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Most patients say online reviews are critical when choosing a healthcare provider

Providers have an opportunity to create brand loyalty by addressing negative online reviews, which can nearly double patient satisfaction.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Adding to the growing body of evidence that online review aggregators can be an effective marketing channel for healthcare providers, a PatientPop survey found that about 70 percent of patients say they consult online review sites when selecting a healthcare provider.

The same percentage said a good online reputation is a very or extremely important factor in selecting a provider. Meanwhile, almost 52 percent of patients who had submitted a negative online review had not been contacted to address their concerns.

That represents a potential opportunity for providers: The survey found that patient satisfaction doubles when a medical practice addresses a negative online review. And patient satisfaction metrics are increasingly tied to reimbursement, to say nothing of the potential for attracting and retaining patients.

IMPACT

The findings are particularly relevant given the number of people who increasingly rely on the information they find online. Three out of four people surveyed have looked online to glean information about a doctor, and about six in 10 will go online "sometimes" or "often" to look for care.

And while there are a number of factors that come into play when selecting a doctor, dentist or other provider, online reviews from other patients ranked at the top of the list, with 59 percent of respondents saying it's the top thing they consider.

That beats out information found on other websites (49.9 percent), the practice's own website (38.4 percent), and response time to an online request (21.1 percent). Social media brought up the rear: Only 7.5 percent of respondents said the quality of social media/blog posts influences their provider decisions.

The numbers also suggest that online reviews are not simply written by a minority of disgruntled patients. More than one-third of patients have posted reviews of a provider or practice; the most popular sites for posting reviews were Google (39.2 percent), the practice website (24.8 percent), and Yelp (23.8 percent).

More than half of patients say their negative feedback is not addressed by the practice, but when a patient who posts a negative review is contacted by the practice, they are satisfied by the process 60.3 percent of the time. They come away dissatisfied fewer than 1 in 5 times.

When compared to the satisfaction of all patients posting negative reviews, the rate of satisfaction roughly doubles, increasing 99 percent. The rate of dissatisfaction drops 59 percent.

THE TREND

When analyzing reviews of hospitals on Yelp, Penn Medicine researchers found earlier this year that the word most associated with negative reviews, including those rated at one-star, was "told," which appeared in almost 20 percent of the posts.

Among the one-star reviews the researchers saw that featured "told" were frustrations about information that was ostensibly shared ("They never told me the cost of any of the procedures"), anger at a lack of listening ("I told her I did not want to discuss it any more but she persisted to badger me.") and feelings of futility ("Some idiot doctor examined me and told me there was nothing they could do for me.").

Researchers said a simple word like "told" can signal a breakdown in patient-provider communication.

The findings could prove valuable to providers who want to protect their brand image -- an especially important consideration as healthcare becomes more consumer-centric, with patients wielding ever-greater power in influencing health systems' reputations.

Twitter: @JELagasse

Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com

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