Examining Doctor Rating Websites

It’s not hard to locate content that critiques physician-rating websites (PRWs).

They are often riddled with inaccuracies anonymously authored content, low quantities of reviews, and emotionally charged opinions from people who probably shouldn’t be allowed to review a toaster oven.

The worst part of PRWs: The blending of doctor-related and staff-related review criteria. Healthgrades always among the top 7 physician review sites, allows reviewers to select from a preset list of options under the heading, “What went well.” Options include  “Explained conditions well” right alongside “Staff friendliness.” Result: A doctor’s clinical reputation is linked directly to the personalities of front-office staff.

Despite the shortcomings, healthcare professionals at all levels need to remember that consumer use of PRWs continues to increase. Some research indicates as many as 70% of patients use online reviews to find a new doctor. Healthgrades posts 19 million monthly visitors. So let’s engage PRWs on their terms.

A closer look 4 types of review issues – and what to do

1. Negative reviews.

Just 1% of reviewers leave strongly negative comments. But their impact can be serious. And 66% of consumers think it’s important for providers to respond to negative reviews on the site where they originated.

What to do: Address angry reviews. While remaining mindful of HIPAA privacy guidelines, make sure providers respond to negativity using 4 time-honored techniques: 1. Address the person by (first) name. 2. Express regret for the problem (not the same thing as apologizing for it). 3. Share specific actions for what can be done to keep it from happening again. 4. If justified, offer a private discussion opportunity. NOTE: Some PRWs allow “subscribing” physicians to delete a limited number of negative reviews.

2. A large number of physician reviews vs a small amount.

As a rule, when doctors are reviewed by a larger number of people, the aggregate rating is higher, mainly because a significant majority of consumers leave positive reviews. So quantity beats quality.

What to do: Relentlessly encourage patients to review their visit. Ask for reviews in the waiting area, on your website, in patient information packets, in healthcare CRM software, and in person. It’s easy to forget that most (70%+) online doctor reviews are positive and that higher numbers of reviews tend to translate into “a more positive attitude toward the rated physician.” (Journal of Medical Internet Research)

3. Physician vs staff-related reviews.

One study has reported that “patient waiting time” ranks as a top influencer of overall physician scores. So again, doctors must bear the burden for performance factors they cannot fully control. Many PRWs conflate these 2 data sets. A few, such as RateMDs, allow separate ratings for staff helpfulness and knowledge, but the aggregation of clinical vs non-clinical review criteria is an ongoing problem.

What to do: Conduct your own surveys. No healthcare organization needs to be 100% at the mercy of PRWs. You can design and distribute your own survey to assess patient experiences. [We can help.] You can publish your own data, execute annual surveys to chart improvement, and start compiling your own metrics.

4. Factual vs Emotional reviews.

There’s research that indicates consumers assign greater credibility to factual reviews rather than emotional reviews – especially when the physician has a small number of reviews.

What to do: Make sure provider profiles are fully filled out. Include photos, personal information, awards, and background/bio data. Reasons: 1. Angry patients are less likely to criticize someone they feel familiar with. 2. People seeking a new doctor will feel more at home with a provider who feels like a real person. 3. The more information offered, the less chance there is of a patient not understanding the provider or the care provided.

If you’re in the mood to talk more about healthcare marketing, we’re always open.