Online Reviews, Digital Consumers and the ‘Engine of Transparency’

You don’t have to be Jeff Bezos or Angie Hicks (Angie’s List) to understand the role the digital experience plays in people’s purchase decisions. Whether it’s household items or contractor services, the most essential component in choosing one product or service over another has become the ability to know about it before the point of purchase.

It’s all about being an informed consumer — and healthcare, it turns out, is no exception. In fact, according to a recent survey by National Research Corp., consumers want to ensure they’re making informed decisions about their options in healthcare more than in other industry:

Reputation of a ‘Doctor or Medical Group’ matters more to consumers when choosing a brand than any other vertical, says Ryan Donohue, director of program development. And, why not? This ‘purchasing decision’ impacts their most-prized possession: their health.

Which is why encouraging and publishing online reviews should be part of every doctor’s marketing strategy. Simply put, it’s not when ratings and reviews will matter to healthcare consumers, it’s how much they already do. Consider some of the numbers in the report:

  • 21% of consumers have already rated or reviewed their physician online
  • 45% of consumers have viewed provider ratings/reviews before
  • 30% of consumers claim viewing online ratings/reviews is their first step in doctor search

If you’re not out there making reviews easy to find for consumers, 30% of people are saying, ‘You’re not allowing me to take the first step in seeking care,’ says Donohue. That’s a risk you don’t want to take.

Furthermore, the survey also shows that consumers are not just reading reviews and moving on, but rather, giving those reviews careful consideration and basing their decisions on what they find:

  • 77% consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations
  • 31 % have selected a doctor based on a positive review
  • 32% have avoided a doctor based on a negative review

That last point, of course, is often the primary obstacle that stops some doctors from seeing the value of online reviews. But it doesn’t have to be. According to the NRC survey, just 12% of consumers have left a negative review of a physician. And even those can have a positive effect if doctors approach them proactively. Of those patients who received a response to their review, almost 6 out of 10 (58%) subsequently removed their negative rating or review. “It’s an opportunity to build loyalty,” says Donohue, “to say we messed up and we’re willing to right a wrong.”

Put it all together and you can see why he refers to digital as the engine of transparency and how online reviews will power it going forward. As he explains it:

  • Consumers will increasingly seek digital sources of information to decide on their care
  • The quality and speed of information will be key — 58% of consumers dismiss any review older than a year as ‘out of date’
  • Going forward, consumers will want to see how physicians rate on specific care factors

For doctors who resist the role online reviews play in healthcare consumers’ decisions, that’s going to present an increasingly large problem. For others, it offers an empowering opportunity to be present when it matters most:

The best way to manage your organization’s reputation in the eyes of the digital decision maker is to take a proactive approach to online ratings and reviews, says Donohue. Share feedback you’ve received. Monitor social media and ratings sites. Meet the consumer where they live — with the information they seek — online.

About Rob Lovitt

Rob Lovitt is a longtime writer and editor who believes every good business has a great story to tell. He has written for dozens of magazines and websites, including NBCnews.com, Expedia.com and the inflight magazines of Alaska, Horizon and Frontier airlines.

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