If you’ve read our content before, you know we consider patient reviews powerful marketing tools. But patient reviews have other applications as well – they offer physicians and their staff an opportunity to examine themselves from the public’s perspective. That perspective is made possible by patient feedback. If they are willing, doctors can use patient feedback to refine their quality of care (outcomes, safety, and patient experience). This piece will explain how in four steps.
In order of execution, they are…
Step 1 – Collect patient feedback…
Step 2 – Qualify patient feedback…
Step 3 – Diagnose perceived problems…
Step 4 – Remedy perceived problems…
Not all patient reviews are created equal. Patients may give their physicians poor ratings for arbitrary reasons. We won’t waste your time listing examples here – if you’re curious, we published strategies for combating such reviews in February.
The purpose of this piece is to persuade doctors that negative reviews cannot be ignored or discarded, simply because they are unfavorable. You wouldn’t discard a bill before confirming the charges are valid. It won’t make the charges disappear. Apply the same principle to your patients’ feedback.
If there’s an expensive or dangerous problem underfoot, you need to address it. As a physician, you are obligated to address it. And the fastest and most reliable way of doing so is to engage the entities most affected by those potential problems – your patients.
We start at the beginning. You must first collect patient feedback.
You can’t learn from feedback that does not exist. And if you don’t have any patient reviews (or don’t know where they are), that’s a problem you need to address. For multiple reasons. First – patients use the feedback of other patients to make decisions about their healthcare. And second – favorable feedback has the power to protect and promote a physician’s online reputation.
A physician lacking patient reviews has no defense against online defamation. If a patient (or a malicious entity posing as a patient) posts a defamatory remark online, there’s no counter-narrative for patients to consider. The physician is defined by that defamatory post. And because of HIPAA, the physician cannot carelessly converse with the malicious entity.
If the troublemaker is in fact a patient, arguing with him may lead the physician to (unintentionally) expose the patient’s Protected Health Information (PHI). Something as benign as betraying a last name can incur a violation. And those violations carry steep fines. If you want to learn how to avoid making this mistake (and many others), we suggest checking out our previous blog post.
If the physician has cultivated many reviews over time, the impact of that defamatory post is mitigated. This is because there are counter-narratives – the doctor is not defined by a single voice. If patient sentiment is overall positive, most will dismiss the negative review as an anomaly. A few unfavorable reviews can humanize a physician – you are not perfect, and neither are the patients you treat. As an aside – if your patient expects perfection, proceed with caution.
Used strategically, patient reviews attract the attention of new patients while simultaneously protecting the physician from bad actors – they are both signals and shields. But until your practice optimizes the collection and publication of these materials, you cannot reliably benefit from them.
This gives rise to a new question – how do physicians collect and publish patient feedback successfully?
Asking patients for feedback is the obvious answer, but if you go about this the wrong way, you’ll waste time. And money. An entire industry orbits around collecting and publishing patient reviews. Having witnessed (and created) the birth of that industry, here’s our opinion…
Impersonal collection techniques – emails, text messages, ink and paper reminders – yield impersonal results. These are not perceived as benign requests. These are irritants. They invade the patient’s life after he’s left your practice.
If you want the patient to take your request for feedback seriously, ask for feedback before he exits the door. Ask your practice manager to describe how patients move in and out of your environment. Study the patient’s journey and determine the most appropriate time to ask for feedback. Or instruct your staff to make these discoveries.
Your window of opportunity is small. Make the act of writing the review immediate by presenting the patient with a device that makes collecting feedback easy, quick, and immediate. We find point-of-service tools excel in this role.
An important legal note – if you intend to post feedback online, you must obtain a patient’s authorization to do so. Posting patient feedback online without the patient’s written permission is a HIPAA violation. This is one of many regulatory landmines catching doctors off-guard. Learn about the rest by reading this article, published on our companion website, eMerit.biz.
Onto step two – qualify the patient feedback you’ve already received. And implement a strategy to qualify future feedback.
We’ll conclude this section with a free tool that will identify where many of your existing reviews are housed online. Let’s dive in.
Start by rounding up all the ink and paper surveys you’ve distributed. Identify the locations of digital reviews next. Start by checking websites like Google, Vitals, Healthgrades, RateMDs, Yelp, and if you are an aesthetic surgeon, RealSelf. Google your name. Google the name of your practice. Take screenshots of what you find. This is how Google presents you to patients. If you like (or dislike) what you see, channel those emotions into maintaining (or revitalizing) your online reputation.
Regardless of what you look like online, your objective is this: Make that Google impression as favorable as possible.
Ask your staff to transcribe all feedback (paper and digital) to a mother document. Review this document as a team. Create an environment that encourages participation from everyone. Every human who interacts with your patients must feel empowered to speak. Otherwise important details will slip through the cracks.
This ritual must become routine. Complete this exercise as often as necessary to keep stock of your reputation – weekly, monthly, quarterly, whatever suits your schedule.
Many businesses offer online reputation monitoring for a small fee. Some offer that service for a not-so-small fee. We do it for free – for six months. Enrolling will help you identify reviews currently posted online. Good and bad. You’ll access this information from your Members Only page – a dashboard normally made available only to Medical Justice members.
To enroll, follow the link below. If you qualify, we’ll notify you when we are ready to implement.
Once you’ve assembled a library of patient feedback, you must diagnose perceived problems.
We recognize not all feedback is created equal. Ideally, you should review every piece of feedback yourself – but doctors have a limited amount of spare time. Make your staff a part of this process. But keep in mind there are certain patient complaints the untrained will fail to identify.
Doctors enrolled in our paid reputation marketing service benefit from the expertise of our communication specialists. Their job is to identify such feedback and present solutions to our clients. They know HIPAA. They know healthcare. And most importantly, they know how to keep you out of the cross-hairs.
Another reason why you should lay your eyes on everything at least once: Many patients complain about their interactions with a physician’s staff. Your staff is well-trained, and you trust them. We hope you do, anyway. But a staff member may feel inclined to bury a review that criticizes themselves or their coworkers.
If there is a problem with how your staff treats patients, you need to know. If you encounter a scathing review about your staff, let them tell their side of the story. You know your employees better than the patients blasting them. Diagnose the problem as a team and implement solutions together.
A negative review is your treasure map. If you follow it, you’ll find the source of the perceived problem. Once you identify the problem, you can do what doctors have been trained to do – treat the problem. Prescribing a plan of action for this step is difficult. It is impossible to predict the obstacles you’ll encounter. In lieu of a precise strategy, here’s a list of “common complaints” you should digest in preparation. You may never encounter these dilemmas at your practice – but ask yourself how you’d address these complaints should you receive them…
“The doctor rushed me through my appointment!”
“The staff was rude – and I waited an extra half-hour.”
“He didn’t prescribe the antibiotics I need.”
“I was overcharged, and the practice refuses to refund my money!”
The next (and final) step: After diagnosing the problem, repair it.
If the problem is localized – that is, if it has something to do with your own behavior or the behavior of your staff – fixing the problem is “easy.” You can modify your own behavior and attempt to modify the behavior of your staff.
But sometimes there is no “problem”, despite the patient’s insistence that there is a problem. Not even the best doctor can fix a problem that doesn’t exist. In such cases, you’ve two options…
Your first option is to contact the patient directly and ask him how he’d like to see the “problem” resolved. If what he wants cannot be accommodated, provide alternatives. Some patients are irrational and can’t be reasoned with, but others may change their attitude if the physician takes steps to educate them.
Your second option is to take the offensive and implement a “dilution” strategy. Ask patients who like you to post their experiences online. One negative review drifting among many positive reviews will appear like a desert island to new patients – isolated, uninhabited, insignificant. A poor (or false) indication of your true quality of care.
As for which strategy to utilize, we suggest doing both. The first strategy could be described as corrective. Utilize it when complaints emerge. The second strategy is preventative. Use it before complaints emerge. Populating the internet with accurate expressions of your quality of care will make it difficult for the angry and the spiteful to injure your online reputation.
Candidly – Medical Justice offers a robust online reputation management platform. If you are a good fit for the program, we’d love to show you how it works. But here’s the quick and dirty value statement:
Doctors enrolled in the program don’t have occupy themselves with most of the activities we’ve described.
They must ask patients for feedback. They must take this action before a patient leaves their practice. And they must work with their staff to predict and resolve patient complaints when they arise. In short – they are obligated to do what is expected of them.
We handle the laborious tasks. We publish the reviews on your behalf – with your patients’ permission. We monitor your online reputation and provide updates. We co-author responses to negative reviews (when appropriate) and assist in neutralizing disputes.
The program exists for two reasons: To keep your online reputation out of the cross-hairs and to help new patients find you online. Complete the form below to signal your interest to a representative. We’ll schedule a brief call to determine if the program is a good fit for your practice. This article concludes below the form.
Translating patient feedback into a prescription for self-improvement takes time and requires the cooperation of an entire practice. You’ll obviously spend time reading patient feedback. You’ll read a lot of garbage. But it is likely you’ll uncover valuable insights as well.
And look at it this way: If a scathing review compels you to implement a change that reduces a patient’s pain or expense, isn’t that a positive outcome?
Let us know your answer in the comments below…
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
With our pioneering combination of medico-legal expertise, resources, and medical reputation management services, Medical Justice delivers as seasoned advisors and formidable advocates. We’re the first call doctors make when they sense trouble. We stand vigilantly by our member physicians with guidance and grit, relentlessly clearing out frivolous lawsuits before they start, and being the go-to for guidance when situations are at their most bewildering.