More and more people use the Internet each year to search for a doctor (or business) online.


In 2010, 22% of patients, now euphemistically called “consumers” said they never use the Internet to evaluate a doctor (or business). In 2015, that number was down to 9%.

[1] The vast majority of Americans are online. And they are using the Internet to address their healthcare needs.


Those doctors who have recognized this trend – and taken action – are doing well. But, if you ignore online reviews, that could be a reason patients are choosing your competitor’s practice – you get the scrapings. Some doctors will be happy with that; most, not.


The challenge, too few reviews online – or worse, being defined by a handful of negative reviews, is the same today as it was five years ago. It’s hard to get your patients to post on your behalf – even when they promise to do so. Successfully engaging a patient to take that action boils down to meeting five criteria.


For patients, Internet reviews should be appealing to post and read because they’re:


  • Free
  • Easy to Do
  • Relevant (Patient Voice)
  • Anonymous (Private)
  • “In the moment”


If one, or more, of these points are missing, it dramatically reduces the likelihood a patient will leave any review online.


The obvious exception is – of course – a negative patient review.  If a patient is unhappy, they may go through fiery hoops to post online.


Let’s dive in and see how these various factors apply to your office’s online review collection processes.


Patients “posting” criteria:


  • Free:

Patients value channels that are free. They don’t want to pay a penny to leave feedback. Pay sites like Angie’s List, which require a fee to view reviews, will likely be avoided. Or treated as a “last resort.”


  • Easy to Do

Your system must make it easy to ask your patients to write a review. Your system must also make it easy to post the review. If patients must navigate too many complex steps, they’ll get frustrated and confused. If you’ve ever tried explaining to patients how to create a free Google Plus account, you know what a pain all this explaining can be. Now put yourself in their shoes. Your “simple” ask becomes a “time-consuming chore.” You end up with no reviews – and your phone doesn’t ring.


The easier, and more direct, you make this process (posting a review) the more successful you’ll be. This step, if you don’t outsource it, often requires a dedicated staff member to manage. Is that in your budget?


  • Relevant (Patient Voice)

Using online sources, patients form opinions faster than ever before. They place great weight on the most recent reviews (age), followed by the quantity and sentiment of reviews, and responses to any negative reviews. Google weights these factors too.


A bad review might taint a patient’s opinion. But, if a complaint is resolved quickly and efficiently, the reader perceives a negative turned into a positive. Taking constructive feedback seriously validates your commitment to quality of care.


What do patients perceive as inauthentic – or irrelevant? Reviews that are syndicated across multiple sites. Or hundreds of reviews concentrated on a single vertical site – all with “5-stars” and limited, if any, supporting comments (and a dearth of reviews on any other site). Patients, and Google, treat such results as less trustworthy.


  • Anonymous

Many doctors believe reviews posted anonymously are a problem. A big problem. While they can contribute to mischief, for example, if posts are made by competitors or disgruntled employees, in general, anonymous reviews are a good thing.


In our analysis of over 100,000 surveyed patients across the nation and multiple specialties, 60% chose to be anonymous [link to Ben’s blog post]. The reason. Patients mostly trust their doctor. However, leaving unbiased feedback comes with unsurprising reservations. If they have a constructive complaint, they may not want to directly confront the doctor.


If you’re a high-performing doctor/practice with a great patient safety record, positive clinical outcomes, and excellent “customer service”, your online reputation should mirror your earned reputation. Feedback, whether anonymous or connected to real names, should be of little concern especially if that feedback is coming via your “in practice” review system.


  • “In the moment”

You’re busy. Patients are busy. Everyone’s busy. The best method of collecting a review is in the narrow time window after the patient has seen you – at the point of service. This is dramatically more effective than relying on emails to your patients with links to reviews sites. This is dramatically more effective than asking your patient to post when they get home. Out of sight is out of mind. As a test, when was the last time you completed an email survey?


Getting Patients to Post Online


Head to head comparison of the three techniques used to ask for reviews: Sending email links; asking the patient to post at home; point of service review capture system. The higher the star rating the more likely a patient’s review will post online.