Patient Reviews: Threat or Opportunity?

“Social media now exposes the gap between what companies promise and what they actually deliver.” Jack Mackey, VP, Service Management Group

Minding the Gap

Whether in retail shops or cosmetic medicine, adherence to service standards and the reality of customer experiences are not always the same. There is a “gap” between what you think you are delivering and what your patients actually experience. This costly gap must be minimized. Your practice will be more successful and your reputation more secure if you use ongoing patient feedback to “mind the gap.”

In 1994, Inform&Enhance® was launched and was the first patient relationship management software created specifically for the plastic surgery industry. It helped plastic surgeons grow cosmetic revenue through systematic care and communication with patients.

Today we are in the midst of another revolution. While care and communication still differentiate our practices, the internet dramatically impacts the buying patterns of consumers. Social media adds new sources of information for prospective patients, but misinformation also abounds. We’ve all heard about surgeons whose practices have been damaged by unhappy patients who use social media to redress perceived wrongs.

Whether you view social media with its potential for positive and negative postings as an opportunity or a threat, social media, ratings and reviews, are here to stay. In this new era, we need to be even more careful about our patient experience.

So, what do we do?  There are two schools of thought.

Threat-based Response

If you regard reviews as a threat, you’ll react accordingly; your main concern is defending your on-line reputation. You focus on tactics that deal with the external threat of isolated negative posts. Your strategies include going legal and pursuing complaining patients, if necessary. There is little self-awareness or openness to the possible systemic service and care issues that prompted the negative reviews.

Opportunity-based Strategy

You can also see ratings and reviews as the new marketing frontier and the latest opportunity for competitive advantage. You proactively seek feedback and use the “intel” to fix your practice privately and proactively. You let your patients have the last word, using patient ratings and reviews to enhance your online reputation and tell the true story about your practice’s quality.

Learning from Feedback

At La Jolla Cosmetic Surgery, we began surveying patients in 1988, long before it was fashionable or before the connection between patient satisfaction and profitability was established.  While the vast majority of patient feedback is positive, we learn more from disappointed patients who care enough to communicate with us.

The next step after surveying is actually listening to your patients and changing your practice to better meet their needs.  Let me share a couple of examples of successful “service recovery”.

Negative Yelp Review:  A post-op patient posted about her happiness with her recent surgery, her surgeon and our practice. She also complained that she was unfeelingly discharged from recovery, experiencing an unnecessarily unpleasant drive home. Without contacting us, she went to Yelp to let the world know. When I followed up, she told me, “just 30 minutes more in recovery and I would have gone home without being sick.” I told her we would change our discharge protocols; our recovery room nurses would confirm each patient’s readiness to be discharged and keep them longer if the patient asked. I told her that if she had come to me in the first place, I would have taken the same action because I agreed with her. She went back to Yelp, revised her post, saying her issues had been heard and were being acted upon.  She then said she was referring her friend and her mother.

Patient Survey: In a post-op survey, another patient complained of a $250 instrument charge for a small scar revision after spending more than $22k on a facelift. She asked how we could justify that charge given how much she had already spent. I offered to refund the money, saying that we wanted her to be happy. As I transferred her to get the credit, I head one side of the conversation, “Yes, we can do that.  So, you want to buy 4 Latisse, apply the $250 credit and charge the balance to your card? Yes, we can do that…” This is service recovery 101!  Unhappy customers who are “heard” by the organization actually remain to buy more!

Both of these examples illustrate known outcomes of actively listening to customers. They are more likely to refer and remain for additional services when they are heard. With these two important payoffs as well as the social media upside, listening to your patients has never been more important.

Marie B.V. Olesen is the CEO of La Jolla Cosmetic Surgery Centre and Real Patient Ratings. She also serves on the Board of Directors at the Center for Services Leadership, William B. Carey School of Business, ASU.

About Eva

Eva Sheie is a nationally known search-marketing specialist who has closely studied the behavior of prospective patients on the internet since the inception of the aesthetics boom. Focusing especially on determining how and what exactly inspires an internet reader to become an actual patient, she has developed a keen awareness for user experience and findability in this highly competitive marketplace.