How to unlock the power of patient reviews in healthcare

Online review programs can help providers effectively manage their online reputation and glean deeper insights for operational improvement.

The patients who evaluate and experience medical care across hospitals and providers are the same consumers who shop at stores, dine out and otherwise interact with businesses.

A common denominator is the impact that ratings and reviews have in their decision-making processes, as well as their willingness to leave feedback about their experiences. Reviews are most often glowing, but sometimes they are, well, not so positive.

Regardless of positive or negative sentiment, healthcare providers need to understand how to appropriately manage their online brand and learn how to utilize the feedback for operational improvement. Unfortunately, not every healthcare organization is currently executing this properly, with many failing to reap the full potential benefits that online reviews have to offer. But by following three principles of asking, learning and scaling, providers, medical groups and health systems can unlock the benefits of reviews.

Why reviews matter

Healthcare providers are tackling several challenges, ranging from protecting their reputations amid staff burnout to improving the patient experience in cost-effective ways. Patient ratings and reviews provide a gold mine of important data – as long as providers know how to mine that data in a systematic way.

Using this data properly, healthcare organizations can celebrate or improve the patient experience while also activating the silent majority of patients that have positive stories to tell others. 

And make no mistake – patients are sharing reviews and learning from each other’s experiences, whether or not providers and systems are listening. Our own company’s healthcare survey of consumers and analysis of reviews and ratings show that 86 percent of consumers read online patient reviews. In addition, one healthcare provider or location over another based on online ratings and reviews.

Patients are taking a more active role in their own care, which includes deciding from who and where that care comes. This is because they have access to more data than ever, even before they enter a facility, enabling them to make informed decisions about their care. This data includes, of course, reviews.

The patient journey is complex – providers and care teams are on the front lines of the patient experience, which is then reflected online in the form of ratings and reviews. In our experience, however, many providers don’t participate in an ongoing process of managing reviews. Why? Usually, the provider simply does not know how to get started or what tools to use. Or, alternatively, it’s being managed by their health system’s marketing and communications team, but without transparency into the online reputation management program. This is where asking, learning and scaling comes into play.

Ask for reviews

What does an effective patient feedback program look like? Everything starts with a step that is so obvious it is easy to miss: ask for reviews. A key part of this involves requesting reviews from patients via SMS or email. Our own work with providers and research shows that the providers who do not take this proactive approach also have the lowest average star ratings.

A common question we hear is, “If I ask, won’t I encourage negative reviews?” Well, even the highest-quality providers are going to experience negative reviews. Frankly, people who have had a bad experience are going to leave reviews unprompted anyway. This is why it’s so important to make sure to be proactive in capturing reviews. Why? Because when you ask for feedback from everyone, you unlock the silent majority who had a great experience but wouldn’t otherwise have written a review. Taking a SMS-first approach yields wildly successful results.

Proactively eliciting reviews will increase volume and boost visibility on Google, where half of people search for care based on our consumer survey. Asking also encourages a conversation with patients. And when other patients see you responding to their input, you’ll improve your brand’s reputation for being responsive and caring. In fact, 73 percent of consumers we surveyed said it’s important for a provider to respond to reviews posted by patients.

Learn from reviews

Uncovering meaningful insights from patient feedback is not just an exercise of finding out what’s wrong. In fact, most feedback online is positive. Learn from the positive feedback and celebrate this with others at the healthcare organization.

You might be surprised at what you learn when you systematically analyze reviews. Reputation’s annual healthcare Industry report discusses the strengths and challenges of healthcare providers based on an aggregated sample of reviews.

One of the biggest challenges we uncovered was the emergency department experience. It’s no surprise that the ER experience had low ratings, especially compared with other aspects of care – ER wait times can be notoriously long. But when we dug deeper, we uncovered problems beyond wait times. For instance, we noticed criticisms of the professionalism of ER staff, ranging from rude receptionists to staff who lacked empathy. This feedback underscores the importance of providing a great patient experience throughout the entire patient journey. Improving personal interactions might not reduce wait times, but they could improve the experience overall.

By surveying patients, asking them to review you publicly and listening to social media feedback, you can create a feedback loop of continuous insight.

Scale with technology

Listening to reviews, responding to them and learning from them is no longer a manual effort. There are far too many reviews across just Google, social media, websites and industry review sites for any single human to effectively and proactively manage.

Fortunately, technology platforms automate the manual effort and enable marketing teams to focus their time and effort on taking appropriate action. Moreover, AI-powered technology can capture and report on consequential insights, helping teams quickly understand and improve the overall patient experience.

Ultimately, this helps teams to:

  • • Examine if there's a pattern of feedback
  • • Share learnings and best practices from one facility to the next.
  • • Standardize ORM efforts with formal processes.

To scale those lessons learned, providers should consolidate feedback data into a single view, which makes it easier to find valuable insights everywhere your customers are talking, from surveys to reviews and social media. Invest in a single automated platform to collect, house, and report public and private data for a complete picture of customer experience. Funnel those insights to all customer-facing employees so that great patient experiences are shared, and less than positive experiences lead to internal operational improvement.

For Reputation’s annual healthcare report, the company worked with a third-party research partner, Prodege, to survey 1,000 U.S. adults age 27 to 64 to learn how they search for care online and what factors influence their choice of a clinic, urgent care or physician.

Andrew Rainey is general manager of healthcare for Reputation.

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