According to a study released earlier this week by the Pew Research Center, of the 81 percent of U.S. adults who use the Internet, 72 percent say they have looked online for health information in the past year. But more importantly, 8 in 10 online health inquiries start on a search engine.
The report released on Tuesday titled, “Health Online 2013 ,“looked at a number of aspects related to online behavior as it relates to health care. Some of the topics explored include how people are using the Internet to research health, the increasing trend of “online diagnosers,” the role of social interaction in healthcare, and the adoption of reviews among general consumers.
SEO and Content Is More Important
One of the more impressive numbers from the study stems from the growing trend of “self-diagnosers.” Of those who have looked online for health information, 59 percent say they have gone online specifically to try to figure out what medical condition they or someone else might have. Of those questioned 46 percent of online diagnosers said that the condition needed the attention of a doctor, and 53 percent of online diagnosers say they spoke with a medical professional regarding what they found online.
This, along with the statistic that 8 in 10 online health inquiries start on a search engine, create a unique opportunity for medical professionals when it comes to content. Now, knowing that more patients are looking to the Internet before they look to a doctor, doctors should be seizing this opportunity to create helpful content that can help patients to determine whether or not they should be seeking a doctor for their condition or concern in the first place. Well- optimized content can not only help a potential patient make better decisions about his or her health, but also drive prospective patients to your practice in the event that they do want to further investigate their findings.
While many feel that online diagnoses and research is dominated by specialty sites, such as WebMD and the like, it’s important to note that only 13 percent of online health seekers start their search on this type of website.
While past Pew studies explored usage of specific social networks when it came to health care, this study focused on how patients were using social interaction as a means of researching their health. Interestingly enough, of the 72 percent of Internet users who said they looked online for health information within the past year, a mere 1 percent actually said they started at a social network site like Facebook.
But while the search may not start with social networks, the study uncovered that more and more people are looking to connect with people dealing with similar health matters online. One in four Internet users have read or watched someone else’s experience about health or medical issues in the last 12 months, and 16 percent of Internet users have gone online to find others who may have shared the same health concerns in the last year.
Eight percent of Internet users say they have, in the past 12 months, posted a health-related question online or shared their own personal health experience online in some way. Of those:
40 percent say they posted comments or stories about personal health experiences
19 percent say they posted specific health questions
38 percent say they posted both
In addition, 78 percent of those who posted a comment, story, or question about their health say that they did so to reach a general audience of friends or other Internet users. Eleven percent say they posted somewhere specifically to get feedback from a health professional. Four percent replied that they posted for both a general and a professional audience and 5 percent said neither of those choices fit.
This growing trend of social need and the desire to be a part of a community of supporters also opens a door of opportunity. As more patients look for a sense of community, doctors and hospitals can be at the forefront of community creation and provide a means for connecting patients both in their practice and on their websites.
Some examples that quickly come to mind are the DREAMERS Support Group started by Houston breast reconstruction surgeon Dr. Aldona J. Spiegel, which was designed to provide information and support to breast cancer patients who desire restoration, in order to enhance their physical and mental vitality and allow them to live a fulfilling life after surgery. Another example is the vaginismus forum run by Dr. Peter Pacik to help patients suffering from vaginismus. The form is used for education and support for patients suffering from this unfortunate condition.
The Slow Adoption of Doctor Reviews
Just days before the Pew study was released, the Journal of Urology released a study that suggested patients should be wary of online doctor reviews. Dr. Bryan Vartabedian, of the Texas Children’s Hospital, spoke on the topic during “CBS This Morning.” His discussion echoed the study’s concerns stating that the polarity of positive and negative reviews combined with the low volume of doctor reviews make review sites less-than-reliable or constructive when it comes to making a decision about a health provider.
The findings from the Pew study shine some light on the topic, and perhaps the biggest issue with doctor reviews is the low adoption rate from general consumers. When it comes to writing reviews of general interest items, 37 percent of Internet users say they have rated a product, service, or person online, and 32 percent have posted a comment or review online about a product they bought or service they received. In contrast, three to four percent of Internet users have posted a review of a treatment, hospital, or clinician. If those numbers weren’t shocking enough, the growth from 2010 to 2012 is almost at a standstill.
The percentage of Internet users who consulted online reviews or rankings of doctors or other providers only increased by one percent, from 16 to 17 percent. The percentage of Internet users who consulted online reviews or rankings of hospitals or medical facilities declined by one percent, from 15 to 14 percent. The percentage of Internet users who posted a doctor review online remained at four percent and reviews of a hospital remained at three percent.
This trend shows that the struggle for patient reviews isn’t being felt just at the individual practice level, but in the health industry as a whole. As more doctors push for patient reviews to help with their online reputation, local rankings, and the like, fewer patients are taking notice or even getting involved.
It’s a difficult place to be in, and I believe much of what we are facing is a result of the reputation management industry and the continued desire for health issues to remain private.
As a whole, review spam along with less-than-constructive patient reviews has left the review reading process less than desirable. To correct this I think doctors, and reputation management professionals alike need to educate patients on how to effectively post reviews. It’s not about posting things such as, “Dr. X is the best in the world I always love going to see him!” It’s about patients sharing why Dr. X is the right choice, how the doctor has made a difference in their health, and what made their experience with the doctor valuable enough to review. The sooner the medical community embraces this mentality, I believe the sooner patients will begin to trust and pay attention to online reviews.
Unfortunately, while I believe consumers seek more transparency from the healthcare industry, patients will continue to be very private about their health matters, and in many instances, such as in the cosmetic surgery field, be less inclined to talk about or rate their experience with a doctor or medical facility. I believe this to be especially true in cases where they are forced to use their full name or likeness.
Other interesting statistics to note:
Eleven percent of Internet users say they have signed up to receive email updates or alerts about health or medical issues in the past year.
Fifty-two percent of smartphone owners have looked up health information on their phone, compared with just six percent of other cell phone owners. The likelihood to use such technology is amplified by relative youthfulness, having a higher level of education, living in a higher-income household, being Latino, being African American – and owning a smartphone.
What are your thoughts on this recent study? Are you surprised by any of the findings?
A couple of weeks ago I got an email from my old dentist. I usually ignore the email because I know I’m being blasted by Smile Reminder, and I don’t go to that particular dentist anymore. However, as an Internet Marketer, the subject line of the email caught my eye, “Google Review FREE GIFT.” Curiously, I clicked through to the email and this is what I received:
Not only was the dentist’s office trying to buy my love, they even told me that the purpose was to help with their “website and the search engines.” I loathe these types of schemes for a few reasons:
1) It creates a slew of junk reviews with no thought or reason behind them.
2) It’s unethical; you are essentially paying someone to write something nice about you.
3) It’s against Google’s (and many other review website) guidelines.
It’s OK To Ask for Reviews
First, I want to stress that I am not against asking for reviews. In fact, I wish more medical practices would. Though they don’t hold the same weight they once did, reviews are still a valuable element of local search not only for ranking purposes, but also for adding value to potential patients.
Five Alternatives to Buying Patient Reviews
Just ask! Have a longtime patient or someone who always rants and raves about your practice. Ask them to share their thoughts about why they love your practice so much online.
Put a link to review your practice at the closing of all your email signatures with something simple that says, “Leave us a review on ‘insert review website here’ and let us know how we’re doing.”
Provide double-sided business cards with instructions and URLs for leaving reviews on your two most prominent review properties. (For doctors I recommend Google+ Local and Yelp)
Make review solicitation part of your email marketing strategy. (No, don’t do what my old dentist did, but instead leave a spot in your email template asking your subscribers to leave a review and link to the page.)
Funnel your feedback – I recently caught wind of Matthew Hunt’s positive review funnel system, and I think it’s brilliant. You can view the video on how he goes about it below, but in a nutshell he uses a feedback forum to collect customer feedback and sends customers leaving positive feedback to a page for reviews, and the customers leaving negative feedback to a basic thank you page. It takes a little more work to implement, but if used effectively could be well worth it.
The Anatomy of a Good Review
If your patients are open to leaving a review, but are uncertain how to proceed, Google recently posted their guidelines on how to write a good review. So if a patient asks what they should write you may want to give this a read. In essence, a reviewer should do the following:
Write with style
Be informative and insightful
Be relevant – Don’t include information that isn’t relevant to the review!
These guidelines are useful not only for Google reviews, but reviews left for your practice anywhere on the web. The key is to make sure that your reviewer isn’t just saying, “Dr. X is the best. I love him.” It’s saying, “Dr. X is the best and I love him because on this particular occasion he took the extra time to make sure that all my questions were answered, and he made me feel like I was important to his practice, and not ‘just another patient’”
Know Your Guidelines
While I personally don’t agree with buying/trading for positive reviews, there are definitely communities and review sites that don’t specifically have guidelines against this behavior. If you still want to engage in these practices I would strongly suggest targeting these initiatives to sites that do not have specific guidelines against these practices.
Google’s Stance: “Reviews are only valuable when they are honest and unbiased. For instance, as a business, you should not offer money or product to others to write reviews for your business or to write negative reviews about a competitor.”
Yelp’s Stance: “Please don’t write a five-star review of your local watering hole in exchange for a free drink.“ In other words, don’t buy your reviews.
FTC’s Stance: The Federal Trade Commission states that any positive review posted by anyone connected to the seller in exchange for money or wares must disclose the relationship in the review.
In the end most sites and even the FTC are cracking down on these sorts of practices, so your safest bet is to earn legitimate reviews from your patients by using some of the methods above to collect them. Failure to do so can have your reviews removed or filtered out, or worse your listing removed. Has your practice found an effective means of collecting patient reviews? Share your ideas in the comments below.
Last month when Google announced Google+ Local I shared how the change would impact medical practices. In the article I outlined how the change created an urgency for physicians to jump to Google+ and seriously start thinking about the local/social strategy on the new platform. But a recent article from Medical Justice may have uncovered something even bigger. The new Google+ Local review process requires reviewers to use their full name on a review, revoking the ability to post reviews anonymously. Most businesses welcomed this feature, but it was a potential nightmare for the medical community.
One of the first concerns brought up by Medical Justice was that forcing users to use their full name may deter patients from leaving reviews altogether. With less than fve percent of patients giving their name when leaving reviews it was suggested that the number of reviews and the candidness of reviews would decline due to the change. However, I beg to differ. In the past patients could remain anonymous, and therefore many opted to do so. However I think the review climate is changing and more people are willing to add a face to their remarks and I think Yelp can be used as a prime example.
Yelp has thousands of reviews, both good and bad about physicians, and in every case there is an image, first name, and last initial associated with it. Sure, using only a last initial offers some anonymity, but ultimately if a doctor or the general populous wanted to figure out who you were it probably wouldn’t be that hard.
The one valid argument that I think came out of the Medical Justice article was that Google’s new review policy will essentially silence doctors when it comes to responding to patient reviews. We’ve discussed in the past the importance of fixing reputation problems, and how outreach is crucial in trying to turn a negative review into a positive review simply by recognizing how and when to react. However, with the new review guidelines forcing users to provide their full name, The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) precludes a doctor from even acknowledging that the reviewer was a patient. In an environment where we have spent so much time trying to convince doctors not to ignore negative reviews because it gives the perception that they ignore their patients, this could become very troubling.
Google+ Local is still very much in its infancy, with its core user base being in Beta and Google just now rolling out the upgrades manually to businesses that opted in. There are still plenty of opportunities to improve the system if needed, especially in an instance where the changes may impact entire industries (as Mike Blumenthal pointed out on Google+, this also impacts lawyers, and bail bondsmen amongst others). One opportunity could be the ability to privately respond to a user instead of using a public forum to address the issue. This would still give the perception that a doctor is ignoring negative reviews, but it would at least allow them to be proactive with addressing the concern of the individual, which could always result in a changed review later.
Like anything related to the Internet, there is opportunity for even HIPAA to evolve. Could HIPAA be changed to allow doctors the right to respond if in a limited manner if in fact a patient has publicly opted to leave a review stating they underwent treatment from a physician? I think it would be a fair change that under certain guidelines could give physicians a voice in the matter without blowing patient confidentiality out of the water completely.
Just as Internet marketers and businesses are adapting to Google+ and its multitude of changes, Google is having to adapt to the various number of industries and businesses it serves, and in time hopefully Google will come up with a fair solution that is compliant and gives both doctors and patients the ability to engage in conversation, and is productive for both parties.
Earlier this year BrightLocal surveyed 4,500 local consumers in the United States, Canada, and the UKto explore exactly how users were using the Internet for local searches and the impact reviews had on their behaviors. Yesterday, Search Engine Land posted the second wave of the survey that explored the types of businesses consumers were searching for and the importance of “reputation” for different businesses.
Doctor and Dentist Searches On the Rise
When asked what type of businesses people searched for on the Internet in 12-month period, dentists and doctors rounded out the top five searches behind hotels, general shops, and clothing shops. However, doctors and dentists saw the largest growth in search, seeing a six percent increase in searches since the 2010 survey.
More Consumers Are Reading Doctor and Dentist Online Reviews
Seeing an 11 percent increase from the 2010 data the survey found that more people are reading online customer reviews for doctors and dentists. Aside from restaurants and cafés, doctors and dentists were the only other business type to see a growth in online review reading over the last two years. Additionally the survey revealed that most consumers read between two and 10 reviews before they feel they can trust a business.
In comparison to the 2010 data, the 2012 numbers are slightly down (this may be due to small sample size); however, it was clear that when it comes to online reputation, 27 percent of those surveyed said reputation mattered most when choosing a doctor or dentist. The top three reputation traits, all of which saw growth over the 2010 data, were most important to consumers were:
Increase Your Online Presence: More people are using the Internet to find a doctor or dentist in their area. Increasing your online presence can help set you apart from another doctor or dentist in your region. This doesn’t mean you should go build 10 new websites, it simply means you need to start thinking about more online properties such as Google Places, Bing Local, Yahoo Local, Yelp, HealthGrades, and the like.
Keep Reviews Fresh: Review consumption is up, but consumers are reading fewer reviews overall. This suggests consumers are more savvy when it comes to online reviews and are able to form an opinion faster. In order to stand out in today’s local search space it is more crucial than ever to manage your reputation and ensure that your online listings feature current reviews about your practice, be it good or bad.
Therefore, with consideration to the information I have provided, be sure to encourage patients to review your practice on Google Places or Yelp if they are happy with their experience.
This morning I came across four different articles dealing with physician reputation management, all of which look at different angles and approaches to dealing with patient complaints and negative reviews. The first article focused on how to manage your reputation leveraging Google, the second focused on “legal remedies” doctors can use to fight derogatory comments posted on the internet, the third discussed “burying” bad doctor reviews, and the last post focused on how patient complaints create an opportunity. Each method discussed is effective, but it’s a combined effort of these strategies that will make your labors most successful.
It’s important to establish a home base when it comes to reputation management. Identify where conversations are happening about you and your practice, and take inventory of what’s already out there. As Dr. Jeff Livingston, an OB/GYN out of Irving, Texas, points out in his article “Doctor, Google thyself” it’s as simple as Google-ing your name. Once you identify where conversations are happening about you or your practice you can help guide patients and address concerns that may be out there. You can take this effort a step further and setup a Google alert, Twitter Alert, or Facebook alert to find out where and when conversations are happening around your practice.
Legal action against patient complaints is a growingtrend . This is often the knee-jerk reaction to a negative post as opposed to working towards a solution with the patient. But as an article in American Medical News points out, taking legal action against internet posters is not always ideal and can oftentimes be more costly and time-consuming than they are worth. Before taking legal action, it’s best to exhaust all other options and assess whether you are facing opinion or defamation.
Bury the Bad
Another popular solution to reputation management is burying the bad reviews. This is effective; doctors who don’t have the time or resources to take legal action oftentimes perceive this as the easiest way to get rid of the problem. By burying the bad with the good, doctors feel as though they have solved the problem. However, what they fail to realize is that they are just publicly ignoring a patient concern, which can backfire.
In a recent article by Mary Pat Whaley, a fellow in the American College of Medical Practice Executives who is board certified in healthcare management, she explores the opportunity that patient complaints create for a medical practice. Although her article focuses on offline complaints, I recognized how easily it could translate into the online world.
As we’ve pointed out in the past, the best solution to reputation management is fixing the problem, not hiding it. If a patient walked in to your office to complain or called you on the phone, you would not turn your back on them or hang up on them. You would listen to what he/she had to say and try to come up with a solution; the online world is no different.
Complaints are an opportunity “to understand the patient’s experience and hear in their own words what went wrong for them.” She goes on to explain what can be gained by listening to and addressing patient complaints:
You can heal the patient’s complaint, first by making sure the patient feels heard, and second by addressing the problem if something needs to be done.
You can gain insight into an experience in the practice and dissect it to see why the problem occurred and what can be done to fix it.
You can model to the staff how important patient complaints are and how seriously you take them.
You can retain the patient for the practice, and hopefully make them a fan who will recommend your group to friends and family.
The same can be gained from an online complaint, it just takes place through a different communication channel. Whaley outlined a series of steps for doctors to take when addressing patient complaints. Below I have adapted these steps and added a few of my own for the online world:
Make addressing online concerns a priority. If you can’t manage them yourself, delegate the task to someone in your office who can.
Reach out to patients with concerns through the various channels they have used and offer to address their concern through email or over the phone. This shows other patients you are attentive to patient concerns, but does not force you to publicly display the entire dialogue.
Once you’ve made contact, listen to everything a patient has to say. Apologize and let him/her know that his/her experience is not what you want for patients. Go back over the complaint and ask questions to make sure you understand what happened
Tell the patient you will investigate the complaint further and then schedule a date and time to call him/her back to report what you’ve found.
Talk to any other parties that may be involved and gain as much insight as possible, and then call the patient back with any information that is appropriate. For many patients, knowing that the issue was simply discussed will be enough to appease them.
If the issue is resolved and the patient appears to be content with the results, ask him/her if he/she would mind removing the review or at least update the review to let other users know that there was a resolution.
The above method is by far the best for dealing with negative reviews. It shows existing and future patients that you care and are willing to listen to their concerns, if they should arise. However, not every reputation nightmare ends with a happy ending. A strong reputation management strategy can include a mix of everything outlined in this post – from rigid legal action to the slightly less ethical burying of negative reviews. Whichever road you take, remember that everything you do online happens in front of an audience. How you react to negative reviews could make or break your practice.