Updated: Jun 1, 2018
For years now, Private Practice has struggled to keep pace with the ever-changing landscape of governmental healthcare legislation. From Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) to Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) mandates, the most significant impact has been the increasing demand for small healthcare organizations to adopt technology that is often very expensive with a steep learning curve. Even today, 1 in 5 practices still don't have an EHR*!
A force bigger than the government is now acting on private practice - Internet Users.
Rapidly emerging is the impact Online Reviews have on businesses in general, and we should have all seen it coming. With the proliferation of Internet-enabled devices, we are all constantly connected with access to information at a moment's notice. It is now considered irresponsible "not to" research an important service or product before purchasing!
So it stands to reason that we want to know more about our healthcare providers before entrusting them with our lives.
In the beginning, review systems had no accountability, were distributed and mostly a sounding board for the vocal minority. Now, reviews are tied to public profiles, have validation and scoring systems and are more balanced, not just an airing of grievances. As a result, we have become more accepting of them as a source for credible information. This concept is called Social Proof.
It's at this point we must understand the basic anatomy of a Google™ SERP (Search Engine Results Page). When you execute a search query, at the top are Ad supported links (paid) for specific keywords. Beneath those are Google™ Business links with review scores. These are the businesses Google's™ algorithm considers to be the most relevant to the search inquiry, listed in defending order. And finally below those, the organic search results (or meat links), which are built over time by SEO work.
When a user searches Google™ for a particular keyword, it correlates the inquiry with the location of the user and pulls businesses from that area it believes is most salient. Only engineers at Google™ understand exactly what KPIs account for the entirety of the score, but experts have deduced that it's a combination of the number of Reviews, Review Scores and several Web stats like traffic, bounce rate, length of stay, etc.
Why is this information important to me? Eventhough Ads are conspicuously more like standard "organic" search results link, [see below for before & after change], these Google Business results are quickly earning user engagement. People believe them to be trustworthy and less manipulated than SEO or a paid Ad.
Consequently, the silent killer is a bad online reputation, particularly a poor Google™ review rating as it's the most widely used search engine and most prominently displayed on a SERP.
How much can a poor rating impact a practice?
• One study revealed that a single inflammatory review could cost a practice as many as 30 patients a month!
• A research firm recently found that 70% of online shoppers will not consider any business under a 4.0 score.
• 92% research before buying & 86% of those admit that reviews influence their decision
The research is still mounting, but experts admit it only serves to confirm the overwhelming fact that reviews have a tremendous and residual impact on a business, the extent of which varies from practice-to-practice.
There are several ways to take matters into your own hands however.
1) Become more patient-centric and strive to maximize the experience. Ask for honest reviews with confidence!
2) Engage with those that actually review the practice as it appears the practice is more "accessible".
3) Implement a Healthcare-based medical review system that filters out for patients who had a less-than-positive experience (giving the practice a chance to correct the issue) and fast tracks happy patients to the right review links!
The idea behind a review system is not to cherry-pick the best reviews, it turns out the more "perfect" the score, the less believable the rating. The system is designed to catch patients with issues, give them an easy avenue to report those concerns and encourage administration to quickly address it. Concurrently, the system should provide those that have positive things to say about the practice with a "fast lane" to the Google Business™ review page.
Some of these systems proclaim to be "set-it and forget-it", but that's far from being the case. Review systems are dealing with human behavior, just like advertising, and are an iterative process. Your patient demo may respond better to receiving an SMS vs an email, or to a message received 1 hour after checkout versus that evening. There are a multitude of variables that should be monitored and adjusted to ensure the practice is optimizing the value of the system. If properly trained, a marketing representative with technical skills can achieve solid results, or an outsourced managed service is recommended as they are industry experts.
The infographic below provides an overview of the growing phenomenon.
tl;dr - If you're not actively managing your online reputation, your new patient population will continue to decrease with poor reviews.