The value of online reviews for medical professionals

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When considering the value of online patient-doctor reviews, medical professionals have traditionally been sceptical. Concerns over negative feedback and subsequent loss of credibility hit hard when your professional reputation is at stake. However, in today’s digital world where patient testimonials are increasingly viewed as a valuable source of information, the real risk could lie in resistance.

Online reviews for the health sector are growing in popularity

Over the past few years, healthcare review sites such as RateMDs, Yelp and Google have increased in popularity. Why? Because people like to share their experiences – good and bad.

According to a 2014 study by US-based company Software Advice, the number of patients using online reviews jumped 68% from 2013 to 2014 – with 24% of patients purporting to use them ‘sometimes’ or ‘often’. Of this group, 44% said they would consider going to an out-of-area doctor if the reviews were better than those who practiced nearby.

Although these are US statistics, Australia is never far behind. Because of this, it is important that medical professionals recognise this shift and respond to it in the most appropriate way.

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Negative reviews are less powerful than you might think

Negative reviews happen, deserved or not. However, they happen less frequently than is often assumed. Feedback from the same study found that the majority of people tend to give positive or neutral reviews, with the intention of helping other patients rather than wanting to discredit a medical professional or service.

In addition, one or two bad ratings do not necessarily lead to a loss of potential patients. In fact, the reality is that most people actively look for positive reviews, rather than searching for negative ones. When they do come across a poor rating, it is also common for it to be dismissed as ‘unreasonable’, if all the other reviews are more affirmative.

Online patient-doctor testimonials are legal advertising  

Whether medical professionals embrace it or not, online reviews are here to stay. Patients are increasingly adopting a consumer mentality and those that recognise this shift are likely to fare better. Ultimately, there is always going to be some risk involved, but there are also some real benefits.

Firstly, independent online reviews sites can be great for exposure and recognition. Such ratings can promote a doctor’s expertise and quality of care, whilst side-stepping their legal obligations. Under the Medical Board of Australia guidelines, advertising of a regulated health service is not permitted. However, patient information sharing websites that invite public feedback and reviews about their experience of a health practitioner are not included in this.

So, provided the testimonials offered on these sites are not transferred to an individual health provider’s promotional media, there is no legal issue in encouraging them. In fact, encouraging them may in fact be the right way to go. Logically, the more reviews that are submitted, the better the chances of a fairer representation of service.

The modern way to promote best practice

Perhaps most importantly, online reviews can act as a catalyst to encouraging better service. By opening the medical profession up to public scrutiny and transparency, it promotes greater care in working practices – something that should always be at the top of the agenda.

Although there is always the chance that someone will give a negative review or poor rating, most people will document the truth. If your service is something you are proud of and strive to constantly improve, then online reviews offer real value, provided they are carefully monitored and managed.

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