Physician review sites like Vitals, RateMd and Yelp have become increasingly important in the digital medicine revolution.  Patients are relying more and more on the input of other patients to help them make decisions on a medical specialist.  In most instances, prospective patients are finding a physicians website and then cross referencing their services with review sites to solidify whether or not they should make an appointment.  Ensuring your online reputation is managed properly has become a science in and of itself.

Sadly, review sites have become a Pandora’s Box for disgruntled consumers.  One study showed that dissatisfied consumers are 3 times more likely to leave a review than satisfied customers.  This is likely due to the cathartic feeling many consumers may feel after bashing a product or, in your case, a physician.  After that review has been posted many feel vindicated in knowing they may have permanently damaged your reputation by leaving an indelible smudge on your online reputation.

So, how do you avoid this seemingly inevitable pitfall?  First, let’s review what NEVER to do in regards to reviews.

Directly Responding To A Negative Review

For many physicians seeing a negative review immediately puts them on the defensive and they feel the need to publicly refute these claims.  This is one of the worst mistakes you can make.  Publicly addressing this gives other potential patients the idea that you are petty and self-righteous.  I know it may be hard to sit idly by while a patient misrepresents a series of events or experience with your practice.  However, going on the message board and defending yourself lets patients know you can more about your online reputation than you do your patients.

Inherently, we know your online reputation is important but the potential patient can never know that.  Your results and reviews have to seem organic and not micro managed or orchestrated.

Instead, try and do the research as to what patient left that review.  It may take some looking through your records, but with some digging you can usually narrow it down.  Once you have established who the patient is, reach out to them directly whether it be via phone or email.  Let them know that you saw their review and that you are aware of their disappointment and vigorously apologetic.  Offer to rectify the complaint with another consult at no cost or recommending another specialist for them.  Do not be afraid to be personal and say things like, “As a medical professional my primary concern is my patients.  Seeing reviews like this really makes me evaluate my bedside manner and helps me improve my demeanor for future patients.”

The most important thing to convey is that their grievance has been taken into consideration and will help you in the future.  Many times the patient will supplement their original review and note that you reached out to them personally.  Many others will remove the review altogether.

Patients Can Smell It From A Mile Away

Most physicians believe that a slew of gleaming 5 star reviews is the best way to capture new patients from a review site.  Wrong.  By nature, most people are inherently skeptical and pessimistic.  Many only visit review sites to validate their preconceived notions of a product or service.  Sadly, no one believes in perfection.  If patients see nothing but overwhelmingly positive reviews about you they are going to become suspicious.

This may seem counterintuitive as 5 stars is always better than 4 stars.  However, it is a matter of plausibility.  A 4 star review is often more plausible if the only complaint was something a patient would reasonably expect.

For instance, an effective 4 star review would be:

“Dr. Smith was great.  He explained why I was in so much pain and took the time to go over all of the things I could do at home to relieve my pain.  We also discussed surgery but he wanted to wait and make sure we had gone through all of the conservative treatments first.  My only complaint was that my appointment was at 5:30pm but I was not seen until 5:45pm.  Other than that Dr. Smith was great and I would definitely recommend him.”

You lost a star, but it is negligible because the review was so positive.  The only complaint was a longer wait time than expected.  However, this is nothing new to anyone who has ever been to a physician’s office.  The key here was plausibility.  As a potential patient, I believe this person is real and I believe their assessment of their interaction with you because of the slight imperfection.

Leaving Fake Reviews

Many practices have taken to leaving fabricated reviews that reflect positive reviews of patients that never existed.  Although this may seem like a good idea it is irresponsible in terms of ethics.  I know it seems like an easy way to bolster your reputation but I urge you not to engage in this shameful practice.

Also, many review sites have become savvy to this tactic and have begun tracking ISP’s to determine whether or not these reviews are valid.  If a review site sees an abundance of reviews being left from the same ISP and location it may flag your page.  If prospective patients find out you have been lying about your reviews they are also going to wonder what else you may be lying about.  Your credentials?  Your skills?  Your expertise?

Furthermore, there are legal ramifications for leaving fake reviews:

The FTC has the following guidelines for patient reviews:

  • All reviews must be truthful and not misleading in any way

  • Even paid endorsements are considered to be deceptive if they make false or misleading claims

If the FTC or BBB find that your practice has been posting fake or deceptive reviews online, or that they are being compensated for the activity, you could face a hefty fine.

This is also true for leaving negative reviews on competing physicians review sites.

Many review sites, such as Vitals, will allow you to hide or remove 1-2 reviews that you feel are invalid or fake.  Other sites allow you to contest a review if you can prove that it is not genuine.  It is always best to attempt to hide these reviews first as attempting to deal with the Customer Service teams on these sites is an exercise in futility.  Generally, their response is that they are not responsible for the reviews left on your page as long as the site has deemed them to be credible.  “Credibility” is usually based on a proprietary system that the site uses to crawl reviews.

Another thing to be aware of is that Yelp has a filtering system that posts some reviews and not others, according to a recent Forbes.com article.

“My wife, a Realtor, had a similar experience: ‘They seem be wary of first-time reviewers. If your first review is negative then they let you post other reviews, but if your first review is positive then they remove it. The same goes if all your reviews are positive.’

She went on: “I called Yelp after a business associate posted a positive review about me which was later removed. They hinted that if I advertised on Yelp this may not have occurred.”

A case can be made that this borders on extortion.

A Practical Solution

With many of my clients I have faced the daunting task of cleaning up their online reputations after years of mismanagement.  In response to this I created a simple process that has worked incredibly well.

I created a card that is slightly bigger than a business card that physicians give to a patient as they are leaving the office.  This card thanks them for coming in, includes the practices phone number and also encourages them to leave a review on one of the physician review sites and includes a short link to each site.

The most important thing about using this system is what I call “The Moment”.  This occurs when the patient is exiting the exam room and you know that they are ecstatic.  It is at this point where you need to break the confines of the doctor patient relationship, look them in the eye, shake their hand and genuinely thank them for coming in.  During this time is when you say to them, “I am truly thrilled that you are so happy.  Here is a card with my number on it.  If you need anything please do not hesitate to call.  Also, if you want to leave a review just take a look at the back of the card.”

The patient is so flattered by your handshake and sincerity that they are now exceedingly likely to leave a positive review  The key is to encourage the right patients to leave reviews.  These are the patients that you know are happy and are willing to go the extra mile for you.  The success rate of these cards is astounding but it is predicated on your ability to captivate them in “The Moment”.

Online Reputation Management is just one of the many factors that are imperative to increasing your patient volume.  At Gold Medical Marketing we implement creative Marketing and Public Relations practices that cater to your specific specialty and demographic.

Too often we see companies implement a “one size fits all” model.  Inevitably, these do not produce patients and are a waste of your time and money.  The key to increasing patient volume is demographic and psychographic research mixed with innovative Marketing and Public Relations strategies.