Reviews Are The Norm
I find it amazing how reviews have become a norm in our consumer lives. Remember how we used to lean on Siskel & Ebert for movie reviews? Or how we would read the restaurant critic’s opinion of a new eating venue in the local paper? That expertise — “one man’s opinion” — has largely been replaced by the crowd. We have trained ourselves to look online to find what others are saying as we explore purchases of products or services. The number of reviews, average rating, and comments provide insight to help guide our decision making. Although we perceive safety in numbers as we look up reviews on Google, Yelp, and Amazon, there’s caution to be had as outlined in this recent Wall Street Journal article on fake reviews and shady ratings.
Medicine is no different. I remember giving a lecture many years ago and rolling my eyes at the recommendation that patient counselors tell people to go online to learn about their doctors. I was so wrong. Online research has become the predominant way that people learn about doctors and procedures. Patients are much more likely to look you up before they pick up the phone to call the practice.
Reviews & Their Impact On Practices
This reality of how people learn should cause doctors and their practices to take patient reviews seriously. Historically, some doctors found the whole concept offensive. They saw the patient’s ability to critique as unfair or inappropriate, given this is about healthcare and not about a dining experience. I recall reading about one physician who required patients to sign a document agreeing not to post a negative review online.
Stifling free speech is a bad idea and misses the real opportunity around patient reviews — which have evolved significantly. 5-10 years ago, I saw reviews as a type of feedback loop, where practices could learn how they are viewed by patients following a visit. Positive reviews were to be celebrated; negative reviews were a gift in terms of identifying areas to improve.
While that still holds true, patient reviews are now a formidable tool in terms of marketing power. Reviews by consumers are thought of as independent and often more trustworthy than a paid advertisement. Celebrity endorsements are somewhere in between the two, as the celebrity can bring credibility despite the fact that it’s a paid endorsement.
The challenge for practices is harnessing this power in two ways. First, get reviews. More and more of them. All the time. There are numerous ways to do this, from asking each patient to programming requests via text or email. Second, respond to the reviews, both good and bad. Nobody expects you to be perfect. How you respond publicly to criticism will demonstrate a lot about what you value as a practice.
All of this leads to the bigger point: in a PX-driven practice, the experience is the marketing. Your patients, through their reviews, become your marketing arm and take the pressure off of paid promotion. This is a key step to building a sustainable marketing campaign.