Patients have two angles to consider when researching healthcare providers online: the healthcare organization and the doctors who practice there. The reputations of both are equally important and go hand in hand.
Healthcare consumers have choices, and your providers’ online reputations dictate who will attract them. In fact, Healthgrades research released in January 2017 indicates that 54 percent of patients are more likely to choose a physician who is different from the one they initially set out to research.
If a healthcare consumer encounters more unfavorable than positive reviews of a physician, he or she will continue searching until finding a more favorable set of reviews for a different doctor. This is why managing your physician brand as part of your organizational brand strategy is important.
Why physicians’ and organizations’ brands are synonymous
Each physician’s online reputation is an extension of your organization’s brand. A doctor’s digital brand drives the organization’s reputation, and the organization’s reputation bolsters the physician’s individual brand.
The physician’s brand is an experience and an emotional connection that go beyond bedside manner. Consumers relate doctors’ expertise and communication skills, along with how the doctors make them feel when delivering diagnoses or treatment, with your organization’s brand.
People can find reviews of organizations and individual physicians on Vitals and Healthgrades. And they actively use these reviews. A 2016 BrightLocal survey revealed that 91 percent of online consumers regularly or occasionally read online reviews to determine if their experience will be positive or negative.
When online reviews point to positive experiences, more patients will choose your physician and recommend the doctor to others on social media and third-party review sites. But negative experiences returned in online reviews can turn off new potential patients—and anyone they choose to share their findings with—from selecting a physician or an organization.
How to define your physicians’ individual brands
Though people have options for healthcare providers, physicians’ reputations cannot be commoditized. Their brands represent unique experiences that consumers won’t find elsewhere.
However, as Ross K. Goldberg notes in Strategic Health Care Marketing, physicians themselves are something of a commodity. Just as people research cars and restaurants online, they absorb physician star ratings and open comments on Healthgrades and Vitals to find the best value and customer experience for their healthcare dollars.
So how can you help your physicians define their individual brands and stand out from the competition? It takes a proactive brand-building and brand-management strategy that starts with these two important steps:
- Differentiate: Discover what is unique about the physician and celebrate this in a patient-centric way. Does the doctor offer a test or treatment that only he or she can provide? Have a special knack for treating kids or seniors? Offer patient-delighters that other local doctors don’t provide? Consumers want evidence—and not just your word—for why they should choose you. They’ll find this proof through reviews from current patients on social media, physician referral sites, and good old-fashioned word of mouth.
- Deploy: Take proactive ownership of physicians’ online reputations. It’s important to make sure the physician reviews on the first page of Google tell an honest, accurate story about the physician’s brand. The third-party ratings site’s results that appear on Page 1 enjoy the most patient traffic. When these links lead to star ratings and open comments that accurately portray your physicians’ uniqueness, quality of care, and delivery of patient experience, your physicians’ and organization’s brands will benefit.
Physicians’ individual brands can make it easy for a patient to choose them—or to choose competitors instead. The more real, positive patient sentiment that people discover in online reviews and in person with your physicians, the more positively they’ll view the physicians and the organization as a whole.
Building your online physician brand
As Art Markman, PhD, mentioned in a 2017 Harvard Business Review article, large goals are made up of a series of challenging smaller goals that first must be attained. When you embark on a digital brand-building strategy, it’s wise to start small and work your way up to your larger goals.
First, identify the target market for each service line. Who do you want to attract as new patients to your clinic? Once you’ve targeted your audience, tailor your messaging to them. This may include reframing your traditional and digital marketing messages, as well as refining or implementing blog and social media distribution strategies to reach people where they’re already spending time online.
Next, work with your physician staff to become more transparent online. They’ll need to embrace the idea that potential patients are reading and forming opinions about them on third-party review sites. And they’ll need to work with you to develop a plan to respond to patient comments in a timely and appropriate manner. Responding to reviews shows potential patients that your physicians care about their patients’ experiences.
Then it’s time to start building a library of reviews. You can increase your number of reviews by asking patients to leave reviews for their doctors online. Ask patients to do so while they’re still in the clinic, and include the invitation and information needed to review doctors within your marketing messaging wherever it’s appropriate to do so.
As your volume of reviews grows, ensure that your team is prepared to monitor and respond to positive and negative reviews. Thank and acknowledge reviewers for leaving positive notes to show your appreciation and demonstrate the service-oriented nature of your organization.
When responding to negative reviews, acknowledge the issue and thank the patient for taking time to share their experience. It’s important to offer to connect offline for two reasons: first, to ensure the full issue is taken into consideration and resolved, and second, to avoid further ugliness on your physician’s third-party review profile.
Follow these tips to respond appropriately to negative physician reviews online.
Monitoring your physicians’ online brands
You have many options for monitoring and managing your physicians’ online brands. The route you choose depends on the size of your brand management project, the number of third-party review sites on which you’re focused, and the amount of time you have to devote to monitoring these sites.
Physician reputation management software can help you monitor the digital reputations of all the doctors in your organization. It also helps you pool and collate data to provide insights into trends in the practice, opportunities for improvement, and areas of excellence to promote to potential patients.
Smaller organizations or those that are focused on just a few physicians’ online brands may opt to use spreadsheets or other tracking programs to monitor their physicians’ profiles. This manual process takes extra time—you’ll have to visit the sites frequently and search through your doctors’ profiles on your own. Also, spreadsheets won’t collate the data for you like physician reputation management software does.
Whichever method you choose, consistency is key. Keep up with monitoring your physicians’ reviews, especially if you ask patients to review your doctors. Leaving reviews unacknowledged is poor customer service and doesn’t look good to potential patients.
As more healthcare consumers look to search results and, specifically, to third-party review sites for information about potential healthcare providers, monitoring and responding to patient reviews become increasingly important. Whether your organization has 10 doctors or 1,000, prioritize physician digital brand building and maintenance. It will directly affect your physician-patient relationships and your bottom line.