For generations, doctors, dentists, and other healthcare providers were not allowed to advertise. Word of mouth was the only marketing that any provider needed. Here in the 21st century, things have changed considerably. Marketing your practice online is a vital component in your long-term strategy for success. Interestingly, though, one thing hasn’t really changed, and that’s the value of word-of-mouth marketing to your practice. It comes in a few more forms these days, but it is still one of the most important sources for acquiring new patients you have, so learning to cultivate and use this resource is critical to you and your practice.
The Information Age
Today’s patients have access to far more information than ever before, and they want to know as much as they can before they agree to anything – whether that’s taking a new medication or visiting a new provider. They rely more heavily on the internet to research, compare and connect with healthcare professionals. Therefore, what’s being said about you and your practice is critical to your online reputation, and knowing how to manage it is just as vital .
Sites you may not even be aware of could contain patient reviews of your practice, so it’s a good idea to search for yourself and your practice to see what shows up in the search results. Your first step is to identify those sites, take control of them, and see what’s been said. We’ll discuss responding to reviews a little later.
Once you know where the reviews may already be appearing and what they say, you can begin to control where patients make their comments in the future. Asking patients to write a review no longer has the stigma attached to it that our parents’ care providers experienced. Patients like to give their opinions, and they are probably doing it whether you asked them or not.
The Value of Testimonial Types
A formal, requested testimonial typically includes a nice photo of the person who is offering their opinion, and the written comments about their experience. These tend to be longer, very personal, and often feature an intensive story. Not every patient will have this kind of testimonial to offer, but if one of your patients does, it’s a powerful and compelling vote of confidence, and it’s certain to draw the attention of prospective patients. You can feature this type of testimonial in your newsletter, on your website, and on your social media pages as well. Just be mindful about staying within HIPAA guidelines when including these in your marketing plan.
Video testimonials are also very compelling. Here the prospective patient can see and hear one of your current patients in their own voice telling about their positive experiences with you and your practice. With the advent of cell phone video cameras, a testimony like this can be captured and sent by email to your office, or even in your office. Be certain you get written permission to use the video online before uploading it.
Another popular testimonial is a spontaneous, unprompted review from current or former patients on websites such as Yelp, Angie’s List, Google+, or Facebook. The good news is that patients who might normally stay quiet in the office will sing your praises for others to see. The bad news is that these open forums are also where anyone with a beef can come to air their displeasure. While it might be tempting to delete the latter reviews, they aren’t necessarily bad for your practice. If handled properly, they can actually work in your favor.
Reviewing Your Patient Reviews
Of course you hope that all the patient reviews you receive will be uplifting, positive, and full of praise, but the reality is there are bound to be a few that are not. Ignoring these patient reviews is not a good option, so learning to manage them is your best bet. When a bad review lands on Facebook, or Yelp, or any other site, address it immediately. Identify what the complaint is really about and determine your response.
For example, if a patient complains that your office is slow, compare this to the comments of others. Have things been running behind? Are you training new staff? Was it a day filled with emergencies? If you can isolate the issue, you can look at addressing the problem, and in your reply to the review, you can explain what you’re doing to make it better. Never contradict a negative review, and never try to accuse the reviewer of whining or trying to cause problems. If they persist in complaining, try to resolve the issue off line – fighting online doesn’t help you or your practice, and it doesn’t help prospective patients gain a favorable view.
Sometimes it’s possible to turn a negative review into a positive experience for a patient. If you promise to address a concern – do it! Then ask the patient back to see if you’ve improved. If you have, the chances are very good that this same former negative review can be turned into a positive one.
Gathering Patient Reviews
Asking your patients to comment on different sites is a wonderful way to get more positive reviews. Train your staff to ask as well, especially when the patient is checking out. If possible, you can even ask for a video testimonial before the patient leaves your office.
If you use an automated patient survey following a visit, you can include an option for them to submit a review as well.
Patient reviews are one of the most valuable tools you have for managing your online reputation as well as providing information to prospective patients. Don’t be afraid to encourage patients to help you out, and don’t shy away from negative reviews. In the end, you’ll be helping your practice continue down the road to success.