Nowadays consumers can review almost anything on the internet: books, smartphones, hotels, restaurants. Recent studies show that 90% of online shoppers read reviews online and that over 80% of internet users say they are influenced by these reviews.

So it’s inevitable that patients will bring this mindset to your health service. Managing online reputation has therefore become a critical part of health marketing.

A recent study from the Journal of Medical Internet Research sought to establish how patients absorb information contained in reviews – and their findings provide valuable information on what part patient reviews play in the decision making process.

When there is a small number of reviews, fact-orientated judgements have the most impact

The researchers compared the impact of “fact-orientated” reviews in which patients recounted the details of the experience, to “emotional” reviews in which patients described their feelings.

They discovered that where there is a small-number of reviews, fact-orientated judgements carry more influence than emotional judgements.

They also found that a small quantity of emotional judgements may have a negative impact, even if the judgements themselves are not negative.

When there is a large numbers of reviews, emotional judgements have an impact

Emotional reviews can have an impact, but only when there are a large numbers.

It appears that when there is a small number of emotional comments, their credibility is questioned.

However, when there is a large number of reviews, the credibility issue is resolved. In this situation, emotional judgements have a very big impact, as emotional judgements travel more quickly within peer-to-peer networks than rational ones.

Quantity is critical

A larger number of reviews is in all cases a very critical factor for credibility. For example, if there is a negative comment, it is the quantity of positive comments which will do most to neutralise its impact.

Patients are adept at judging the quality of information

The amount of information online is immeasurable and continues to grow at an exponential rate.

Users are aware of the possibility that reviews have been “made up” and seek reassurance about the quality of the information they are reading.

One mechanism which boosts credibility is “rating of ratings”, in which patients judge the value of other users’ reviews.

Replies to reviews are also important in establishing credibility. When a member of your staff or another patient adds a reply to a review, it contextualises the comment.

A factual response to any inaccurate reviews also puts a halt to the dissemination of false information.

Action Points

Where reviews are available, it will be beneficial for health centers to have large quantities. Where there are large numbers of reviews, a mix of factual and emotional reviews will have the most impact.

  • You might places notices in your waiting room encouraging patients to review your services online.
  • If you use a patient CRM, you might include an invitation to review your services in a post appointment email or SMS. This review can then be automatically posted to your website.

Where you have a small number of emotional reviews, this may have a negative impact on your image, even if the emotional reviews themselves are not negative.

  • To counter this situation, add fact orientated replies to each review to create a balanced environment.

Conclusion

For the patient, sites ranking doctors and hospitals have become an important source of information to evaluate the quality of health care and guide choice. The ability for patients to write views on their experience of your service is a new communication circuit .

This new circuit, like all innovations, can be a threat or an opportunity. It becomes an opportunity if you are willing to question yourself and incorporate the feedback process.