Reputation Matters: Encourage Patients to Speak Well About Your Practice

By Drew Stevens, PhD
March 2, 2017

What people say online about you is important. Harsh words and missed opportunities to strengthen interactions can reflect on your leadership skills.

Most of us grew up under the premise that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” The popular childhood expression implies that no matter what is said, you can’t be harmed by simple name-calling.

For physicians, however, it’s a different story. Doctors are similar to products and services in that they, along with their staffs and their practices, have a brand. And like all products or services, that brand must be protected.

Physicians are like products and services — they have a brand that is valuable and must be protected. What people say about a medical practice has the potential to harm that brand instantly and immeasurably.

A brand creates a public response. Often, a product’s branding is more about the perception of excellence than about the perception of a good deal. This holds true for service professionals such as physicians. Negative remarks can harm brands instantly and immeasurably, and physicians — particularly those who have their own practices — must understand the concept of reputation management to protect their brands.

Patients are customers. Poor customer experiences result in an estimated $83 billion loss for U.S. enterprises each year because of defections and abandoned purchases, according to Parature, a division of Microsoft that focuses on customer service technologies. And 89 percent of customers begin doing business with a competitor after a poor experience, according to RightNow, a division of Oracle that researches customer service.

The internet has changed the way the world communicates. According to some reports, there are more than 1 billion websites in existence, and more than a third of the world’s population is active online. Prospective patients search the internet to find doctors — not just their offices, but also whether that doctor’s brand matches with the patient's values. They’re using review sites, forums and social media to find comments others have made about you. True, false or indifferent — these digital footprints will cast a blanket on your practice.

A proactive approach requires doctors and staff to monitor the web on a regular basis. But with 2,100 patient visits a year on average, according to the Medical Group Management Association, and many others contacting your office but not making appointments, there are simply too many chances for a bad experience.

Moreover, the anonymous nature of the internet allows individuals to post negative things about you online that they would never say to you in person. These negative ratings and comments can harm your brand.

If you’ve ever read a product review on Amazon, then you know how customer comments — truthful or not — can affect your decision to buy that product. This applies to your world, too.

Here’s how you can develop a system that encourages patients to speak well about your practice — and keep a steady stream of new patients.

BE GOOD OFFLINE: Anything you or your staff say to patients is alive for the world to hear. Create a good patient experience in the office, from start to finish. Be polite and inviting. Present solutions a patient can take home and use immediately. Listen for — and resolve — any issues or concerns. Always end with a fond farewell and an invitation to return.

BE GOOD ONLINE: Anything you or and your staff say on social media (such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram) and other digital forums (such as bulletin boards and blogs) will live forever on the internet, documented electronically. Potentially, billions of people can see anything connected to you, so you must scrutinize everything you post.

CHECK YOURSELF: Conduct regular online searches for your name and your practice, or use your staff to do so, or hire a reputation management consultant. If you’re doing it yourself, use the following to get a better picture of your digital presence:

  • Search engines. Use a variety of keywords — such as your name or your practice name — on the major search engines: Google, Bing and Yahoo. Check for common misspellings, too.
  • Local directory listings. Use search engines to determine if your practice can be found by location. As with the Yellow Pages, your practice needs to be listed similarly.
  • Social media. Register for all of the major social media sites. Review the likes, retweets and comments to understand what your patients are saying.
  • Rating and review sites. Yelp, Healthgrades, ZocDoc and others allow visitors to share their opinions about your practice, which others can see. You need to know what patients are saying.
  • Google Alerts. You can arrange to receive notifications whenever something is mentioned online about you or your practice. Visit google.com/alerts to set one up.

RIGHT WRONGS: Your monitoring process should include ensuring that your name, address and other data are correctly listed at third-party websites. If not, request a change.

REPLY QUICKLY: Immediately — and thoughtfully — respond to unhappy customers who vent on social media. Don’t antagonize. Try to resolve the problem, or at least be willing to listen.

DON’T ARGUE: Never lose your cool with prospective or existing patients. It could reflect poorly on you. It’s usually best to take the heat and move on.

BE AN EXPERT: Providing medical advice in the right online setting not only is appealing to prospective patients, but it also helps where you show up in internet search results.

BE SELECTIVE: Your personal activities, both past and present, ought to remain personal. Vacations and conferences are fun, but the world doesn’t need to know about them. Err on the side of caution.

BE THANKFUL: Recognize or reward positive comments. Think in terms of How to Win Friends and Influence People — be kind to those who are kind to you.

STAY FOCUSED: Your reputation is why you’re doing all of this. Proactively monitor both the good and the bad issues so that you remain on the positive side of feedback.

Doctors must always remember that their name — and that of their practice — has value. It is a brand that taps into the emotions of their patients. Doctors who keep reputation management in mind have the potential to strengthen the allegiance of their current clientele and decrease obstacles to entry for prospective customers.

It’s like planting a tree. Nurture the roots, and watch it grow.

Drew Stevens, PhD, is a management consultant and keynote speaker who helps doctors transform their practices into successful businesses.  He is based in St. Louis, Missouri.

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