Most of us probably never think about hospitals as businesses with marketing teams and “customers.” They’re just there when we need them, which hopefully isn’t often.
But hospitals and clinics are big businesses, and getting patients in the door is a major priority.
And to make it work, your hospital needs to be as welcoming and trustworthy as possible.
In other words, you need a strong reputation.
In this post, we’re going to find out what reputation management means for hospitals and doctors, and the positive steps you can take to improve yours.
Let’s do this!
Why is your hospital’s reputation important?
A good reputation is a must for any business including hospitals and doctors’ practices. In fact, the health industry presents a few key characteristics that make your reputation especially important.
People are anxious
Face it, doctors scare people. Nobody’s dancing with joy about their upcoming trip to the hospital.
While you can’t change the way people feel completely, a healthy reputation can inspire confidence and calm. When people see that you’re professional and have a clean track record (with no scary complaints), it makes a big difference.
Your patients’ health is personal
Perhaps more than any other service, hospitals deal with people in private, vulnerable states. They need to know that they can trust you, and that you’ll take care of them.
Conversely, if a prospective patient feels that they can’t put their confidence in you, they’ll simply steer clear.
Patients rely on reviews
According to one study by Software Advice, 82% of the people it polled check review sites before choosing a healthcare professional. That’s a higher number than Americans who think the Earth revolves around the sun.
Sites like RateMDs and Healthgrades have made it easy to rate and review doctors. Prospective patients can then easily compare options, and find the doctor with the best reputation. That same study (above) found that nearly half of patients would choose a doctor outside their insurance network, based on reviews.
If so many people choose to rely on ratings to choose their doctor, you need to be sure that your ratings are fair.
Health is getting expensive
This may not be the case everywhere, but medical bills are a hot topic in the United States. We don’t need to get into the political jostling behind it, but just know this: people worry about healthcare costs – a lot.
What does this mean for you? I’m not suggesting you drop your prices, or even mention your prices online. Instead, be aware that people are shelling out significant money for your services. And they will have no issue looking elsewhere if they feel that this money isn’t well spent.
You get it – you need to protect your reputation. That’s where reputation management comes into play.
What is reputation management?
We’ve talked about managing your reputation before here and here, so we’ll keep this brief. Your reputation is basically what people say and think about you. And managing that reputation requires effort on your part.
Reputation management involves two steps:
- Knowing what people say about you online
- Responding to comments and building a better image
In this post, we’ll look at both those elements as they relate to hospitals. But first, just a few words about what each actually means.
Knowing what’s said about you
This can simultaneously be very simple and quite difficult. On the one hand, people’s comments are open to everyone online. It’s never been easier to find out what your customers or patients think about you.
On the other hand, these comments are scattered everywhere. It can be hard to closely monitor what people say about your hospital when they have so many outlets. They’re probably not going to calmly deliver their feedback at your reception. So where are they going to give it?
Most likely, social media. People say whatever’s on their mind. And on top of that, you have news, blogs, forums, and countless other sites.
Health review sites have also emerged relatively recently. WebMD and even Yelp may be the bane of your existence, but they actually give you the opportunity to learn more about patients and what they think of your service.
Clearly, it’s a challenge to track them. But we’ll address that shortly.
First, what can you do once you’ve identified these kinds of messages online.
Actively improve your reputation online
Once you’ve figured out what people say about you, you may want to do something about it. A shaky online reputation is a ticking time bomb, and even a strong can be improved.
There are positive steps you can take to actually improve your reputation. We’re going to look at a ton of strategies for this below.
The key thing to know is that you do have to be hands-on, and it can make a big difference.
How to protect and improve your hospital’s reputation
Enough of the what and the why, let’s get into the how. As we saw above, you first need to understand what people are saying about you, and then respond to try to improve these comments and build a stronger reputation.
We’ve broken this down into three mean sources of information:
- Health review sites
- Social media
- The news
The same rule applies for each: first you listen, then you respond. Let’s take a look at each in turn.
Monitor review sites
What a time to be alive.
Every day, we give reviews and ratings for food, Uber/Lyft drivers, the technology we use, and even airport bathrooms:
Reviews are an entrenched part of our culture, for good or for bad.
72% of patients who use health review sites do so to help them choose a physician, according to Software Advice. So these reviews are likely the first time they’ve heard of you. Your rating online directly impacts foot traffic to your practice, so you’ll want to take them seriously.
How to respond to negative reviews
You can respond to reviews – good or bad. In fact, a majority of health review site users expect a response to their bad reviews. Provided your response is polite, balanced, and you show that you’re listening, you may be able to undo some of the damage done.
And you’re not only talking to that one patient. Remember, people look for new doctors on these sites. Others will see that you handle complaints professionally, which reflects well on your practice.
But you need to keep it compliant! You have a few basic obligations when responding to reviews online:
“You cannot speak directly about a specific aspect of their treatment or care, or otherwise present any personal patient information (diagnosis, complications, expected outcomes, etc). Importantly, even if the reviewer presents this information themselves, do not repeat it or expand upon it.”
So in short: you should respond to negative comments, but you need to do so wisely.
How to generate positive reviews
Another strategy is to build up a mountain of positive reviews to offset any negative ones. If your profile is littered with satisfied patients, those one or two unhappy ones will seem like the exception.
This is where your current loyal patients can really come in handy.
ReviewTrackers suggests five steps to encourage patients to leave reviews:
- Optimize your online profiles. Make sure that the information about you on review sites is accurate, with up-to-date images. If it’s not, request changes.
- Use offline tactics. Put brochures and other reminders in your waiting room about your good reviews. Keep your reviews front-of-mind for patients as they leave your care.
- Provide personal, standout service. The best way to get good reviews is to offer good service. Simple as that.
- Respond to reviews. Engagements lead to more conversations, and that’s the goal. Resolve issues, show gratitude, and make sure that patients know that you appreciate their thoughts.
- Follow-up on reviews. This is especially valuable for negative reviews, but it can also generate more positive ones. It’s not enough to simply reply to a complaint. Call or email patients following their review and make sure that their issues are taken care of.
You may hate them, but these review sites are here to stay. It’s up to you to actively monitor them and improve your hospital’s ratings.
Track social media
Your patients don’t just vent their frustrations on review sites. Social media has meant that anyone can share their opinions at any time, including feelings about their recent hospital visit or check-up.
This can be a particularly big deal for hospitals. As we discussed before, these places are easy to dislike. And people aren’t afraid to share their views:
Because social media has become such a prominent part of people’s lives, it’s important to understand what’s said about you on the platforms. Not only can you protect your good reputation, but you get the chance to interact with patients and build loyalty.
Two factors can impact your clinic’s reputation on social media:
- What you say on social media
- What others say about you on social
Let’s take a quick look at each.
What you say on social media
We can cover this quickly: you can’t afford to jeopardize your reputation on social media. Your comments are there for the world to see. If they’re offensive, insensitive, or needlessly controversial, this can hurt.
For most people, social media is relatively lawless. My views don’t reflect the views of this organization, and so on. But for doctors, you are your organization. Patients are looking for professional care from someone they can trust. Make sure your social profiles reflect this.
What others say on social media
Your patients use social media every day. And as we saw above, many of them use it to take out their frustrations. That means you need to keep an eye on these messages to make sure that damaging misinformation isn’t being spread.
You can easily track social comments with a good social media monitoring tool. These alert you whenever your name, the hospital’s name, or any other keyword you choose is used.
Specifically, look for:
- Quick reactions and complaints from patients and customers
- Negative misinformation and half-truths that could spread
For the former, it pays to respond quickly and directly, just as you would on a review site (above). And if you want to avoid a serious social media crisis, you need to ensure that misinformation isn’t spread on social channels unchecked.
The most important thing in all this is to use a tool that makes tracking social media easy. You don’t have the time or energy to trawl Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the rest manually. Instead, let the robots do the work for you.
Watch the news
Every corporate communications and marketing person needs to care about the news regarding their business. It’s no different for doctors and hospitals.
The news may include:
- Serious negative stories about your hospital. This is obviously worth monitoring, as it can lead to a full-blown brand crisis. Needless to say, this is not good for your reputation.
- Positive stories about your hospital. News isn’t always bad. And a happy news piece is the perfect thing to share on your own social media accounts.
- Unpleasant stories about hospitals and the health industry. It’s important to understand what journalists say about hospitals generally. If it’s not good, you can seek to prove that your hospital is better than others with PR and social media updates.
- Trends and changes in your industry. Especially interesting may be the constant changes (read: cuts) to funding:
Another positive to note: if you’re tracking social media, you’ll also be keeping a pretty close eye on the news. Two-thirds of Americans get at least some of their news from social media, and every major news channel or publication uses social extensively.
There are plenty more digital sources that it pays to keep an eye on. Blogs and forums get a lot of traffic, and can easily be a place for misinformation to breed.
But if you carefully track review sites, social media, and the news, you can feel pretty sure that your reputation remains intact.
So what’s next?
We’ve looked at why a doctor or hospital needs to care about their reputation. What patients say about you not only makes you feel better or worse about your service, it can prevent new feet from walking through the door.
To take full control of your reputation, get yourself a good social listening and media monitoring tool. This makes sure you see messages immediately, wherever they appear online.
Naturally, we recommend Mention: