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Healthcare in an E-Commerce World – Communication Solutions Series

Posted on April 14, 2016 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Laura Alabed-Olsson, Marketing Manager of Stericycle Communication Solutions, as part of the Communication Solutions Series of blog posts. Follow and engage with them on Twitter:@StericycleComms
Laura Alabed-Olsson
These days, it seems as though I can’t pickup an industry publication, or even a major daily newspaper, without finding at least one article on healthcare consumerism. Consumers want to shop for healthcare the way they shop for TVs and cars, they say. Consumers expect cost information, quality ratings and anytime access, too, they tell us.

All of this makes me wonder: For healthcare providers that have long operated in a traditional, not so consumer-centric world, where does one begin? Results from a handful of recent surveys offer some insights:

  1. More than 40% of consumers say that information found via social media affects the way they deal with their health.
  1. 77% of consumers use online reviews, often found on sites like Yelp and Healthgrades, as their first step in finding a new doctor.
  1. 56% of consumers have actively looked for healthcare cost information before getting care; 21% of these have compared prices across multiple providers.
  1. Consumers expect the same online service in healthcare that they see in other industries, and they will switch providers to get it.

So, let’s dig in.

Insight #1: 40% of consumers turn to social media for healthcare information. This statistic may not come as a surprise, especially when you consider the number of patients sitting in waiting rooms – or restaurants or coffee shops or wherever  – with phone in hand, endlessly scrolling Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.  What is surprising is how relatively few healthcare providers are pursuing this captive audience with educational content that accurately informs consumers about health-related issues (while simultaneously addressing demands for a “connected” experience). Is your organization leveraging social media to educate and engage with patients? Perhaps it should be.

Insight #2: 77% of consumers look to online reviews when choosing a provider. To further validate this point: Did you know that, the for-profit site that shares a variety of information about physicians, hospitals and other provider organizations, gets a million hits a day? Clearly, consumers have an appetite for information on patient satisfaction and clinical outcomes. Is this information readily available on your organization’s website? If you don’t provide it, others will and, in doing so, they are poised to steer prospective patients elsewhere.

Insight #3: 56% of consumers are paying attention to healthcare costs. While the idea of comparison shopping for healthcare is a relatively new one, it’s one that consumers and providers alike must embrace (consumers, because they’re increasingly accountable for a greater share of out-of-pocket costs, and providers, because cost transparency is the new norm – and if you want to effectively compete with traditional providers, retail clinics, telemedicine, docs-on-demand and whatever comes next, you’ve just got to get onboard). Is your organization empowering patients to make thoughtful decisions? A cost estimator on your website – or even a promise to have cost information available when patients request it – could make for a great start.

Insight #4: Healthcare consumers want an online experience that mirrors what’s being offered by retailers like Amazon, Southwest Airlines and OpenTable. When consumers want to book an airline ticket or reserve a table at their favorite restaurant, they don’t have to pick up the phone and call between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. They hop online when it’s convenient for them and, in just a few clicks, they’ve gotten what they want. Why should healthcare be any different? By offering online self-scheduling on your website, you’re giving patients 24/7 access to care – and you’re doing it in a way that is familiar and convenient for them. Does your organization offer a way for consumers to access care when and how they want to? Research suggests it should.

Healthcare consumerism requires a significant shift in how providers serve patients, for sure. But in just a few, small steps – like those mentioned here – you can be on your way.

The Communication Solutions Series of blog posts is sponsored by Stericycle Communication Solutions, a leading provider of high quality telephone answeringappointment scheduling, and automated communication services. Stericycle Communication Solutions combines a human touch with innovative technology to deliver best-in-class communication services.  Connect with Stericycle Communication Solutions on social media: @StericycleComms

Physician Ranking Websites – The Bad, The Worse and the Ugly

Posted on January 22, 2013 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

On the internet, there is a website that ranks just about anything you would to be ranked, reviewed, prioritized, commented on, etc. Turns out that Physicians are no different, but as is often the case in healthcare, these websites are just getting started. I’m not sure all of the reasons why doctors weren’t being ranked and reviewed on websites before, but it definitely came later than many other industries. One reason this might be the case is that it’s a bad idea to try and create a website for physician reviews.

I realize this will be a position that many will disagree with (particularly those websites who review physicians). In fact, Jennifer Dennard wrote on the sister site to EMR and HIPAA the following comment:

Healthcare will become more affordable once consumers start making an effort to patronize providers that have a reputation for high patient satisfaction and quality scores. Get engaged via websites like to start sifting through local MDs’ scores and reviews.

While I agree with Jennifer that consumer involvement in their healthcare could eventually make healthcare more affordable, I don’t see websites like Healthgrades or similar sites as achieving that goal. The problem is that these physician ranking websites don’t have the right data to be able to rate physician’s effectively.

The first challenge is that most people don’t use these websites. The closest physician review website that comes close to having a critical mass of reviews is probably Yelp in San Francisco. That might be an interesting case study if we want to evaluate the value of user reviews of doctors. Although, I know people who have been “gaming” that system for a long time. The gaming elements aside for now, is it fair to grade a physician based on a small handful of patient reviews when the doctor is seeing 10-15 patients a day? The answer is no.

Let’s hypothetically say that we overcome the issues of not enough patient reviews. Unfortunately, the reviews still have a huge number of problems associated with them. Let’s take a look at some of the larger ones.

Patients Rate Customer Service, Not Quality of Care
One of the biggest problems with review sites is that most of the ratings and reviews reflect the customer service that a patient was offered. The ratings and reviews almost never reflect the quality of the care that the patient received. The customer service that a patient received does matter and should influence which doctor you see. A physician’s bedside manner should be an important part of the decision of which doctor you see. The problem is that most physician review sites give the impression to users that the ranking is more than just customer service. In fact, I expect many who read those sites equate a high ranking with the quality of care a physician provides. This is just not the case.

Can a Patient Rate a Physician on Quality of Care?
I can’t answer this for all patients, but I know the answer for me is no. I even work in this industry and if I’m being honest I really have very little idea of whether a doctor is providing better care than I would have gotten somewhere else. Other than really egregious stuff, how would I know? The whole reason I go to the doctor is because they know something that I don’t know. Sure, you can find a lot of info online and have some really great, informed discussions with doctors, but I expect most patients don’t know the quality of care they’re getting from a doctor.

Even many doctors and nurses don’t know how good their colleagues are at what they do. They certainly know better than patients, but unless they’ve worked with them on a regular basis across multiple patients how would they really know either? Plus, it’s amazing how little things can bias someone to how good or bad someone is at what they do. This is particularly true when you’re analysis of someone is based on only a few data points.

Positive and Negative Review Bias
One challenge with review sites in general is what I call positive and negative review bias. Take a look at any review site and you’ll see what I mean. The only people who take the time to leave a review are those who are extremely displeased with something (negative review) or those who had an extremely positive experience (positive review). That’s such a small percentage of the people who are seen that we have to be careful to interpret the skewed data.

The reality is that the majority of patients fall in the middle. They didn’t have an amazingly good or bad experience. They just got what they needed and moved on with their life. None of these people are motivated to review a doctor.

Gaming the Review Sites
Another enormous challenge to review sites is from people trying to game the reviews. I once saw the founder of Travel Advisor talk about this challenge on their site (they reviewed hotels) and the enormous amount of resources they put to combat it. They never got this perfect, but they also had enough scale that they could largely overcome this problem. Think about how hard it is for a website to know how authentic a physician review is. How do they know a positive review is not the doctor or practice manager using a fake email account? On the other side, a negative review might be a competitor using a fake email. Plus, there are a lot of other tricks to “game” physician ranking websites that are impossible for a website to detect.

Patient Perspective
Many healthcare visits are complex situations where the doctor has to inform you of something terrible. If your doctor had just told you about your STD diagnoses or just put you through a painful (albeit necessary) procedure, are you likely to go and give that doctor a high rating? In some cases you might, but most people are very emotional people and it’s hard for them to separate the situation from the person. Sometimes the treatments doctors provide might hurt in the short term in order to achieve some long term benefit. A patient suffering in the short term might not include the long term planning that a quality doctor is providing them when reviewing a doctor.

Phyisican’s Dislike Review Sites
Search Health IT recently wrote about an ACPE study where doctors almost universally thought doctor review sites were not useful. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Only 12% of physicians believe websites where patients can review doctors are useful and should be made more available to patients, according to a study by the American College of Physician Executives (ACPE). A majority of respondents offered critical views of such review sites, with 29% saying they weren’t used enough by patients to be relevant, and 26% called them a “nuisance that provides no benefit.”

One physician explained he doesn’t check his online ratings because: “They don’t accurately reflect the competency of a physician.”

I don’t know anyone who likes to be reviewed, so the results shouldn’t be a surprise. Hopefully this post will help to add some depth to why many doctors don’t like physician review sites as opposed to the natural knee jerk reaction of not wanting to be reviewed.

The interesting challenge is that patients are going to continuing to look for ways to differentiate one doctor from another. It’s an incredible challenge. I love what Fred Trotter is doing with docGraph. It’s not a perfect model either, but at least he’s using data to try and differentiate doctors. I’d love to hear other ideas people have on how a patient can be sure they’re getting the doc that provides the highest quality care. I’ve wondered if use of technology and/or EMR choice/use could be an possible differentiator.