By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer
We have yet to find an online physician and medical practice rating system that is “perfect.” Are you aware of how you rate on HealthGrades.com, or ratemds.com, or Vitals.com, or any of the dozens of other physician rating websites that populate the Internet?
If someone has taken the time to post a comment, does it represent your practice fairly or is it a one-time unflattering rant? And if the overall impression is “positive,” a practitioner may embrace the results. But “negatives” that don’t reflect well on the physician’s marketing, branding or reputation are frustrating if not infuriating.
If, for example, a patient feels that they’ve been rushed through an appointment or believes their concerns are being ignored, they may express their own frustrations and disappointments online. And once the unflattering comments are posted on the Internet, they are difficult to challenge or change, even when they are false or unjustified. (Contrary to what some paid services would like you to think, there’s not much that can be done to remove or erase such comments.)
Proactive control begins with the patient experience.
The most practical approach to positive patient comments is by being proactive. While you can’t control reactions to patient care, you can implement a deliberate program of communications and engagement that gives every patient the means to feel heard before turning to online social media.
The foundation, of course, is in consistently delivering an overwhelmingly positive patient experience. And when patients feel that you’re listening to their concerns and addressing them, they are more likely to become ambassadors, and make referrals to friends and family.
Communications strategies to enhance patient experience and physician marketing
The most effective communications programs include a variety of media and methods. Here are several strategies for showing your patients you are listening.
- Learn how your patients prefer to communicate: While you may or may not like the idea of using email, text messaging or online scheduling, your patients might prefer to engage electronically. While it can be hard to monetize the time spent communicating outside the examining room, consider this an aspect of your marketing program. (And, yes…this all can be done within HIPAA guidelines.)
- Collect email addresses and mobile phone numbers: Request this information on patient information forms and ask for written consent to contact them by email or text messaging when appropriate.
- Use scripts for welcome, interaction and parting: Don’t leave your verbal communications to chance. Implement and train everyone in communications skills for positive interaction. Scripts are powerful tools to inspire patient feedback, clarify questions or concerns, and assess patient understanding of medical instructions, etc.
- Text messages: Consider how to integrate a standardized follow-up text message to remind patients how to contact the office with any questions about their visit, diagnosis, medication or treatment.
- Follow-up contacts: Utilize letters or survey questions following a visit to help assess the patient’s level of satisfaction. Even if they don’t reply, you’ll let them know you care enough to contact them, and to connect with new patients after their first visit.
- Follow-up calls: A follow-up call a day or two after a patient’s first visit (or treatment or surgery) provides a clear and direct channel for questions and encourages treatment or medication compliance.
- Post an FAQ page on your website: Provide answers to Frequently Asked Questions to further understanding and patient education. Remind patients during their office visit that the website is an information resource for their use.
- E-newsletter: Regular communication by email/newsletter promotes your accessibility as well as your ideas.
- Relevant educational materials: Empower your patients with relevant and research-based articles about health conditions. A reliable and authoritative source of your own is superior to potentially erroneous information online.
A consistent communications program has the potential to create the kind of advocates who are encouraged to go online and post glowing reviews of your services, as well as refute negative ones you can’t address yourself.
The good news is that some surveys say that most online comments are positive. More importantly, well-informed and engaged patients are more likely to experience better health and outcomes.