By Dave Lehman
Online reputation management can be a tall order for any industry – particularly in this pandemic business environment. Healthcare, in particular, has it rough. Consumers are more empowered than ever before, with a growing array of channels at their disposal. Compounding matters, medical practices and providers are navigating their way through evolving COVID-19 safety guidelines and patient loads, while trying to manage the politicized fallout.
It’s never been easier for patients to share their healthcare experiences with the world. With just a few taps on a keyboard, they can share a quick review on Google or scroll through the reviews of others. On the surface, this sounds great. After all, the patient experience is deeply personal. Patients need and deserve transparency. And when they’re trying to decide where to go for a medical issue and who to see, patients often turn to others and rely on those opinions.
There’s one problem with all of this: An alarming number of the experiences patients share online aren’t real – their reviews are fake. Medical practices are left to fight the misinformation, which can not only shape the perception of people reading the reviews but also damage the reputation and business of the healthcare providers.
Online Reputation Management
Google knows fake reviews are a problem and people are buying them in droves. While the company works to address the issue, the healthcare industry is left to fend for itself. Google reviews are important – they bring in new patients and boost the search rankings of medical practices. But, understandably, the majority of providers don’t know how to tackle the growing number of fraudulent reviews.
The best course of action any healthcare practice can take is to employ online reputation management software. Solutions exist today that are tailored to verticals like healthcare and include features like review management. The right solution should give medical offices and providers a steady stream of the reviews they want. A sure-fire way to drown out the negative, fake reviews is to get more of the positive, genuine ones.
How to Fight Back On Your Own
Healthcare practices that can’t pull the trigger just yet on reputation management software can still fight back on their own. Medical offices can tackle fake – or suspected fake – Google reviews through five best practices:
- Respond tactfully: Because online reviews are visible for anyone to see, medical practices should always respond to negative feedback in a tactful manner. The most common approach is to respond to the review with direct contact information for the office and assure the poster that his or her concern will be addressed. If the poster ends up being a real patient who follows up, contacts the office and gets resolution, the practice can always ask if the patient is willing to edit or update the original review.
Because anyone can read online reviews, practices that suspect a review is outright fake may choose to act in a bolder fashion. If the office can determine the poster of the review isn’t a patient or the experience described by the poster didn’t happen, some offices choose to respond to the review and state as much before reporting the review. Calling out fraudulent reviews publicly can be a dicey proposition, so healthcare providers should still be tactful in how they do it and offer direct contact information for the office.
- Report fake reviews: Within Google, fake reviews can easily be reported by locating the kebab menu in each review – more commonly known as the “three dots” symbol. When a medical practice reports a review in this manner, Google will ask what is wrong with the review and a predetermined list will pop up. Currently, that list includes the following reasons for reporting a review: the review not being relevant to the place, conflict of interest, offensive or sexually explicit content, privacy concerns, or legal issues.
- Wait for the review to be removed: It can take Google up to a week to evaluate a negative review in question and determine if it’s genuine. In the meantime, healthcare providers have to wait. The delay, while often frustrating, can ultimately benefit a practice’s online reputation management. If the review is found to be genuine, it will remain online. But if the review is found to be fake, Google can put it on hold or withdraw it altogether. When Google puts a fraudulent review on hold, it is hidden from public view. Then Google notifies the poster of that review, informs him or her the review was reported as false and Google states the reason why.
- Contact Google directly: If a week or more passes and a medical practice hasn’t heard from Google on a suspected fake review, it’s time to take charge. Armed with the necessary evidence in hand, providers should log into their Google My Business accounts and navigate to the menu to access support. From there, office personnel should be able to chat or call someone directly at Google.
- Call an attorney: Finally, if the above steps haven’t worked and a healthcare provider is dealing with a particularly flagrant online review, the last resort is to call an attorney. As drastic as this may sound, Google pays attention to legitimate legal requests. A word to the wise though: Be selective when you play this legal card to ensure Google continues to consider any requests you may have in the future.
The healthcare industry certainly has enough on its plate these days. Managing healthcare reviews – particularly fake ones – shouldn’t be one more headache. With proper online reputation management, medical practices and providers can consistently manage patient reviews and turn them into a powerful competitive advantage.
About the Author
Dave Lehman, president and chief operating officer at Birdeye, has amassed 25 years of software and SaaS leadership experience in marketing and sales management at companies such as Salesforce, Yext and Campaign Monitor. Lehman also serves as a board advisor for SV Academy, which aims to empower underrepresented job seekers to forge tech careers. He holds a degree in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.