Healthcare organizations must find a way to engage in the digital ecosystems where patients already have conversations about them.

There’s a vast and growing digital ecosystem where patients and healthcare providers interact, despite the fact that many providers aren’t actively participating.

The rise of review sites and social media—along with a fundamental shift in the way we use the internet—has transformed the way that patients learn about providers and select their treatment. They expect greater transparency and look for deeper insight about healthcare providers from online review sites and social media, as well as clinic listings and websites. Furthermore, studies show that this information is actually driving patients’ healthcare decisions in important ways: 72% of patients use online reviews as the first step in finding a new doctor, and 86%  say they are willing to pay more for a provider with higher ratings and reviews.

This is a challenge and an opportunity for the healthcare industry. Adjusting to a new paradigm in which patients have control of an organization’s reputation is frightening for health professionals accustomed to traditional marketing and brand-building techniques. However, this paradigm also offers healthcare providers exciting new ways to engage with patients and get direct feedback unlike anything we’ve seen before.

It’s worth taking time to understand how this digital ecosystem works and how these new platforms can benefit providers by driving greater accountability, improving patient experience, and ultimately bringing more patients through the door.

Empower patients with the information they need to make the right healthcare decisions  

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Patients are paying more out of pocket than ever before for care, which means they have never been more invested—and involved—in their healthcare decisions. Making these decisions usually starts with patients using a search engine to research healthcare options and providers. Healthcare organizations need be a top result on a search engine results page (SERP) to ensure that patients find and consider them, instead of expecting people to begin at a provider’s website.

Healthcare organizations should develop pages for each physician and each location that include basics like contact information, as well as information that helps patients assess and choose providers such as ratings, reviews and the types of insurance that are accepted. Providers should make sure this information is published on their site and on third-party listing sites including Google, Facebook, and Healthgrades, so that consumers can easily find accurate information no matter where they start a search.

Providers also need to take care that the way their organization is represented on review sites and social media matches the brand and values the organization has created for itself. But with so many different platforms and avenues for people to interact with healthcare organizations, understanding and managing online reputation is more complex than how an organization’s flagship hospital appears on Google. For example, each doctor and clinical location has an online presence and reputation on various review sites. For large organizations, this can be mean thousands of digital touchpoints to monitor and maintain.

Lindsay Neese Burton

Luckily, there are new tools that empower companies to understand and manage their online reputation in an efficient manner. Leveraging this type of reputation management technology is more efficient than manually tracking and updating all the places where your organization is mentioned or listed online.

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Respond quickly to patient feedback across the internet

Consumers turn to online reviews and social media to evaluate products and services, and the healthcare industry is no exception. Eighty percent of consumers want to read six or more reviews to fairly assess a healthcare provider, but only 23% of doctors have one or more reviews on Google. By failing to engage patients online, providers are not meeting today’s consumer expectations, which means there is a huge opportunity to improve these relationships. Healthcare organizations that take the time to build their presence in the places patients are looking for them—on search engine results, review sites, and social media—and engage directly with patients gain a powerful competitive advantage.

Patient feedback delivered through online reviews gives providers an opportunity to respond, address the patient’s concern and build rapport immediately, demonstrating that the provider is listening and cares about the individual patient. This helps empower patients to make informed decisions about their care. It also shows other prospective patients that a healthcare organization is attentive to its patients online, which leaves a positive impression and encourages potential patients to engage too.

Online feedback is another area where new technologies can help providers quickly and effectively manage vast quantities of individual interactions. With tools to analyze patient reviews and sentiment across the internet, healthcare providers can identify important patient concerns quickly, and provide feedback in real time. This helps organizations address issues before they become a larger problem, while delivering personalized, HIPAA-compliant responses to patients that encourage a two-way conversation and an improved patient experience.

Uncover operational insights from open-ended patient feedback

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Healthcare organizations often understand patient experience through official Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) scores. But providers need to pay attention to the entire patient journey, from searching for care before making an appointment to paying the final bill. There are aspects of the patient journey that CAHPS surveys—and other customer feedback forms—don’t anticipate and therefore cannot capture. The open-ended nature of online reviews is uniquely suited to surface unexpected aspects of patient experience that surveys miss.

Online reviews provide organic, fluid and entirely unstructured feedback that an organization requires to improve patient experience. Providers need to follow up by addressing the pain points surfaced through reviews in a quick and meaningful way. For instance, if numerous patients describe difficulties finding parking at a local urgent care clinic, that clinic can quickly fix the parking issue before it affects overall patient satisfaction or turns patients away before they walk in the door.

Healthcare providers should leverage tools that aggregate the multitude of reviews from sites across the internet in a central environment—and in an easily digestible format—enabling them to see trends and better understand where they can improve and their unique strengths to build upon. This opens up a new two-way communication channel where ideas to make operational improvements are born, benefiting both patients and providers.

Ultimately, healthcare organizations must find a way to engage in the digital ecosystems where patients already have conversations about them. There is an enormous opportunity to use these online platforms to communicate with patients and get important insights about the way clinics and hospitals are run. By taking an active role in building their digital presence, with the goal of increased accountability and an improved patient experience, healthcare providers can form deep and lasting relationships with their patients.

Lindsay Neese Burton, is healthcare marketing director for Reputation.com.

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