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Doctors Resisted Online Reviews, Now They Embrace Them. What Changed?

With its new marketing rule, the SEC has declared that it’s now “open season” for online reviews for financial advisors. Instead of speculating about what the future holds for financial advisors, let’s look at how another highly regulated industry cautiously embraced this powerful marketing opportunity.   

In 2014, if you wanted to find online ratings for a physician you were probably out of luck. Yes, sites like Vitals and Healthgrades existed, but most doctors had zero reviews on those. The physicians who did have reviews usually had only a handful. 

Now, entering 2023, physician ratings and reviews are practically omnipresent, and consumers expect them. According to the Kyruus 2022 Patient Access Journey Report, 89% of consumers report that quality online ratings and reviews are important in their physician selection process.  What happened over the past eight years?  

Physicians’ History with Patient Feedback

Starting many years ago, any health system which provided services to Medicare patients was required to collect a minimum number of patient experience surveys every year. Health systems would then submit those survey results to Medicare, and in most cases, they didn’t share or communicate the data anywhere else. 

So back in 2014 and before, it’s safe to say that physicians weren’t very focused on patient feedback. They were much more focused on clinical outcomes.  

Early Impressions of Online Reviews—“Risky”

The handful of physician reviews that could be found online in 2014 tended to represent extreme voices. Put simply, the only patients who took the time to leave an online review were the ones who had a remarkable experience from one of two categories: “this doctor saved my life,” or “this doctor is an incompetent jerk.” Understandably, doctors weren’t very excited about the prospect of that portrayal of their skills and services. This “extreme voices” landscape made it seem like online reviews were a risky proposition.  

Ready or Not, Reviews are Coming

Despite how physicians felt in 2014 about online reviews, health system administrators were aware of their growing importance to consumers. Administrators also knew that physicians were rightfully cautious and skeptical, so they had to carefully consider what strategic options existed. 

The reason we keep referencing 2014 is because that’s the year that the University of Utah healthcare recognized a tremendous opportunity. They looked at all the patient experience surveys that they had been collecting for years and realized that patients were overwhelmingly happy, satisfied and complimentary of their physicians. Thus, they set out to unlock the marketing value from that survey data.

Patient Experience Transparency is Born

U of U converted their overall rating question to a 5-star scale and repurposed their general physician comments field into a “review.” They then set out to publish all this data on their own website to share how patients really felt about U of U physicians.  

This initiative was named “patient experience transparency,” and it was a smashing success. Overnight U of U doctors had 10 times more online reviews on their own website than anywhere else online. What’s more, the average rating tended to be a full star better than what was found elsewhere online. Why? Every patient was asked for feedback, and a representative sample responded to those requests. No more “extreme voices” only; U of U got an accurate sample of patient opinion, and it was very flattering!

What Do You Have to Hide?

U of U saw significant benefits immediately, ranging from positive press coverage for their bold and innovative embrace of transparency, to significantly improved SEO performance (and therefore traffic) for their physician profile pages. Other health systems took note. Vendors emerged to facilitate this capability, and by the end of 2014 the adoption trend was well established.  

Other health systems felt both the “carrot and the stick” influences in their decision to follow suit. The “carrot” was that they too could improve their physician’s online reputations, buffer against the possibility of a future bad review, and drive increased patient traffic to their physicians.  

The “stick” was that patients became suspicious if organizations were NOT sharing patient experience feedback when so many others were. It’s human nature to assume that the (missing) patient feedback must not be as good, otherwise why wouldn’t the health system share it?

Adoption Became Inevitable

As time went on, consumers increasingly expected to see physician reviews. It also became clear that when health systems were proactive about embracing online ratings and reviews, the results were overwhelmingly positive. The cost, relative to other marketing expenses, was negligible and the benefits were undeniable. Adoption began to accelerate quickly.  

That’s how we got to today—well over 400 healthcare systems have “patient experience transparency” programs publishing feedback from millions of patient encounters. These programs give consumers what they want and help bolster the reputation of the healthcare system’s physicians.  

The Parallels are Clear—The Time is Now!

It should be obvious why this story is relevant to financial advisors today. Many of the same circumstances that physicians faced eight years ago still exist for financial advisors today. The big difference is that the SEC has “fired the starting gun” on testimonials and endorsements. Knowing that online reviews will benefit both consumers and advisors alike, we should expect adoption to be inevitable and even more rapid than what was seen in healthcare.

The Advantage of Being Late to the Game

Yes, financial advisors are late to the game for online ratings and reviews, but one benefit is that the playbook has already been largely written by healthcare. Financial advisors can get started quickly and begin to realize the benefits of online ratings and reviews before they get left behind.  

Whit Lanier is the founder and CEO of Amplify Reviews. A serial entrepreneur, Whit’s previous start-up was the leading healthcare technology vendor for enabling hospitals to publish verified patient ratings & reviews. By 2021, this platform had processed over 50 million patient reviews.  [email protected]

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