Yelp Reviews: Thorn in Doctor’s Side or Marketing Tool?
By Eileen Spatz
People of all ages are gradually awakening to the treasure trove of information available online to help them make important consumer decisions. In recent years, online reviews have become an indispensable tool—used to ponder, dissect, and digest the pros and cons of an ever-growing list of goods and services. Is it any surprise that a majority of people now look up the Yelp reviews of a prospective doctor to get a quick snapshot of their online reputation?
According to a 2014 study produced by SoftwareAdvice.com, 77% of individuals searching for a new doctor now use online reviews as a first step in their decision-making process. With a cultural emphasis on experiential transparency in all things, the new landscape for sharing experiences has now crept into the medical profession. Now, physicians, dentists, surgeons, chiropractors—virtually all healthcare-related practitioners—are fair game for review posters to spill some ink online sharing their experiences.
The Problem of the Rotten Review
Most practices have a love-hate relationship with the online review format. While positive reviews are akin to free advertising, a negative review can do some real damage. To some extent the advent of product and services reviews has led to a step up in customer or patient care. Understanding that each step of the patient-doctor experience will potentially be reported for the world to see has led many practices to take measures to improve the patient experience at all levels.
The problem of a negative review is multifold. While an unfortunate experience while under a doctor’s care is a serious issue, too often it could be easily resolved in the good old-fashioned way of sorting it out in person. No physician wants to disappoint a patient, and might not even be aware that there might have been an altercation at the front desk, a scheduling mishap, or a disappointing medical result if it hasn’t been brought to the doctor’s attention. The patient who takes to the Internet to air their sense of frustration leaves a permanent black mark on the doctor’s online footprint.
Opinions are subjective. One patient may simply love the back office technician where another bristles at their presence. And let’s not discount the day-to-day fluctuations most humans experience in our moods. On a given day, all is right with the world and no minor annoyance will even register in the memory bank. On a bad day—spilled coffee on suit, horrendous traffic and rude drivers en route to doctor appointment—can create a surly mood that takes no prisoners. On a foul day, any little annoyance not only registers in the memory bank, but it can mentally augment ten times over to become a blaring explosion with the doctor’s name in the crosshairs of a Yelp review form.
What is Right with the Rosy Review
Doctors whose practices are dedicated to excellent service and committed to the highest level of care are smart to promote the review process with their patients. Many patients develop a close connection with their healthcare providers and are quite happy to pen a sentence or two touting the wonderful office experience. It’s a numbers game. Since most patients are pleased with their doctor experience, the more positive reviews that are posted online the better. The random negative review will fade into the background, diluted by the many happy postings on Yelp.
Critical feedback can actually be constructive to a practice, helping the medical provider fine-tune and hone the office operations, software systems, and medical care. This all leads to even more positive experiences, which (if reviews are encouraged) yield more positive notices online. People like to feel that their opinions matter, and by encouraging a review they happily comply in most cases.
Google favors consumer-generated content, so reviews will pop up right on top during an online search for the doctor. Who among us isn’t impressed to see a product or service with a large number of five star reviews next to the tagline? There are software programs that generate an automated prompt to patients reminding them to post a review, or the front office can cheerily suggest it as the patient prepares to leave.
Love them or Hate them, Yelp Reviews Live Forever
When a doctor finds himself or herself on the receiving end of a patient’s online ire, there are a couple of options available to mitigate the damage. The easiest route is to simply pick up the phone and have a civil conversation, discuss possible solutions to the patient’s critiques, and politely request that they take the negative review down.
Another option is to reply directly to the negative review online. This is a delicate mission, fraught with potential landmines. The HIPPA law forbids the sharing of any patient medical information, so any response should be carefully worded. Also, taking a defensive posture is not at all productive—better to craft a humble response to the online complaint and be done with it.
There is no way around the fact that the Internet is today’s primary marketing tool. How image and reputation are managed can make or break a medical practice, and part of that effort must include cultivating as positive an image as possible on the various review sites. This means striving for excellence at the practice level and encouraging your happy patients to take a minute to put in a good word. Since Yelp reviews never die, the goal is to present an inviting, positive online profile, via a majority of great reviews, to all those potential new patients out there.