Years ago, word of mouth traveled around town. If someone had a bad experience (for example, with a physician), that person told ten friends who may have each told 5 others. That’s a total of 60 people who are likely no longer customers.

Today, the effect is much, much bigger.

Today, the friend goes on social media to tell his/her entire network, which could mean a few hundred people. Even more powerful, he/she can venture to review sites. These sites can reach anyone, anywhere, anytime and they have a targeted audience – your targeted audience.

RateMDs, Vitals and Healthgrades

Websites, like RateMDs, Vitals and Healthgrades, are the Yelp! of the medical industry. These are the primary websites that people use to review and evaluate their experience with healthcare professionals online. (Although Yelp! and Google+ [also called Google My Business or Google+ Local] are also used by some individuals.) To understand how they affect your business, it’s important to understand what they communicate to the user:

  • RateMDs: Though RateMDs has a star rating system of 1-5, these star ratings are typically not visible from Google search results. However, the site does allow the user to publish a written review of the doctor, which could be very helpful or harmful, depending upon the experience.
  • Vitals: Vitals also allows users to write a review of the doctor (though it does require an extra click to see the reviews, which new users may miss). It utilizes a 1-5 star rating system, as well. However, unlike RateMDs, the star ratings are clearly visible in Google’s search results. This means that a user can very quickly see how a doctor is rated with minimal effort. It also may tip a passive user off to the perceived quality of the doctor as the stars do have the ability to stand out in search results.
  • Healthgrades: Healthgrades does not have a written review section though it does have a more in-depth star rating section. This star rating is also directly visible in the search results. Healthgrades usually has a higher volume of reviews and is typically higher up in the search results, thus more likely to be seen by prospective patients.

What Does a Bad Review Cost?

Picture this: You are an orthopedic practice with an average new patient value of $800. However, you have some bad reviews and show a two-star rating in search results. How will that affect you?

Well, consider this: Most people Google a doctor when they are referred by another physician or friend. They want to know a little more about the doctor before they officially pull the trigger, so to speak. When doing so, reviews will pop up in their search, if they aren’t already looking for them. One way or another, a bad review will be seen.

Now, for argument’s sake, let’s say that 20 percent of people who Google a doctor and see a 2-star rating, decide to go elsewhere (and that is likely a very conservative number). If you received 100 searches in a given month, that’s 20 lost patients, or $16,000 per month in lost revenue.

In a year, those reviews will cost your practice $192,000 with a conservative 20 percent dropout rate.

It’s time to reclaim the lost patients.

Developing a Strategy For Healthcare Review Sites

The good news is, that in most cases, it is very possible to stop the revenue leak that is coming from what is likely the bad experience of an incredibly small minority of patients. To do so, a concrete strategy needs to be created and executed. Though the details certainly vary on a case by case basis, there are generally five overarching steps that we recommend for dealing with bad reviews:

  1. Dispute poor reviews. There are many instances where you can dispute a negative review on a doctor review website and get it removed. This is easier if there is factually incorrect information, slander or if you can prove the person was never a patient. Sometimes it is possible to remove reviews even without these factors. As written reviews can often be damaging, this is usually recommended as the first step and is always worth a try.
  2. Respond properly to negative reviews that cannot be removed. If a review cannot be removed, it is important to address it. A carefully written response can be disarming, show that you really do care and that you display a desire to resolve any issues a patient may have had. In many cases, a well-written response can even cast you in a better light than a removed review. These need to be written carefully though and a good PR company or marketing agency can certainly provide some guidance.
  3. Create a strategy for new reviews. If you have one good review and one bad, to a user it looks as if half of your patients are unhappy. If there are five good reviews to one bad review, the bad one looks like the lone voice (and you have over a 4-star rating!). The truth for most practices is that the proportion of happy patients is much higher than websites show. Put those happy patients to work for you! Most people are happy to help if they know they can. Create a strategy to encourage happy patients to leave reviews. They will dilute the bad reviews and change the perception of your practice.
  4. Train your staff well. Interestingly, a significant number of negative reviews for physicians have nothing to do with the physicians but with the office staff. However, there is no disconnect for patients. They typically perceive the doctor and the practice as one in the same, and a poorly trained office staff can cost significant money. If your staff is rude, does not have correct information or even if the office just looks in poor shape, this will affect your reviews. If this is an issue at your practice, we highly recommend looking into customer service training.
  5. Promote good news. Most offices and doctors are also doing great things outside of the office. If there is something newsworthy or worth promoting, this isn’t the time to be humble. Promoting good news (e.g., awards, charity work, etc.) can help people feel an emotional connection with the practice, feel more confident in the practice and overlook some of the perceived negativity. It can also push negative reviews down a little bit more in the search results.

If a plan like this is executed and your online impression is improved (even with some flaws), the results can be major. For example, if you can bring a 2-star practice up to a 4-star practice, that may change the patient drop off rate from 20 percent to 10 percent. That’s a revenue increase of $8,000 per month or $96,000 per year. In a more likely scenario of 40 to 50 percent of patients not scheduling appointments for a 2-star doctor, with only 10 percent dropping off for a 4-star doctor, that’s a savings of $24,000 in a month or $288,000 in a year. This is a significant increase in revenue, all for just addressing your online reputation.

And, if you need help getting started, just let us know. We’re experts in healthcare marketing and can take care of all your marketing needs from digital presence to customer service training.

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