It hasn’t happened yet but I suspect it will happen soon enough – a physician’s office manager or receptionist will ask me to sign waiver agreeing to NOT review the physician online. This request has been a growing trend in the medical community over the last couple of years.
The American public has shown a willingness to use Web 2.0 tools and functionalities to rate and share everything from the mundane coffee selection to the most serious personal detail. Considering this, it’s not surprising that this nouveau word-of-mouth has touched healthcare. Physician reviews can be found on comprehensive review sites such as Angie’s List and specialty sites such as RateMDs.com.
Angie's List home page
Often the reviews are more about the how the how physician interacted with the patient than the actual treatment decisions made. The physicians themselves do not seem to care to be reviewed. They are concerned about potential negative consequences, either from an inaccurate review or from a patient with an axe to grind. As a result, physicians are fighting back – some are requiring patients to agree not to review them prior to treatment. This trend has even resulted in one company being formed – Medical Justice – to specifically help physicians in this effort.
MedicalJustice.com Anti-Defamation page
So what does this mean? Good question.
To begin with, there are some legal issues that need resolution:
- What happens if a patient agrees not to review yet does so anyway? The waivers make it clear to the patient that the physician can pursue litigation in the event the patient violates the agreement, but is that really the answer? Suing ones patients is not the best way to build a practice.
- Where does the First Amendment come into play? Legal experts have expressed doubts that these waivers would hold up in court.
There are also some questions consider regarding how this trend may impact healthcare as we know it:
- What happens when a patient declines to sign the waiver? Most of the discussions reviewed centered on the impact to a new patient at a physician’s office. In this scenario it wouldn’t be surprising to see the physician and patient part ways before any healthcare takes place. It will be interesting to see what happens when a long-time patient refuses to sign. Will the physician send him/her away? Will the physician relent and not seek the signature? This may also be impacted by the financial situation of the physician.
- Where do hospitals fit in this trend? I can just see it now – ER physician says, “um, patient in the ER, would you mind signing this waiver before I fix your broken arm?” Clearly there is a limit to how far physicians can push this issue.
- Finally, what will this mean in terms of where and how patients are treated? Will patients only go to those most highly rated? What happens to physicians that are not rated, are they perceived negatively due to the lack of commentary? Will there be standards put into place to help take the subjective nature out of these ratings? Will physicians provide the best care or the care that will result in the best rating? (The last question may seem like heresy but let’s face it, there are dermatologists out there who will see a cosmetic patient immediately while making a medical patient wait a month – NYTimes link: http://bit.ly/4fHtfF)
What can marketers learn from this?
Though I would suggest that physicians, as a group, are not handling this trend in the best manner, there are lessons that can be learned from their behavior – lessons that marketers can likely apply to their own business:
- These new technologies are here to stay: I imagine if you were to poll physicians on this trend, they would like to see it just go away. That’s not happening. And the answer isn’t to erect barriers and threaten litigation. All of us, physicians include, need to use this opportunity understand what is of concern to our customers and use this information to better meet customer needs while still providing quality services.
- Improved communications are a good thing: Let’s face it, most physicians are not known for having a good bedside manner. In fact, sometimes it seems as if a bad bedside manner is some kind of badge of honor. Well, it is possible for a physician to have a good bedside manner (NYTimes link: http://bit.ly/bNzmq). Ultimately, better communication will lead to better understanding and, consequently, stronger influence – something we are all after as marketers.
- Keep the little things from sabotaging you: How many times has a seemingly insignificant product feature or customer service interaction torpedoed the efforts of a brand team to consistently communicate its message and value to user audience? A billing issue, a misplaced test form, a whole host of possibilities can end up leaving the patient with a less than satisfactory experience, thereby contributing to a negative review. Paying attention to and addressing potential issues early can go a long way to creating happy customers.
Through a better overall understanding of their patients, an effort to improve communications and a push to establish review standards, physicians can turn this seemingly negative trend into one provides value to them and their patients.
So what do you think? Where do you think this physician review trend is heading? What do you think we can learn from it? Let me know… post a comment or email me…