The Impact of a Doctor’s Online Reputation

Author: Orca Health

July 24, 2020

In the past, most patients found their doctors and surgeons through friend and family recommendations. But in today's digital world, the majority of patients trust online reviews just as much as (if not more than) opinions from people they know. 

Patient reviews and online reputations of physicians have a significant impact on patient decision making. Providers need to evaluate if their online reputations reflect the caliber of care they provide. Understanding what factors impact how and where they are seen online can provide opportunities to enhance reputations and drive practice growth.  

The Numbers: 

A  study from 2014 in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that patients turn to the internet when making healthcare decisions just as often as other industries. 59% reported physician rating sites are "somewhat" or "very" important, and 37% of online review users said they had avoided a physician with bad ratings altogether.

More recent data shows those trends increasing significantly as online reviews have become a trusted tool for patients.

One recent patient experience survey from 2020 reported that 90% of responding patients use online reviews to evaluate physicians. Furthermore, 71% use online reviews as the very first step to finding a new doctor. Another 2018 survey of over 3,000 patients found 59.9% report that they have selected a doctor based on positive reviews and 60.8% report avoiding a doctor because of negative reviews. 

ZocDoc reported that physicians with positive online reputations on their site typically receive five times as many appointments than those with a negative reputation. 

The Challenge:

People believe what they find on the internet. And, as intended, doctors have no control over what people post about them online. Though the premise is useful for patients looking to make informed choices for their care, the stakes are incredibly high for physicians.  

Open-looped review systems, which allow anyone to post a review about any doctor, can present serious challenges. Anonymous submissions, lack of patient verification, and small quantities of reviews can often paint a very inaccurate picture of provided care.  Even excellent providers can have their online reputations skewed by outliers of dissatisfied patients, especially if they have a low total number of reviews.

Reputations can be further complicated due to HIPAA laws that can constrain doctors from refuting false claims or clarifying details of a patient interaction. Where other industries could reply and offer their perspective, physicians must respect patient privacy laws. 

Many doctors have seen significant decreases in their practices from negative online reviews, increasing the number of defamation lawsuits from doctors against patients. According to lawyers who work on these defamation cases, doctors are much more vulnerable to negative online reviews than other service providers. There aren't many who want to risk their health with a potentially negligent provider.

Unfortunately, practices that neglect their online presence will see a pronounced decline in patient acquisition and retention. 

The Solutions:

Thankfully, it’s not all bad news. 

Though it’s still true that doctors cannot control what patients post about them online, many factors remain within their influence. Below, we’ve outlined four steps doctors can take to positively impact their reviews and reputation.

1. Evaluate the patient experience provided by a practice

It is important to note,  96% of patient complaints and poor online reviews are related to customer service, while just 4% are related to clinical care​. As such, healthcare providers must evaluate the entire patient experience of a visit to their office. 

Consider the process from the time a patient makes an appointment:

What kind of communication do they receive? What is the check-in and waiting process?  How effective are patient education and supplementary information/instructions? What system is in place to gauge satisfaction and understanding? Can follow-up rates be increased to encourage positive outcomes? 

All of these factors drive the majority of the content in reviews, whether positive or negative. Implementing a system to improve quality of care,  patient interactions, and follow-up will leave physicians with happier patients willing to share about it. 

2. Understand the algorithms that influence online visibility

Additionally, providers must understand that providing excellent care does not always guarantee high online visibility. Prospective patients searching Google will first encounter doctors based on specific algorithms. The providers that come to the top of the search page will have high levels of review quantity, review quality, and review frequency.

Understanding these metrics that influence how and where they are seen will empower doctors to implement tools that help increase regular review generation. A steady stream of current reviews improves the search engine optimization (SEO) of an online presence by creating unique content on an ongoing basis. The recency of reviews brings your profile to the top of the search page and increases patient trust for the 66.1% who consider reviews older than 18 months, out of date.

3. Utilize a closed-loop system for review generation

Doctors need to be asking patients for their feedback and reviews. Utilizing a closed-loop review system ensures that only patients who have seen a doctor are invited and able to leave reviews. Soliciting reviews from verified patients helps your reputation become more reflective of provided care and not derailed by anonymous submissions. When patients write reviews in response to a request from a doctor, they tend to be overwhelmingly positive. And for those that come back negative, providers have the opportunity to follow-up with these patients, clarify any miscommunication, or make needed changes based on feedback. 

4. Claim and update all available online profiles

Though opinions make up a vital component of what prospective patients are searching online, factual information about a doctor is also essential and important to keep updated. Simple steps such as adding a consistent professional photo across platforms, updating education and board certification information, clarifying practice locations and accepted insurance providers, and linking practice websites or bios can go a long way. Physicians can be proactive in projecting professionalism, creating confidence, making good impressions, and providing the data that matters to patients.

Social media and websites can also provide an opportunity to create more physician-driven content. When executed well, physicians can improve messaging and branding while extending their reach to prospective patients. 

Orca Health's Reputation Enhancement Platform

At Orca Health, we have worked closely with practicing physicians in creating the tools they want and need to make provided care and communication more effective and efficient. 

Our patient experience platform works to exceed patient expectations along the continuum of care. 96% of Care Pathway users report a very positive impact on patient understanding, and 91% of Care Pathway users report a very positive impact on patient satisfaction.

We then provide a platform designed to translate positive experiences and high patient engagement into an excellent online reputation. Our reputation enhancement platform works to increase the metrics that elevate online visibility and increase patient trust. 

Orca makes improving reputations easy by automating and simplifying the review generation process. Our automated platform has been proven to provide:

Let us help you be proactive in maintaining positive online visibility and attracting new patients. Start today by claiming your free profile here.