Practice Notes

Are doctors 'losing the online comments war?' We say medical groups stand a fighting chance.

by Tiffany Chan

"I LOVE Dr. M. But his receptionists are horrific—I have NEVER called their office without being put on hold for at least a full five minutes, and they are really rude with their patients, I've observed no exceptions. I hate going to the doctor's office and even though Dr. M is fabulous with me and patient with my questions, I just can't go back when his office makes me so uncomfortable in the waiting room."

"Women should be warned before coming here. I had the worst GYN experience of my life here—it was a nightmare."

With reviews like these, it’s easy to believe headlines like, "Doctors are losing the online comments war."

Online reviews offer prospective patients unprecedented, unfiltered insight into physician performance—at least as perceived by other patients. While this can be liberating for consumers, who use reviews to learn from others’ experiences, the accuracy of the information is uncertain.

The AMA and others have expressed concerns that online reviews offer a poor representation of provider performance because they’re skewed by low numbers of reviews. To exacerbate these worries, providers often have limited ability to address and deny even falsified claims, partly due to HIPAA protection of patient confidentiality. As a result, to providers on the receiving end of patient vitriol, online reviews can seem completely out of their control.

Eventually, sites run by Consumer Reports and CMS may successfully overcome barriers of existing online review sites by sharing more comprehensive, nationally comparable data on individual provider performance. But until then, consumer-generated online reviews are here to stay.


So, what can we do to leverage online reviews?

Caduceus Medical Group, a 20-physician independent practice based in Orange County, Calif., was recently profiled by The Wall Street Journal for making a 180-degree turn on its approach to online reviews.

At first, the group completely disregarded reviews on social media. However, Caduceus soon realized that patients were cancelling appointments and leaving the practice as a result of unmanaged, negative comments. Deciding to embrace, rather than dismiss, online reviews, the group took two key steps to harness these reviews for their own use.

First, they encouraged patients to post online reviews. Caduceus created a page on their website asking patients to share their experiences, which provided two main benefits:

  • A larger sample size. Though providers may have a different perception based on a few particularly negative reviews, studies have found that most patients are satisfied with their care and that online reviews are generally positive. As a result, growing the "pie" can help to balance those outliers.
  • More positive reviews. While patients who have had a negative experience are more likely to be self-motivated to post a review, reminding patients to post a review increases feedback from patients who have had positive experiences. Caduceus takes a systematic approach to solicit more positive reviews: dedicated staff members analyze patient satisfaction survey data to identify patients who have had a positive experience. They then contact these patients and encourage them to submit reviews.

Second, Caduceus uses comments to inform practice improvement. Monitoring online reviews offers practices a window into what patients want.

Every day, Caduceus staff members browse online reviews from sites like Yelp. By inviting patients who post negative reviews to contact the office, the group maintains a valuable communication channel for resolving patient complaints. In addition, the group can learn from constructive criticism and make warranted adjustments to improve the patient experience.

As a result, Caduceus is growing its patient panel, and has noted particular interest from the newly insured.

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