Every major purchase I have made the past five years has been aided by Amazon reviews for validation or advice on a better brand or product to buy. This is part of my purchasing behavior and I can honestly say it has been 100% successful in giving me confidence in my decision, which is only reaffirmed with every quality product that arrives on my doorstep. This is now how I research every purchase I make.
Of course this absolutely flies in the face of everything I cannot stand about groupthink or mob mentality, represented by: “There is truth in numbers.” “All those people can’t be wrong.”
Making a decision on a healthcare provider isn’t the same as purchasing a gas-powered hedge trimmer, and I think physicians and patients both should be skeptical about the ratings on popular websites such as ZocDoc and Vitals. It’s doubtful most people remember the service they received last week at their local coffee shop, but odds are that most patients remember in detail their past five doctor encounters because they probably were in pain and were suffering, and wanted help fast.
Physician referral and review site ZocDoc allows patients to rate physicians on the following subjective criteria: Overall Rating, Bedside Manner, and Wait Time. Vitals rates similar criteria, but adds Accurate Diagnosis, Spends Time With Me, and Ease of Appointment. Just last week, Vitals announced they now offer a mobile app.
Here is an example of a negative review on ZocDoc for a local allergist: “Dr’s office did not receive my appointment and denied having confirmed it. Did not offer alternatives.”
How is a physician’s office going to properly respond to this negative complaint? What if the patient simply forgot to make an appointment? Go ahead. Put on your PR hat and try to write a response that won’t come across as defensive or argumentative. I don’t think it can be done.
Now, take another highly subjective rating like Wait Time criteria. For argument’s sake, say I schedule an appointment over my lunch hour. I arrive and check in at the physician’s office five minutes prior my scheduled appointment. I have to wait 15 minutes before being called back to the exam room because the physician was occupied with a patient in major pain and in need of additional care. Makes perfect sense to me considering it is a medical clinic, but technically speaking, the doc would still deserve a 1- or 2-star grade in Wait Time, depending if I dock an extra star for causing me to miss an important conference call back at the office.
I asked a real healthcare PR pro, Ashley Howland, social media manager for Baylor Health Care System, her opinion on online physician reviews. Her reply shows why she’s a leader in her field:
“You can’t prevent someone from posting a negative rating about a physician or hospital online just as you can’t control what they say to their friends and family. But what we can control is the experience our patients have in our hospitals. Helping to solve their problems and address their concerns before they leave the facility may help prevent negative ratings. However, in the health care industry, we are dealing with life and death; highly emotional situations that no amount of customer service can heal. All we can do is be empathetic, helpful and respectful.
Once a negative review is posted, it can’t be deleted, but you can take steps to address the concern. Treat it as you would a negative comment on Facebook or Twitter. Let them know you hear them and that you take it seriously. Then, put them in touch with someone who will listen and help solve the issue. Rating and review sites are just like any other form of social media, if you listen to the community, you can help solve problems you may not even know you had and ultimately improve the patient experience.”
Your healthcare truly is life and death and the Who you trust with this most vital decision requires more than an anonymous online review, in my opinion. Ask a coworker, ask a neighbor, or make an appointment and meet the physician in person, the old fashioned way.
If you’re a caregiver, perhaps you will appreciate the advice Seth Godin offers in You won’t benefit from anonymous criticism.
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