Review sites — from Yelp to Travel Advisor to Amazon — are an important part of most consumer’s purchase journeys by now. With slight variations from one industry to another, nearly 80% of consumers check reviews before they make a buying decision.
Choosing a physician or a hospital is no exception. RateMDs, ZocDoc, HealthGrades, and Vitals.com are often the first sites to pop up on the SERPs when people search for a doctor — whether they are looking for a doctor by name or just trying to find a doctor in their town.
Doctor rating sites are different from Zagat and Goodreads, though, in some important ways:
- Doctor rating sites are relatively new among review sites, and fewer people use them. Most doctors have so few reviews that the ratings they receive are essentially meaningless because of the small sample size. A study from Loyola Medicine concluded that ratings for most doctors are calculated from just one or two reviews.
- While any business might receive an unfair review or suffer from a negative review from someone for whom they were a bad fit, doctors may get a bad review because a patient’s health did not improve as they hoped — a situation which is not always within a doctor’s control. Studies of doctor reviews have found that most of the negative comments are emotional: “He made me feel like a number” rather than informed decisions about skill or qualifications.
- CPG companies typically include expert reviews along with crowdsourced consumer reviews, but healthcare grading sites don’t. While they try to include public information such as degrees and certifications, this data is frequently missing.
Doctors are getting upset by these rating sites, and there have been lawsuits. However, the doctors are losing these suits. Even a physician who had received ratings from one person claiming that he was likely to kill patients lost his court case.
Doctors are also forbidden to discuss patients in public, unlike restaurants and car dealers. The healthcare grade sites often allow responses, but physicians usually don’t have that option.
And yet doctor review sites are likely to show up at the top of the search engine results, and they do have effects: 37% of respondents to a recent survey said that they had decided not to visit a doctor because of a bad review.
What can a doctor do?
- If a review is truly unfair or appears to be fake, ask to have it removed. We recently did this for a client and the reviews were removed. Note that you can’t do this for an ordinary negative review.
- Ask patients for positive reviews. Simply, when a patient says how pleased he is, say, “Thank you. Would you post that at HealthGrades.com?” Of course, never fake a review or pay for one, but there’s nothing wrong with asking for a review.
- The most important solution is to have a good website of your own. When patients search for a doctor’s name and find her website, they will generally click through. A strong website takes up some space. Take control of your Google + page and you’ll have good information in a call-out box. Add social media and you can own the page.
Only 19% of patients in a survey conducted this year said that online reviews were important to them in choosing a doctor. Healthcare review sites have such importance because nearly half of all doctors (43%, according to a recent study) have no website. Patients rely on healthcare grading sites simply because they so often have no other source of information.
It’s time for healthcare professionals to take control of their online presence.