"People love us on yelp" graphic

Reputation Management & My Daughter’s 1st Birthday

What do online reputation management and drinking a little too much at your daughter’s first birthday party have in common? Both provide the opportunity for careful self-reflection. I know this because I manage the first for several hospital clients, and the latter…well…let’s just say I’ve been there.

Why Reputation Management Matters

Need a reason to keep reading this blog? Here you go: A JAMA study found that about 25% of patients had used online health reviews within the last year. Of those that did, 35% picked a doctor based on favorable reviews. For elective procedures, particularly the all important Mother & Newborn, you can bet the stats for a hospital are similar.

Screen Shot 2014-06-25 at 10.45.06 AMA Case Study

When our firm first started managing and reporting the online reputation of a large hospital system, I felt the real benefit was the opportunity for the system to engage with real patients who were talking about their experience. While places like Yelp and Google have been invaluable for those conversation opportunities, they’ve also provided a steady stream of unedited feedback that the hospital can absorb, consider, and in some cases, use to make real changes.

For example, there’s not much you can do with a review that proclaims, “This hospital STINKS!” In such an instance, we might respond privately to that individual that the hospital takes such feedback seriously, and that we’d like the opportunity to learn more about their experience by phone to ensure patients receive the highest quality of care. That conversation may or may not happen.

But, when a patient stated on Yelp that being made to wear unisex underwear following a procedure was embarrassing, it turned out to be information the system could use to make an easy self improvement. We can respond privately that the hospital is reviewing its policies and will make improvements if possible. Then, once a change has been made, we can respond publicly.

Serious C-Suite consideration, much less real world business changes, based on online patient feedback can be a hard sell. There is very little data to support that proactive reputation management leads to actual revenue streams (though I can report that our reputation management has brought patients back to the hospital following bad experiences, particularly in the ER). Hospital decisions are often made on the back of an abundance of data, studies, trends and ROI reports – a Yelp review doesn’t fit neatly into that mold.

Take Advantage & Make a Difference

But for the hospital or system that understands the value, actionable online reviews can help in at least 3 ways:

  1. Identifying policies that patients dislike most.
    This is what I’ve outlined above. Some reviews will not be particularly helpful, but a patient who has carefully considered their experience and shows that in their review can yield insights into easily changeable policies that might be leaving patients with a negative view of your hospital. Make the change, eliminate the complaint.
  1. Spotting trends.
    This requires more than a quick snapshot of your reputation. If you dedicate real resources over a longer time period, you’ll begin to see trends on review sites that help identify problem departments or areas where the most negative feedback originates. No. 1 is predictably the ED, but you might begin to see dissatisfaction with particular nursing units, facilities or check points on the patient hospital journey. You might not know you’ve got a problem at the front desk at hospital X. By taking a long view online, and you might gain some insight into the problem.
  1. Gaining an advantage over the competition.
    With some more advanced monitoring tools, you can gain useful intelligence on your competition:

    1. What are patients writing about their hospital?
    2. What policies can you “borrow?”
    3. Where can you differentiate yourself?

You might even end up with an idea for a full scale campaign capitalizing on a particular complaint you see about another hospital in the area.

Be Among the Few

The reality is that most hospitals will continue to ignore their online reputation. “Yelp??? Isn’t that for restaurant reviews?” Yes it is. It’s also where patients skewer your hospital without your knowledge. It’s also typically the first thing a patient will see in a Google search. Is that where you want a ranking of 1 out of 5 stars accompanied by a revealing review?

If it was my hospital, I sure wouldn’t. Get on board with reputation management. It doesn’t take much time or an abundance of resources, especially if you hire people who know what they’re doing, which — shameless plug alert — we do. While I can almost guarantee trackable ROI, I can definitely guarantee you’ll be able to make small changes with a big impact in the organization. And when my daughter turns two, I’ll nurse an iced tea.