When it comes to growing your small medical practice, few things matter more than your reputation.
You can have the most specialized credentials, the most cutting-edge equipment, the most professional staff. Still, unless potential patients know about you and feel they can put their trust in you, it’s unlikely they will be beating a path to your office door.
Good doctors have focused on building their reputations within their communities throughout history. The American Medical Association emphasized word-of-mouth reputation-building in its original code of ethics, published in 1847, where it called paid advertising “highly reprehensible” and “derogatory to the dignity of the (medical) profession.”
Two centuries later, reputation-building is just as crucial, except now it happens almost entirely online, where patients are motivated to share positive and negative experiences with the world. Your reputation is now mediated in ways you can’t control. Search engine algorithms. Online review sites. Social media posts.
If you run a small practice and feel you only have so many hours in the day, it’s particularly tempting to ignore your online reputation.
Here’s why you must resist that urge.
The Cost of Ignoring Online Reviews
Survey after survey bears this out: the vast majority of healthcare consumers start their search for a provider online.
According to a 2020 analysis by SoftwareAdvice.com, over 70% of respondents said online reviews were their first step when looking for a healthcare provider. Over 90% said they used online reviews at some point in their healthcare search. Inc.com found that 84% of consumers said they trusted online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
Healthcare consumers are increasingly making their decisions on providers in that online space. Many say they are even willing to go out of network to see a provider with positive online reviews and profiles.
Online Reputation Management 101
At a minimum, your small practice needs:
- A website optimized for search engines
- Accurate contact information on Google and other sites
- A plan to monitor and respond to online reviews
It may seem daunting to add all that on top of patient care, billing, payroll, professional development, and the myriad other tasks involved in running your practice. But once you have a few systems in place, it takes less time than you would imagine — particularly if you employ tools that allow you to monitor your online reputation easily.
Steps To Online Reputation Management
The first step in coming up with your online reputation action plan is to spend some time seeing what’s already out there about you and your practice. This is something you can do in an hour or less, so there’s no excuse to delay.
- Ensure your practice is listed onGoogle My Business(GMB) and that the information is correct and up-to-date.
- Visit all the major review sites and take stock of what’s already been said about you and your practice.
- If possible, search on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to see if you have gotten mentions.
Once you have that information, you should have a better idea of what you need to do next. Your goals going forward are simple:
- For Google My Business, you’ll want to optimize your listing and try to get into the critical “Local 3-Pack,” the first three listings people will see if they do a Google search for your business category. About 75% of Google users only view listings on the first page, so the higher you rank, the more traffic you will receive.
- On review sites like Yelp, HealthGrades, Vitals, RateMD, and the like, you want to make sure the vast majority of your reviews are positive. Google My Business also allows users to post reviews, and the more reviews you can get, the higher you may rank in search results.
- Social media can be trickier to influence, but you should at least make sure you have an optimized, professional Facebook business page so you can respond to both positive and negative reviews.
There are tools and professionals out there that can keep an eye on your online reputation, assist in optimizing your profiles and even help you build up your positive reviews.
This will not only save you time and effort, but it can also increase the number and quality of leads you receive over time, giving you a great return on your investment.
That said, you can also take a do-it-yourself approach by setting up Google alerts or making a schedule for you and your staff to regularly check in on review sites and post to your social media accounts.
Whatever choice you make, do it consistently, and review periodically to ensure you’re getting your desired results.
Nobody likes negative reviews. People don’t even seem to enjoy writing them; surveys have found that 70 to 75% of online reviews of medical professionals are positive, and only about 1% are “very negative.”
But that doesn’t mean you can afford to ignore whatever negative reviews you do receive. In some of those same surveys, around 65% of respondents said they thought it was important for physicians to respond to negative reviews.
HIPAA regulations make responding to bad reviews somewhat tricky. Under the rules, doctors can’t directly acknowledge that a reviewer has ever been a patient in your care. Even if the reviewer goes into graphic detail about their experience with your office, you can’t confirm (or deny) any of it.
But here’s what you can do: you can be polite and professional and empathetic, and you can speak to your commitment to high-quality patient care. In a sense, you are directing your response not to the reviewer but to the reader who comes across this exchange months or years later.
Since many consumers say they read between one and six reviews before forming an opinion, the best tactic is always to have far more positive reviews on any given site than negative ones. There are several ways to solicit positive reviews gently; for example, you can feature links to review sites on your practices’ website or within patient emails.
Embracing Online Reputation Management
At the end of the day, online reputation management is another form of advertising. But unlike traditional paid advertising, engaging with online reviews allows you to speak directly to your target audience and give them confidence that you are the healthcare provider for them.
Rather than shying away from managing that online presence, embrace it. It’s a small investment of time and effort that pays big dividends for your small business.