No one likes to be criticized. Let’s just get that out of the way.

But today, we live in a world full of criticism, in the form of online reviews, comments, tweets, thumbs-ups and emojis. No matter how we feel about the politics of online comments and reviews – whether it’s a good or bad thing, whether people should be allowed to comment anonymously or sign their real name – it doesn’t matter: The fact is, they’re here to stay.

The healthcare industry is not immune from this reality. Review websites for health insurers, hospitals and physicians are extremely popular and regularly used by healthcare consumers. But while those in the healthcare industry undoubtedly have a tangential awareness of these websites, few appreciate that this is now the status quo – or are ready to accept this unprecedented shift in power. And there’s no going back.

Many in healthcare are stuck in the days when word of mouth was the main way for healthcare consumers to convey opinions on hospitals, doctors, medications and procedures. As such, reviews were controlled by time, distance and personal associations. The word “viral” still had more to do with illness and disease than its connotation today.

Now, anyone with an internet connection is a critic, with unlimited “ink” and the opportunity to discuss the good, the bad and the ugly of healthcare with friends and strangers alike. If a negative comment goes viral, it really will make you sick.

Once this new reality is accepted, healthcare can move forward and do something about it.

The Winning Score

Doing so will mean catching up with other industries that – although they’ve yet to entirely come to grips with citizen critics – at least understand that a quick response to critiques is the only way to counter negative reviews and promote the good ones.

Healthcare’s laggard status is especially evident when you do an industry comparison of net promoter scores (NPS). (This scoring methodology takes the people who like a company and the people who hate a company and arrives at a number that shows how likely an organization is to be recommended by one person to another.) In 2016, the top score of 58 went to department stores, while health insurers scored 18.

At a recent medical conference, when a presenter discussed NPS, audience members shook their heads and groaned in unison. They weren’t entirely happy about the prospect of having outsiders review their work. While providers have a vested interest in healthcare consumers, they have yet to connect the dots and understand that online community reviews and the often-discussed positive and negative experiences of patients have the opportunity to make or break their business.

This Year’s Model

Consumer ratings of healthcare businesses could be bolstered by a faster shift to a consumer-focused healthcare model.  Consumers today are accustomed to making online purchases at any time of the day or night and contacting customer service reps or chatbots no matter when questions arise. And yet, physician offices operate according to traditional business hours. Healthcare providers may argue that they’re not retailers; however, consumers may not feel the same, as they increasingly expect their activities and purchases to be consistent across all buying experiences, including healthcare.

While this shift is occurring slowly for some patient demographics, it’s already happening for millennials, whose digital ways transcend the traditional model of office-based primary care.

Using current technologies, traditional healthcare businesses could accommodate these new preferences and behaviors, thereby ensuring healthy ratings and reviews. That’s why forward-thinking healthcare organizations are joining with online retailers or organizations with a deep understanding of how consumers use and interact with technology. Companies ranging from Microsoft to Walmart to Cigna have taken the leap and joined with like-minded organizations.

Here are just a few ways healthcare providers could improve online ratings and better connect with their customers:

  • 24×7 chatbots and virtual assistants designed to address emergent healthcare issues.
  • Increased business hours, including early morning and after-work appointments.
  • Online payments options.
  • Participation in online physician rating websites by responding to comments.
  • Providing online chats with a doctor or a nurse in near real-time to accommodate patients who’d rather not drive to the doctor’s office.

These changes have become a reality with some healthcare providers, and it’s just a matter of time before they’re commonplace among healthcare consumers. Healthcare providers that set their sights on the healthcare consumer of the 21st century will ensure patient loyalty and their own relevance for providing care far into the digital future.

Mark Miller

Mark Miller

Mark Miller is AVP, Marketing, Provider and Health Systems within Cognizant’s Healthcare Business unit and leads the strategic and tactical marketing for... Read more