts or anything like that, 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 responding to negative reviews in the health care 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:

 

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Most Patients Disregard Implausibly Negative Reviews

Here’s 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 combined 65 percent of patients tend to ignore negative reviews that seem unreasonable or exaggerated, and nearly two-fifths of patients overlook negative reviews if the provider responded to them thoughtfully.

 

Most common reasons for patients disregarding negative reviews
 

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, horrible staff attitudes—will give me pause and make me read more reviews from others.”

On the flipside, a majority of patients are at least moderately likely to select a provider based on positive reviews, with 13 percent being “extremely likely” and 34 percent being “very likely” to select a provider with positive reviews.

 

patient likelihood of choosing a medical provider based on positive reviews
 

Clearly, patients are weighing positive reviews more heavily than negative reviews when selecting a provider.

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, especially since many reviews sites don’t require verification before reviews can be posted.

Now, 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:

  1. General
  2. Delivery of Care
  3. Administrative

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. This is not only a priority for patients, but for government health care officials, as well. 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.

For our “Delivery of Care” category, patients were 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 percent of patients have dealt with a misdiagnosis in their lives, and the consequences for an inaccurate diagnosis can be severe. It stands to reason, then, 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, lest doctors 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, lest they 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—so the reward eclipses the risk of 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.

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.
  • 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 PACS systems and radiology information systems can help maintain open communication with the patient through diagnosis and beyond.
  • Consider investing in a health care CRM system with functionality designed to support medical professionals in marketing their practices.

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.

The gender of our survey respondents was nearly even, with 51 percent being female and 49 percent being male.

 

Gender of survey respondents 2019
 

Nearly half of our respondents were between the ages of 26 and 35, with the second largest group being between 36 and 45 years old.

 

Age of survey respondents 2019
 

If you have comments or would like to obtain access to any of the charts above, please contact lisa@softwareadvice.com. 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.

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