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Make online reviews work for your practice

Dr Neil Bacon explains how online patient reviews can be used positively by GPs and practices.

Dr Neil Bacon: 'Many clinicians realise online reviews have a range of benefits'
Dr Neil Bacon: 'Many clinicians realise online reviews have a range of benefits'

A friend of mine, a surgical SpR, was breaking bad news to an 80-year-old patient and his elderly wife. A few months earlier the patient had undergone a Whipple’s procedure. Despite this, the operation had sadly failed to remove the pancreatic cancer. My friend had to tell the patient and his wife that he had only a few months to live. Breaking such awful news made for an emotional and difficult consultation.

But what happened next was anything but usual. The patient’s wife leant over and, putting her hand on the surgeon’s arm said, ‘thank you for telling us this awful news in such a kind and considerate way, but we knew you’d be excellent as we’d looked you up on the internet and saw what your patients said about you. We knew we were in the very best hands’.

Patients research doctors online

It is now common practice for patients to Google their doctor, whether they are registering with a new GP, being referred to secondary care, or seeing who will be caring for their relatives. At the same time, more and more patients and their families are writing internet reviews of their care experience.

You’ve probably already seen this with patients writing about your practice on Facebook, Twitter or other sites. If you haven’t seen it, it probably means you haven’t looked hard enough.

Far from being a bad thing, many clinicians have realised that online reviews of their care provide a range of powerful benefits for patients and themselves: as part of personal development and building trust and confidence amongst those they care for.

From the point of view of the practice, what people write about you online will affect the number of patients you have in the future: within five years the majority of people moving to a new area or looking to register at a new practice will turn to the web for help in making their decision. And what they want to read are the opinions and experiences of others like them.

Making the most of online reviews

However, how can you ensure that you and your practice realise these benefits? How can you prevent abuse or fraudulent reviews, and how can you know what is being said about your professional reputation on the internet? The following five tips can help you manage your professional reputation online.

1. Actively manage your online reputation
Many sites will already have a personal profile page for you - all you need to do is activate it and personalise it. Upload your picture, add a brief biography and professional description and ensure the site has systems in place to prevent abuse or inappropriate comments. Encourage patients to leave feedback about your care. The most effective way is to give them a small card with the address of your personal profile page. Patients typically like being asked for their opinion and are usually grateful for this simple way to say thank you for the care they have received.

2. Ensure you know what is being said about you
Once you have asked your patients to provide feedback, it is important that you know what is being said. This doesn’t require you to monitor numerous websites every week. On many sites there should be the facility to receive an email alert when someone adds a review about you as an individual or the practice. This ensures that you are the first to be informed when a new review is added, allowing you to respond if necessary.

3. Respond to comments
You’ll find that patients will often leave detailed comments with a number of points in a few paragraphs. In the same way that you wouldn’t ignore a letter from a patient, it is important that the practice can respond when you want or need to. You must protect confidentiality whilst ensuring the patient receives your response and be fully compliant with the GMC regulations, including the recent guidance on best use of online media by doctors. A carefully thought out response can be a powerful and rapid way to ease a patient’s concern, and prevent issues escalating into more formal procedures.

4. Make online reviews work for you
Online patient feedback can help you meet a range of professional needs. Professional development, appraisals, job interviews and revalidation are a few of the instances where feedback from patients is required. Many doctors also see online reviews as a sensible, modern way to better understand the needs of those they care for and like getting regular feedback on their performance. At a practice level, online reviews and comments are easy to embed in your practice website, and are known to be powerful in attracting new patients and building your practice numbers.

5. Enjoy it
The vast majority of online feedback from patients is highly positive. Typically, patients will provide detailed descriptions of just how and why their GP made such a difference to them or their families. Online reviews from your patients make it as easy for you to benefit from the wisdom of your patients and can help you ensure the care you provide it is as good as it can possibly be.

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