Medical marketing becomes a LOT easier if your patients are leaving great reviews and your practice reputation is awesome. That’s not a secret. Here are some tips and tricks on how to get more patients by managing your medical practice reputation.
As a medical practice, you have various mounting pressures – Your patients are bearing a higher percentage of out of pocket healthcare costs. Your patients are always connected and always on. The doctor reviews sites like zocdoc, rateMDs, healthgrades etc (like them or not), have turned the tables on medical practices.
Your patients are voting with their pockets and they are reading your medical reviews before they ever pick up the phone to make an appointment with you.
But you already know these things.
Sure, for getting more patients, you can use the 3rd party appointment booking websites (like ZocDoc). What that these websites like ZocDoc did was to arrange the information that google already had – better.
Before ZocDoc, you had to compete to be found on google searches performed by patients. With (more often than not) incorrect or incomplete information about you and your practice.
Before ZocDoc, more often than not, you had very few Google reviews and many of them were bad. Mostly unsolicited reviews that patients left for you – behind your back.
ZocDoc made it 100 times better. They created a professional “website” for your practice on ZocDoc, added nice pictures to your doctors, a calendar for patients to book appointments (that doesn’t really connect to your EMR), added insurances that you accept to ZocDoc, added reviews to your ZocDoc profile.
We are hired to manage the online reputation of healthcare practices.
Here are the steps we take to do so – you can follow the same as well.
Is your medical practice “found” on Google Local Search?
This is the most important step and also the very first step. Unless you are being found every time someone searches for your specialty (e.g. “eye doctor near me”), you are not really in the game yet.
Sure, you might show up on the 5th page of Google local search results, but at least you should be discoverable. If you can be “found” by google, then at least you can work on how often you are being found, how well your google search listing looks, what reputation you have.. Etc.
This is very easy to do. A couple of ways that you can do it
While you are near or in your office location(s), google your specialty e.g. “eye doctor near me” — see the results and note how many sites you are listed on.
If you are away from your office location, google your specialty around your office location e.g. “eye doctor in bronx” — again, note the results and see how many sites you are listed on (e.g ZocDoc, Vitals, Healthgrades, Yelp, RateMDs etc)..
You can google a provider directly “Dr Sheldon Rabin” — again, note the results and see how many sites you are listed on (e.g ZocDoc, Vitals, Healthgrades, Yelp, RateMDs health.usnews, webMD, doximity, md.com, sharecare.com etc)..
Note that your name might show up even though you might not have listed yourself on a medical review listing website – that happens when patients themselves add your name / your practice’s name on these websites..
There is a lot more to be said about being found by patients when they are searching for you, specifically, or for the kind of patient care they are looking for.
That’s covered in a separate article about medical practice SEO.
How good/bad is your medical practice reputation?
You need to have a baseline of where your medical reputation currently is – however good or bad. The best way to do so is to google your providers and then google your practice as well.
E.g. You can google a provider directly “Dr Sheldon Rabin”
Note the reputation you currently have (e.g.)
Google your practice as well
Or, google your practice e.g. “new york ophthalmology reviews”
Note the reviews
Google your competitor medical practices’ reputation next
You know your competitors within the 4-5 block radius. Drill into that a bit further and truly understand what you are going to have to beat.
In this particular case, you will see that your competitors will always be listed right around your listing as well.. Those are the folks that are constantly going to try to drive google search traffic away from you.
Check competition on other websites like ZocDoc, Vitals, Healthgrades
Don’t stop with Google alone.. Try out the others like ZocDoc, Vitals, Healthgrades etc
Healthgrades, for example, is going to “suggest” other doctors right next to your provider’s name..
Keep in mind that these are the folks that are possibly going to get your patient.. While you are not looking.
Decide which online medical reputation websites you care about
You need to decide which websites you are going to monitor and manage your online reputation on. Of course, the gut reaction is “all of them” – but keep in mind that unless you are using some reputation management software to do this for you, you don’t have unlimited time (nor do your staff) to manage and monitor your listings.
Narrow down on a few choices.. The top ones seem to be:
- Google local search (of course, google is the king and always will be)
- ZocDoc – they spend a lot of money on advertising
- US Healthcare news
Do NOT forget to check your listing on each one of your payers’ provider directories.
Also, do keep in mind that at a minimum, you need to show up where your immediate competitor shows up (i.e. as many websites) and you should also have at least 1 extra website where you are being listed – where your competition does not.
Claim/Own your medical practice listing on doctor reviews websites first
Whether you listed your practice on those online websites or not, you will notice that someone or the other might have listed you on those websites (patients). The first step is to “claim” those listings. After verifying your practice details, you are allowed to own your own listing on these websites.
Go ahead and do that first.
Regularly monitor these review sites for yourself and your immediate competitors
You can just set up reminders on your own calendar (or your staff’s) to monitor your online reputation at each one of these sites every 15-20 days. It’s quite simple and it really does not take you more than 15-30 mins to get it done (each time).
Just create a simple spreadsheet with your listings
Date | Website | Rating
12/12/2012 | https://health.usnews.com/doctors/neil-patel-256640 | Excellent
12/12/2012 | https://www.healthgrades.com/physician/dr-neil-patel-yk8xb| 5.0, 3 stars
… and so on
Simply bookmark your listings, visit them each time, check your ratings, add an entry to your spreadsheet.
Set up google alerts for your own medical practice
Use google alerts (a little weird, but still works) for yourself and your immediate competitors
You can easily monitor yourself or your practice name using google alerts. To do, simply go to https://www.google.com/alerts and type your name on google search. E.g. “new york ophthalmology” and add an alert
You will start getting alerts whenever that name is mentioned / discovered by google
Social Media Marketing – yes or no? Make a decision
Every medical marketing agency or consultant will tell you that you need to be on social media (e.g. twitter, facebook, instagram etc)..
They are correct – but think it through carefully. Do you have the time to manage and maintain these social media accounts? If not, do NOT start yet another channel that’s going to be just a listing/name and have no dedicated efforts put into it.
It’s better to be diligent about marketing on lesser channels with your limited time than to spread yourself thin by having to manage more listings, more social media accounts etc.
Instead of going a mile wide and an inch deep.. Go an inch wide and a mile deep.
If you are deciding to go ahead with social media accounts, then make sure you monitor your activity on it in addition to monitoring your competitors’ activities on these accounts.
Just like above, first, gauge what your competitors are doing.
Don’t do exactly the same thing – you need to and want to stand out, don’t you. Think about what else you can do to stand out.
These social media sites make it pretty easy to monitor your “social mentions” – there are free tools to do the same as well e.g.
Decide where you are going to focus on getting reviews from patients
This is the most valuable part of your marketing strategy. Reviews top them all. Google (the search master) wants to present the most relevant search results and counts google reviews. There are some great articles from folks that have dug deeper into this (e.g. here, and here) to find proof.
Of course, before Google went all-in into reviews, ZocDoc and the rest had already been doing it for a while, with a niche of medical SEO and medical reviews. Google shows its own reviews and on the side results, it also shows reviews from sites it trusts. E.g. see “new york eye and ear”
See how it is showing reviews from Facebook?
That’s the game.. There are a few sites that google trusts reviews from.. Those are the sites you need to consider in your reviews strategy.
In general, you will not be able to nor want your patients to post the same reviews on multiple sites.. It simply is not going to happen because you cannot ping the patient twice to provide the same review on multiple sites.
What you can do instead, is to figure out your patients a bit more and ask for reviews, then let them provide you a review wherever they usually provide reviews.
E.g. for some practices, Facebook users account for more than Google/gmail users. When you ask for a Google review, google asks the user to login to their google account. Some people still do not use gmail accounts and don’t have a google account… Do you want to turn them away? Same goes for ZocDoc, vitals, Healthgrades.. They ask your patients (that came through them) to provide reviews. This means that the appointment has to be made on their website (e.g. ZocDoc).
Keep your options open.
Do you want your doctors’ reviews or prefer reviews of your medical practice?
Sooner or later you are going to have to decide.. Should the patients leave a review specifically for a doctor or should it be for a practice.
We think of the medical practice (business) as the surviving entity. Doctors can (and will) come and go. If you ask patients for reviews of your doctors, the reviews will also walk out the door when the doctor leaves your practice.
It is better to get reviews of your business (medical practice) itself. Each patient does invariably end up writing something about their doctor in their reviews anyway – we believe that’s good enough.
Update practice staff and doctors that you are concentrating on getting practice reviews
There are a few things you need to take care of before you start asking your patients for reviews. Get them in order before you get started:
Tell everyone in your practice that you are starting a concentrated effort to get more reviews. This is a team effort and should NOT be handed over only to your front desk staff.
Conduct a small training session for providers and staff on how to ask for online reviews from patients
Make it simple – It should be as simple as
- Noting if the patient is happy with your provider / their appointment
- Asking them to confirm that they found everything to be OK and
- If they do thank you for the great service (staff and providers), ask them gently – “Thank you so much for saying so. If you have the time and don’t mind it, could you please leave us a review on Google or facebook? I can text you the link”.. And 4. then proceed to text them the link. Stop right there. Don’t push any more.. The patient will leave a review on their own time.
- If the patient didn’t have a good experience, they will tell you that.. At least you have the opportunity to set things right – then and there. Make sure they are happy before they leave your medical practice.
Designate someone on your staff to monitor your reviews daily
Yes, daily.. It takes 15 mins to do so if you do it on a daily basis rather than waiting for an entire week to wrap it up.
Designate the same person to respond to each and every review (good or bad) diligently. Teach them how to be very careful about not exposing any PHI information in review responses.
All responses should be generic ones.
Your staff cannot confirm that the patient did actually have an appointment at your practice or what they were seen for. They can only thank the patient for providing a review and to ask them to call the practice to resolve any issues the patient had with your practice – that’s pretty much all you can do in your responses to patients’ reviews.
Designate this person to also respond to SMS and calls from patients on that number
We’ve found that even though you sent an SMS with a review request, patients tend to use that same phone number to call and SMS your practice.. It’s human nature.. Prepare for it and deal with it.
Provide a tool for your staff to send patients reviews links. Nobody on your staff would want to share their personal cell phone number with patients, so, in all probability, will not send patients SMS from their own mobile.
Give them a tool.
There are so many free options available – most of them are not really HIPAA compliant (that’s the problem). E.g.
opentexting, Globphone, sendatext etc allow you to send SMS without having to sign up or download anything.
However, you need to choose an option that keeps your patient data HIPAA compliant.. Because information about a phone number + the specialist they went to, borders on PHI.. as any phone number can be enriched with social profiles these days and the actual human behind the phone can be discovered.
Preferably, choose a vendor that allows you to send patient review SMS and that will sign a BAA with you. Several options to consider are:
- Our free patient reviews software
Select a software that integrates with your EMR or at least start with a spreadsheet
The ideal situation is where the reviews software ties in with your EMR to pull all the patient data, be able to send out an SMS within 10-15 mins of the patient leaving your practice.. However, if you do not have that luxury, don’t despair.
At a bare minimum, start with daily spreadsheets of patients that you want to send SMS to. For this, all you really need to do is to export all patients that were seen today, from your EMR. These exports are usually in the form of spreadsheets. Just download the daily spreadsheet, find the mobile number of the patient and prepare to send the review SMS.
NO Review Gating / Two step review process !!
We get it – you want to send our patients review requests but at the same time, you also want to know how your staff and providers are doing… so you can address issues.
You need to have a process that identifies patients that were NOT happy with your practice (yes, it happens more often than you think).
However, if you do cull out patients that you believe are not going to leave good reviews, keep in mind that Google frowns upon such behavior and calls it reviews gating. There’s a pretty extensive article here – read that up.
Of course, you want to protect your reputation by gating reviews, but as the study shows, not gating reviews allows you to gather MORE reviews.. And according to Yelp, Google etc.. more reviews is better than having a few, gated, positive reviews.
The penalties are also steep – so, be careful if you are planning on practicing review gating (we strongly discourage it).
Instead, here’s what you should do to avoid future headaches.
Conduct patient satisfaction surveys first
Do have a first step that’s more like a survey wherein you ask a patient for a star rating (e.g. 1-5 stars). With that, have a little area where the patient can leave comments. This allows you to collect the true response of the patient and an explanation of their review.
The most important thing to tell patients here is that they can choose to leave this review anonymously.
If patients are allowed to leave reviews anonymously, they tend to leave more reviews.. And do tell you the truth.
This allows you to truly diagnose problems in your own practice and categorize them based on the responses thus:
- Wait times
- Staff tardiness
- Provider tardiness
- Provider bedside manner
- Since this step is anonymous, patients will leave details like “Dr Patel was not courteous” or “Summaiya was rude” or “I waited to 4 hrs” etc.. This allows you to monitor your staff and providers as well, and provide them the much needed feedback.
Ask the patient to post their review online
This allows them to have a choice of going “public” with their review. Every reviews website forces users to sign in and have a profile before they can leave a review (for the reviews to be genuine) – this allows patients to provide you feedback and remain anonymous OR provide you feedback and post the same feedback online.
Create review request templates
In general, you want to communicate with patients in the language(s) that they prefer.. But don’t make assumptions. We see this all the time and one of our practices has also made this mistake multiple times.
As you can guess, patients in Jackson Heights and Jamaica are, invariably, going to want to speak Hindi, Bengali and other south asian languages. Meanwhile, patients in Washington Heights, Bronx are going to speak more in Spanish.. While Manhattan is going to have primarily English speaking patients.
However, do not make the mistake of addressing folks in a language that you assume they are going to prefer – until the patient actually tells you so.
The same theory goes with asking for patient reviews via SMS or email as well. Don’t assume. We made this mistake once.. Where we sent out patient review SMS for patients in Bronx – we chose Spanish as the language. Many patients wrote back in English.
Before you start this process, understand that you are going to have to play around with review request templates. It’s not a set-once and be done kind of approach/strategy.
Start with 4-5 different templates of review requests and see how each one performs. Here are a few examples.
- “Thank you for visiting us today. On a scale of 0-5 (5 max), how would you rate us?”
- “Thanks from New York Ophthalmology, Jackson Hts! Kindly review our doctors on google – https://g.page/NewYorkOphthalmology-Jackson-Hts/review . It helps us. Thx”
- “Thank you for coming to New York Ophthalmology ? Our doc wanted to check in – does everything seem good?”
- “Good afternoon & thank you from New York Ophthalmology! Kindly review our doctors – good/bad? Here’s the google review link http://bit.ly/nyoph-jackson-hts “
- “Hi ? Were you happy with our docs & staff at NY Ophthalmology? Kindly let us know here – http://bit.ly/nyoph-jackson-hts or reply back. Thanks so much! ~ Ron”
Keep in mind that your reviews templates for email can be much longer than those short text messages.
Also, keep in mind that to shorten your URLs, you can use services like bit.ly — this also allows you to track how many people actually clicked on your bit.ly reviews link and then left a review (or didn’t).
Create those same templates in languages that your patients speak e.g.
“Gracias de New York Oftalmologia… revise amablemente nuestro medicos en Google – https://g.page/NewYorkOphthalmology-Bronx/review . eso nos ayuda gracias :-)”
Keep track of the outcomes
You are going to have situations where patients leave reviews for your provider, staff or the practice in general. Make sure you categorize reviews responses and assign it to the appropriate staff within your practice to address the same.
The same goes for online reviews as well – keep track of those.
The only thing that’s truly difficult to do is to match patients with their online “names”. We have seen cases where a review request patient’s name does not match their online names at all.
You are going to have to learn to deal with it and live with it.
Send automated surveys and review requests to patients when they leave your practice
While you can start with a manual, spreadsheet based process – this only works with really small practices that see 15 patients or less per day.. Do the math.. Even at 15 patients per day, you are tracking and managing 300 patients a month, 3,600 patients a year.
It does get cumbersome.
Plus, sending SMS or emails with surveys or reviews requests being done once a day does end up becoming a chore.
Try to pick a software vendor that integrates with your EMR.. then make sure that you set it up so that surveys and follow up review requests are sent within 10-15 mins after the patient has CHECKED OUT (left your practice).
Features to look for in a patient reviews software
As patient reviews are CRUCIAL for patient experience management and for practices with higher patient volumes, we always recommend using a patient reviews software.
Having the best patient experience ultimately leads to getting more satisfied patients. Having more satisfied patients and keeping the patient engaged with your medical practice leads to more patient appointments. It also leads to getting more patient referrals. All these lend a huge helping hand towards patient acquisition.
Our patient contact center team lives this truth on a daily basis. They have seen tremendous results for our healthcare provider group customers following this mantra itself.
There are scores of reputation management software companies that you can buy patient reviews software from. They typically charge you on a per provider per month basis. If you do not want to buy those, you also have the option to use our free patient reviews software as well.
Here are a few things you should look for in a patient reviews / reputation management software
This is a MUST have. If you are choosing a vendor, make sure that they are providing you with HIPAA secure software. If they are, they would be willing to sign a BAA (business associate agreement). There are MANY off-the-shelf reviews software in the market however MOST of them are NOT HIPAA compliant. Narrow down your list to using ONLY HIPAA compliant ones.
Do note that most HIPAA compliant software are generally more expensive. Why? Because they themselves need to pay more for servers, security tests, security processes etc.
If you were going to use that software as non SaaS version (software as a service), you can choose to leverage the cloud (e.g. AWS cloud, Google cloud, Microsoft Azure cloud etc). If you do so, you are going to need HIPAA compliant servers as well. Most of these cloud providers do provide services (and servers) that are HIPAA eligible and they will also sign a BAA agreement.
However, keep in mind that HIPAA is a bit of a tricky thing. While these vendors do provide you with the infrastructure that is HIPAA eligible (not compliant), they do follow a “shared responsibility” model. This means that they guarantee that their servers and services are going to be HIPAA compliant, but how you use them, who you expose these servers to, patching these servers with latest security patches, keeping these servers up to date on security etc etc.. are all YOUR responsibility.
Understand the above very carefully because that can make or break your decision.
These vendors actually take care of some of the headaches mentioned above. In the end, it is generally worth the money spent.
The final way to be HIPAA compliant without depending on 3rd parties is to have this software run on servers that are inside your own offices.. in other words, there is no outside world access to them. However, understand this well.. there’s no such thing as “no access” to the servers.. one way or another, your servers need to communicate with the outside world (patients) need to stay up to date on security etc.. so, you are NOT really saving a whole lot of headaches this way.
Instead, you are adding a few more headaches to your technology overload.
You are going to need authentication of your users.
At a minimum, we recommend having a super administrator that has access to everything that other users do. We usually recommend that the super administrator be an IT savvy person.
We have found this to be important because more often than not, healthcare staff are not technically savvy users. This leads to healthcare staff asking their company IT admin to help them with the software. Of course, since passwords cannot be shared, it becomes hard for the IT admin to help healthcare staff with their issues.
The superadmin should be able to do anything that anybody else in the practice can do. We have found this to be a MUST HAVE feature.
This is one thing we have seen varying from practice to practice and quite understandably so.
For smaller healthcare practices, we have noticed that staff and managers share responsibilities hence each person seems to have the same authority as the others.
In most cases, there isn’t a dedicated marketing department per se. While we wholeheartedly recommend having a dedicated medical marketing team, not every practice can afford to have one.
In general, it is better to have separate roles that can be assigned to each user. The ones that are important are:
- Superadmin – needs to be able to do everything that the rest of the users can.
- Marketer – needs to create templates, review SMS sent, any SMS received, upload patient files if needed etc
- Staff – needs to be able to monitor responses and take actions accordingly. Typically, this means forwarding negative and positive responses to appropriate team members in the practice (clinical and non-clinical).
Patient reviews templates
You are going to need to experiment with the SMS or email reviews messages that are sent out. While there are several tried and tested patient reviews templates that you can get started with, you would still want to figure out what works best for your own practice.
For this, we recommend that you have the ability to create various patient reviews templates and experiment with those templates. You might notice that a certain age group of patients or patients from certain locations might respond better to one patient review request template over the other.
It’s very simple to think through this really. All you need is the ability to create various versions of patient reviews SMS or emails and be able to have one (or more) active at any point in time.
We recommend that you start with the basics. At any point in time, have only one review template active. As you get a better handle on all this, you might move towards running A/B tests. However, in the beginning, start with the basics.
Bi-directional SMS and email capabilities
There are several studies that show the comparisons of sending reviews requests via email vs sending patient reviews requests via SMS.
In our experience, SMS has turned out to be a better option for requesting patient reviews.
You should have the ability to send patient reviews requests via email, SMS or both.
For SMS, there are several leading vendors that can provide you with SMS API functionality. The ones of note (and that we are used to working with) are Twilio.com, plivo.com, bandwidth.com, AWS etc. These vendors have very well documented APIs to use for integrating with your software. Your reviews software vendor may or may not give you a choice to pick one over the other.
SMS and email deliverability lookup tools
Thus far, the biggest challenge that SMS faces is that before sending an SMS, you don’t typically know whether the number is a mobile or a landline. If you check with the SMS vendor you are using, you will find that they provide some APIs to ease this pain. These APIs let you know (in bulk) how many of the phone numbers are valid mobiles vs not. Twilio, for example, provides this here.
The other issue (while it technically is NOT an issue) is that patients tend to respond back to the patient reviews SMS via a response.
We found that while we asked for patient reviews with a link, patients would respond back with an SMS regarding what they thought of the provider/practice. This information is great for internal use, but does nothing towards getting google or facebook reviews (public facing).
Emails have the challenge of NOT landing in the patient’s email inbox (spam). That has been a perpetual problem. However, there are some nice solutions for this issue as well.
Each email service provider or the email vendor that you use has some “spam score” tool as well. It is very easy to use these free spam score tools to verify the spam score of the patient review request emails you are about to send out. Once you are satisfied that your intended reviews template has a low spam score, you can send these review requests out.
One quick and dirty way to stay out of patients’ SPAM folders is to send reviews requests only as plain text emails. In addition to this, you also need to make sure of not sending the reviews link as a naked URL in the body of the message.
If your email vendor doesn’t have a spam checker tool, you can always use free tools like https://www.mail-tester.com/.
Ability to add Google and Facebook reviews sites/URLs (minimum)
We believe in Google and facebook reviews. Why? Because in our experience, most patients are signed in to either their google / gmail accounts.. or, if not, they are signed into facebook.
From our point of view, your patient reviews software should allow you to post on google reviews and on facebook as well. These are two that are “must have” reviews sites.
You can, of course, choose to have other websites as well. Doing this requires you to get appropriate reviews URL for each vendor (google or facebook).
Fortunately, Facebook is a bit easier and has only one review URL per practice (i.e. one reviews URL for the whole business / medical practice.
Google, on the other hand, has a reviews URL per location.So, each location’s reviews URL needs to be prepared beforehand and you should use this reviews URL to solicit patient feedback on.
Ability to function without EMR connectivity – with just patients and appointments data upload via CSV
This is something you are going to need to do – trust us on this.
EMR integrations come in various forms – APIs, DirectTrust, HL7 etc. You are not going to have EMR integration capabilities on day 1. You are going to show business value even before EMR connectivity is fully achieved.
For this, we recommend that you go into this with the mindset that you won’t have EMR connection on the first day.
The easiest way we have found is to add patients one by one and also to allow uploading patients regularly with some appointment details if needed.
Fundamentally, all you really need to send reviews SMS like this “Dear <patient first name>, How did our doctors and staff at <practice name> do today? Please leave us a review when you get a chance to https://yourreviewurl.com” are
- patient first name
- patient phone number OR
- patient email address
That’s it.. So, this really is not a big deal. If you truly are in a bind, you could even go with a more (not as effective) plain review template like this
“How did our doctors and staff at <your practice name> do today? Please leave us a review when you get a chance to https://yourreviewurl.com”
For this, all you need are phone numbers OR email addresses. That’s it.
If you have a set process wherein you upload a CSV every day with contact details to send SMS/email to.. you are at least ready to get started.
Full EMR connectivity
Your vendor should support EMR connectivity (most vendors do) and it should not be a long IT project. Next step is for you to add EMR connectivity. This really does help a lot in many ways.
First – it allows you to forget about having to upload CSV every day. No matter how diligent you are, you are going to miss uploading CSV and sending patients SMS on a regular basis.
Next – it allows you to reach patients within moments of their checking out of their appointments. This truly does help a lot and we noticed an increased number of patient reviews once this was done. Sure, without EMR connectivity you could potentially download patient CSV every hour or 30 mins and send SMS.. but that’s a tedious process and you are likely to forget doing so often.
Finally – having EMR connectivity allows you to really customize and personalize your patient outreach. This truly does make a difference.
Your software vendor can connect with EMRs via APIs or via HL7.
APIs allow you to pull data from the EMR on a regular basis. But, please be aware that most EMRs’ APIs are not very advanced and don’t allow you the flexibility you might desire or the extended features you might require. While using EMR APIs, you are going to constantly call these APIs and pull information on a schedule.. there are always chances of errors and issues that might prop up. We have faced quite a few of these headaches.
HL7 integration allows you to not have to “poll” for data all the time. Each time an ADT (admission, discharge, transfer) message is passed from your EMR to the secure directory via a flat file HL7 message, your website/code could pick up this message and process it. This is not rocket science, however do note that this is not free either. EMRs tend to charge for this. Plus, you are liable to set up the VPN connectivity (or your vendor would ask for your authorization to do so), the file transfer server(s), the polling process wherein your code scans the file upload directory for new files, picks up new files, processes them and has some way to handle errors in processing (plus reprocess if required).
There are issues in either choices – just be aware of them and you will be good to go.
Is SMS history important? Does your software vendor support this?
The first time we created a patient reviews platform, we didn’t think much of this. Over time, we learnt a few lessons:
- SMS delivery fails
- Patients respond back to SMS instead of going to google or facebook and leaving reviews. These patients then need to be thanked and requested to leave the same review on Google or Facebook etc.
- Patients tend to initiate new conversations via the same SMS number – assuming that this SMS inbox is monitored all the time. We have seen everything from appointment scheduling requests to pharmacy related questions.
- You need to know how many times a patient has been asked for a review. Sometimes it is best to just call the patient and ask them whether they are happy with your practice or not (if they do not respond to review requests)
If you or your software vendor have chosen an established SMS vendor, you are all set on this one. These vendors (e.g. twilio.com or bandwidth.com etc) allow you to browse the entire SMS history for each SMS number. Your software can call those APIs and get the entire history of communications from an SMS “sent from” number to the SMS “sent to” (patient) number. Hopefully your software vendor allows you direct access to your own number (where the SMS will go from). If they do allow this access, then you should have control over and access to your SMS history as well. Plus, many patient reviews software vendors do allow you to see the SMS history as well.
Ability to resend SMS and emails for patient reviews
This is going to become important once you actually start sending SMS daily. Since our patient contact center team partners with our practice marketing team, this becomes very important for us (and our clients).
Many times, front desk staff fail to collect a patient’s mobile number and instead, get us the home phone or work phone number only. We find out about this when we send SMS with a review request to the patient. This message ends up being UNDELIVERABLE.
This prompts our practice marketing team to collaborate with our patient call center team to call these patients and get their mobile numbers (there are several other benefits to mobile numbers than just getting patient reviews).
Once we get the patients’ updated mobile numbers, the review request is sent out again. In fact, what the patient contact center team ends up doing is that while they have the patient on the phone, they send a review request to the patient’s cell number.
Your software is going to need the ability for someone in your practice to be able to resend emails or SMS to people on demand. This truly does help contribute towards getting more patient reviews.
Survey capabilities to your patient reviews software
You are invariably going to need patient satisfaction survey functionality in your software. From time to time, you want to understand how the patients feel about your practice, staff or providers. You might also run some HRA (health risk assessment) campaigns to understand your patients at risk.
Be prepared for this. There are two ways to do it:
- Automated (no human involved) Interactive two way SMS
- Send an SMS with a web page link wherein the patient takes the survey
Option #1 is a bit hard and doesn’t really provide the ROI you’d expect. Some software vendors provide it and some do not. Your mileage may vary.
Option #2 is a lot easier to do and starts providing value immediately. We treat this just as a patient review request and create a separate template for it. This template has a web page link and a simple message that we personalize for the patient. In the web page / website, we monitor which patients have already responded to our survey, then update the reviews software with this information.
Don’t waste money on AI or bots for this. In our experience, it doesn’t provide the value you think it does.
Other patient reviews sites to consider
We always go for the big ones – Google and Facebook. That’s primarily based on the fact that most folks are on Facebook. In addition, most folks do have gmail accounts and are signed in to the gmail or facebook accounts on their mobile.
There are other niche reviews sites that do the same as well – however, one needs to create an account on these sites, verify themselves etc before they can leave reviews.
Here are the top ones. Hopefully your software vendor allows you to add as many reviews sites as you desire.
Ability to have multiple SMS “send from” numbers (one phone number per location)
We have had to handle this before where practice groups wanted to send patient review requests from a distinct phone number per location. The main reason behind this request was that we always configure the send from SMS number to route to the practice’s phone number when the patient calls that phone number itself (this does happen in many cases).
While we do not advocate having separate phone numbers for each location, many practice groups choose to continue with a phone number per location and want to route such patient calls to those locations. In this case, we end up sending patient review requests from different phone numbers.
This is VERY easy to do if you are using any of the large vendors – you can buy phone numbers dirt cheap anyway. Buy as many as you need and use those phone numbers via APIs that the SMS vendors provide you.
Your software vendor should support this out of the box for you.
Ability to add one patient reviews template per location
This goes hand in hand with the separate phone number discussion above. We have encountered situations wherein practice groups’ locations were each better known with a different name.. so that patients could identify with them.
e.g Urban health – El Nuevo San Juan, Urban health – Kips Bay etc..
This leads to the reviews template being specific to each location itself.. and therefore you need to have multiple reviews templates for the same.
We don’t have definite data on whether this really affects the propensity of patients leaving reviews one way or another, be prepared for this should your practice need it.
Ability to add and measure A/B testing with your patient reviews templates
Many software vendors do provide this functionality at an added cost. This, arguably, would come later down the line when you are trying to maximize the number of reviews your patients leave. We have found that when a practice first implements a patient reviews software they are thrilled at getting new patient reviews.
Soon, the euphoria dies down and it becomes the norm. At this point, you want to know which reviews templates are getting you the maximum responses and which one you should continue with vs which ones you should demote/remove.
The concept of A/B testing is nothing new in the world of marketing (or medical marketing). You could very easily have multiple reviews templates set up for each location or for the entire practice.. and each time you send out patient review requests – your program could distribute the review requests evenly between the various templates that are being tested.
What’s more important here is to constantly monitor which SMS/email actually leads to responses.. i.e. a goal completion. Ultimately, you can never really figure out for sure whether a patient that you sent SMS to actually did respond with a Google / Facebook review or not (trust us on this – patient names are not the same in your EMR as they are online). Your best bet is to monitor which patient leaves your practice a review.. and hope for the best that this patient also leaves the same review online as well.
Don’t promote / demote a version unless you have run the experiment for a substantial period of time. Don’t have knee jerk reactions of panic when reviews go down in numbers. Remove emotions from this process and find the winning templates!
Ability to capture reviews first and then direct patients to online review sites
There are a couple of ways to think through this process. Your software vendor should allow you the flexibility to choose whatever route suits your business purposes.
- You can send an SMS to the patient and give them the link to your google/facebook reviews page right there OR
- You can send an SMS to the patient, ask them to respond back with their review. If they respond to you review request SMS, immediately send them to the review page OR
- You can send them an SMS with your internal review page. If the patient actually leaves you a review on your internal web page, then allow them to copy/paste that review on one of your reviews sites.
We have tried all versions and have not yet concluded which one works the best. Our initial test results show that when a patient is sent an SMS with the review website in the SMS itself, they tend to respond more. HOWEVER, we found that patients did not actually write a text in that review.. they merely left a star rating.
What is review gating and what you should know about it?
Be careful of one thing for sure – review gating. Google (and other websites) will punish you severely for this. Do NOT attempt it. As an example, if you decide to get internal reviews first, and you find out that the reviews were not good – you still should send the google reviews request (without gating that review).
Patients should be able to leave both positive and negative reviews for you – both internally and on Google /Facebook
Hopefully this gives you enough insights into how to get more patient reviews for your practice. You should have enough information to be able to choose the right software patient reviews software as well. Feel free to contact us to use our patient reviews software.