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Medical Practices Must Be Careful in Marketing Themselves Online


They say there's nothing more important than one's own reputation. That's not only true of individuals — it's true of businesses, too. And now that healthcare is becoming more consumer-driven, more providers need to start thinking about their reputations as a business would.

You need to be able to manage your online reputation.

With social media and the proliferation of sites like HealthGrades, RateMDs and Vitals (on which patients can share their experiences and rate, a la Yelp, the quality of care that they received) managing your reputation online can be a full-time job. And it's going to be especially important for your organization or practice to become adept at doing so as Millennial consumers flex their purchasing power.

"Younger consumers who have grown up on Yelp and RateMyProfessors expect the same seamless, digital experience with health care that they have used in other aspects of their lives," wrote Washington Post health reporter Lena Sun.

Patients are increasingly demanding real transparency from their medical care providers — in pricing, in morbidity and mortality rates, in insurance coverage — and that very transparency can work against your efforts to get your message out.

Yet we cannot call patients "consumers" and expect them to make rational consumer decisions if we as an industry are unwilling to provide the information they need to make rational decisions. We may not like subjective, crowd-sourced rating systems, but we have as yet failed to provide our constituent patients with a better alternative.

But marketing a medical practice, care organization, or hospital is tricky.

The problem is that healthcare organizations and providers don't really share a common language with the consumers they serve.

"Putting hospitals and doctors into the online rating world is fraught with possible problems. For one, patients and doctors have widely differing expectations," Sun noted.

A doctor or nurse, for example, might base a self-estimation of the quality of care he or she provides on whether or not the patient survived a procedure, appeared to heal well, on whether or not the patient regained function, or whether or not the patient returned to the same facility for additional care. To the clinician, the quantifiable, non-biased data is what is ultimately pertinent.

We need to be able to reliably identify, quantify and engage with our consumers' emotions.

A patient or a patient's loved one is going to base an evaluation of a care provider not just on the progression of a disease condition and treatment course, but also on the way his or her emotional and spiritual needs were met. In our market research at P&G Healthcare, patients assumed a physician’s technical expertise by virtue of their license (until proven otherwise); however, a patient’s perception of quality was driven more by a physician’s bedside manner and communication skills. Whereas, out of a sense of professional respect, a specialist or outside provider is not likely to advertise your providers' personality shortcomings, a patient or family member who feels slighted in some way will advertise his or her negative impressions — loudly and widely.

And often those hurt feelings have nothing to do with the provider or organization itself. They can come from frustration over wait times, an ill-timed expression of frustration on a harried support staffer's face, a misunderstood tone of voice. It could come from difficulties in finding a parking space, a patient's pre-existing bad mood, or just a patient's contrarian desire to "troll" his or her care provider.

So again, we come back to managing reputation. And it's hard to manage that reputation if the only methods you have for gathering metrics depend upon a healthcare consumer volunteering his or her opinion of the experience. The majority of responses received will be from those who have strong opinions — positive or negative.

To that end, we need as an industry to do a better job of census taking. We cannot just send out surveys to our patients and report out the results when and if we receive them back. Prospective market research is a resource-intensive process, which is why c2b solutions offers healthcare providers in-depth healthcare consumer insights at a fraction of the cost.  But beyond market research insights, we need to approach reputation management from a proactive standpoint.

For more information on engaging Millennial patients, please download our whitepaper or contact us to discuss c2b solutions’ capabilities.

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