For Better or Worse, Your Patients are Rating You Online

Do you ever use online rating sites?  I love them.  TripAdvisor is my primary method of creating itineraries and reservations for my vacations.  Customer reviews have led me to finds from affordable luxury hotels in New York to Aruba's most serene beaches.  While online reviews are nothing new, the medical community has traditionally been exempt from such public scrutiny.  However, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and physicians are becoming increasingly subject to online ratings.

There's been a bit of a buzz recently in the medical community. Online sites for ranking medical providers are popping up across the internet.  While most of us don't think twice about using other online review services, many physicians and other providers aren't happy about falling under this umbrella themselves.  So, why are some medical professionals freaking out about patients posting their opinions online?

The medical community isn't accustomed to answering to public opinion.  In the past, individuals were taught not to question physicians.  When our parents and grandparents were young, whatever the doctor said was right.  However, a cultural shift is taking place.  With more information than ever right at our fingertips we can research our own medical problems.  It is now more apparent to patients that they have several options when it comes to their medical care.  With online provider ratings becoming more prevalent, NP's, PA's and physicians will be held accountable for their actions.  Not all providers are created equally.  

Unfortunately, many medical clinics and hospital systems are poorly managed.  The healthcare system is riddled with red tape.  Some clinics are run by individuals with little business sense.  Other clinics are excessively driven by numbers and billing.  Your patients certainly won't be satisfied with a three minute visit.  But, this is what many work environments demand of providers.  If you work in a system that's not set up for patient satisfaction, then yes, you can probably expect a few negative online reviews.  

Along with the poor operational practices of some clinics and hospitals, complexities of the healthcare system also work against providers.  How are you supposed to know if Medicare pays for that?  Sorry, I think you need this CT scan even if you don't have insurance.  Unfortunately, the uninsured are equally as susceptible to appendicitis as individuals with a cadillac health plan.  The cost of health care is rising and the Affordable Care Act has even further muddied the medical system.  One concern with online ratings is that providers will take heat for problems that in reality arise from the system within which they work.  Sorry, but I can't singlehandedly reform Medicare.

While the healthcare system as a whole can explain some reasons for patient dissatisfaction and therefore potentially negative online reviews, individual providers are ultimately responsible for their own online image.  Most patient patient reviews are reflective of ourselves personally.  Some providers hurry through patient visits unintentionally expressing disinterest or simply being rude.  Other times, we may make mistakes.  Not all surgeries come without complications, sometimes due to negligence on part of the surgeon, for example.

Online reviews demand perfection of healthcare providers.  If your patients are posting their personal experiences for the world to see, you can no longer get away with cutting corners.  Rushed patient interactions and not returning phone calls will no longer be acceptable.  Mistakes like forgetting to call in prescriptions or misdiagnosis may be aired publicly.  This even translates to accountability for other clinic and hospital staff.  A rude receptionist's initial interactions with your patient will color their experience.  This means that you are responsible for training your staff appropriately, holding high standards for your practice and creating a culture of customer service. 

Although some providers are distraught over the transparency online reviews are bringing, we as members of the healthcare community should embrace this practice.  For too long, we have accepted mediocrity as the standard for our patient interactions.  Online reviews encourage providers to perform at higher levels and provide better care.  While I hate buzz words like "performance" and "patient care", we as providers could use some motivation to improve.  Our standard must be raised to excellence.  

Excellence requires effort and will be accompanied by growing pains.  Yes, it will be difficult to familiarize yourself with the way your practice bills or how much certain procedures cost in order to better inform your patients of medical costs.  It might be costly for your practice to implement online payment systems or appointment scheduling.  This, however, will make your clinic stand out above others.  Treating your patients like customers rather than an inconvenience, will take time out of your day.

Despite the extra effort that comes with demanding excellence of yourself and your colleagues, these practices will improve your outlook on your career and profession.  Satisfied patients lead to satisfied providers.  Weeding mediocrity and laziness out of your practice will ultimately make you more fulfilled.

The pitfalls of patients rating providers online aren't as bad as they seem.  Studies show that 70 to 90 percent of online provider ratings are positive.  Most people understand that ratings are usually developed by the extremes, patients who are either very satisfied or very dissatisfied with their service.  They are taken with a grain of salt.  It's not until they become a pattern that you can expect them to hurt (or help) your practice.  Use the reality of online ratings as motivation to improve your practice and interactions with patients.  In fact, encourage your patients to rate you online.  

 

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