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Survey: Most Patients Use Healthcare Review Sites to Choose Docs

November 7, 2016
by Rajiv Leventhal
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More than eight in 10 (84 percent) surveyed patients said they consult a reviews website with some frequency to view or post comments and ratings of healthcare staff, according to a new report from Software Advice.

For the report, from the Austin, Texas-based company that provides research and user reviews for technology, patients were asked about their use of online reviews sites. It turns out that these sites are growing in popularity. And, while the frequency with which patients use reviews sites varies, a combined majority do so regularly: 59 percent report using them “often” or “sometimes,” while one-quarter use them “rarely.”

As such, researchers said that this data suggests patients are finding a great deal of value in online reviews of medical practices. “What’s more, this dynamic can make or break a medical practice’s online reputation. It’s not just that so many patients are using reviews—it’s that those reviews are often the first thing patients see,” the report stated, further noting that search engine optimization (SEO) experts agree that user-generated content, such as reviews, is heavily weighted by search engines. The report gave an example of a gynecologist from California having positive reviews from multiple websites, dominating the first page of his search engine result—a result of the doctor sending his patients automated invitations to review his services across all the major healthcare reviews sites.

What’s more, most patients surveyed use online reviews as a determining factor for choosing a new doctor. Seventy-seven percent of respondents report using online reviews as a first step to seeking a provider, while 16 percent use them to validate the choice of a doctor they’ve tentatively selected. These results show that online reviews do play a role in patient retention. But it’s clear that most patients are consulting reviews to decide whether they should make a first appointment with a provider. But for providers, the good news here is that they can leverage reviews sites as marketing channels, and use them to grow their patient population, the researchers noted.

Nearly half of respondents (47 percent) said they would consider going to an out-of-network doctor if their reviews were better than those of an in-network doctor. Interestingly, out-of-pocket costs are much more expensive for patients whose physicians aren’t covered by insurance, meaning that a very significant percentage of patients are willing to overlook important factors, such as cost and convenience, in favor of positive online reviews when choosing a new healthcare provider.

When asked what kind of online reviews patients typically write about a doctor, a combined 50 percent of patients report leaving “very positive” or “somewhat positive” feedback, while 13 percent write “neutral” reviews. Only 6 percent of respondents write “very” or “somewhat negative” reviews.

Negative reviews do happen sometimes, however. The survey asked patients whether they think it’s important for doctors to respond to negative comments on reviews websites. The majority of respondents (60 percent) feel it’s “very” or “moderately important” for doctors to post a response. Thirty-two percent believe it’s “minimally” or “not important,” and 8 percent don’t have an opinion either way.

When looking at a doctor’s online reviews, 28 percent of respondents said they seek information about the quality of care provided. Patient rating scores—often represented by numerical values or star ratings on reviews sites—come in second place, at 26 percent. Information about the patient experience is cited by 23 percent of respondents.

Digging deeper into the subject of care quality, the survey also asked respondents what they consider the most important information about delivery of care. The majority (43 percent) choose “accuracy of diagnosis,” followed by “listening skills” at 20 percent and “explanation skills” at 16 percent.

“Our survey shows that medical practices must keep an eye on their existing online reviews. But providers should also be proactive about recruiting more, lest they miss opportunities to attract or retain patients,” the researchers concluded.

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