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4 Ways Health Systems Can Avoid Negative Reviews on Social Media

by Eric Hunsaker, Psy.D.

4 ways health systems avoid negative reviews“I would not bring my dogs here.” That was my favorite quote I came across when researching hospitals.

My wife and I recently moved out of the big city, away from one of the nation’s top-ranked hospitals, which took care of all my health needs since I was born and throughout most of my adult life. As I had to find new care providers for my family, I started googling health systems and hospitals in my area, looking for their clinical performance in disciplines that were important to my family’s needs.

I checked their rankings in U.S. News & World Report and with other organizations, but, like most consumers, I was also drawn to the customer reviews provided by patients, their families, and others. While reading through a hospital’s website did provide me with its mission, vision, and the type of hospital it aspires to be, the customer reviews gave me insight into the hospital’s reputation and what I could expect from my experience at its facilities.

Customer reviews are simply a modern-day version of word of mouth, all available with a few clicks of the mouse. In fact, research shows most people use these online reviews to evaluate physicians and facilities, and their reputations.

The health system and its individual facilities’ reputation is about more than clinical skills, however. It’s also about the patient experience. Due to the rise of consumerism in healthcare and increased competition, patient experience has become a significant business issue.

Baby Boomers spend the most on healthcare and, according to The Solutionreach Patient-Provider Relationship Study, 25 percent of them reported leaving their healthcare provider for the competition during the previous year, and another 20 percent planned to do so within the next year. The report cited poor experience with office staff, feeling more like a number than a person, and difficulty in scheduling as the key reasons for their departure.

How a health system and its employees manage its reputation and, by extension, its brand, relies on hearing what consumers are experiencing and what they would share with others about their experience. Research shows that for purchases over $100, people are more likely to use social media to share their negative experience and, interestingly, are just half as likely to use social media to share a positive experience.

Getting your customers to share their experience provides a number of opportunities, though. Here are four ways you can prevent (or at least lessen the blow of) negative reviews on social media.

1. Listen to them in person rather than hearing them on social media.

When people are feeling angry and upset, they are less likely to be open to problem solving or, worse, excuse making. If, on the other hand, the individual feels heard and understood, his or her intense emotions can be diffused and a conversation to address the situation can begin.

That’s why you tend to see detail in the negative comments on social media. People want to be heard and want others to understand why they are upset. If staff (including physicians) can empathize with the patient, the patient is more likely to share their negative experience with you rather than with everyone.

If unhappy patients do go to social media, that does not end your opportunity to hear them out and decrease the impact on your brand. During my online search of providers and facilities, I noted key differences in how negative reviews were handled.

One health system responded to each comment, thanking the commenters for sharing their thoughts, apologizing for their negative experiences, and trying to address the issues. I even saw one where the health system said they were aware of the issue and listed steps they had already taken to reduce its frequency. I was impressed that the health system was making the effort to not only acknowledge but also take action on patients’ bad experiences.

This approach was very different from how another system was responding to the reviews. For each review, it used a canned response that stated, “Thank you for providing the feedback. We have forwarded your comments on to the appropriate department.” While I was concerned about the review, the response left me worried that it was falling on deaf ears. What would my experience be like at this facility?

2. Take action to resolve the problem

If you understand the problem, you can take steps to address it. Even in instances where you can’t fix the problem. As is the case with long wait times, there might be something else that can be done to help alleviate the severity of the situation.

For example, a nurse once shared a story with me that while she couldn’t do anything about the wait time a patient was experiencing, she ultimately learned the patient was mostly irritated about the wait because she was cold. The nurse was able to find another location for the patient to wait and provide her with a blanket. Even though the patient still had to wait, the experience was turned from a negative into a positive, because the patient felt taken care of and valued.

3. Confirm satisfaction

Patient satisfaction doesn’t end with taking action to address the problem. Staff can take it one step further by checking back with the patient to ensure he or she is satisfied with the remedies put forth. This is an opportunity to get clarity on any underlying issues or additional needs the patient may have while in your facility.

It also gives the individual the opportunity to say “yes” in response to whether they felt heard and validated. Now, if the individual goes to social media to describe his or her experience, it is likely to be more centered around how well the staff treated them or handled the issue rather than solely about the problems encountered during their visit.

4. Identify the walkers and get them talking

What about the quiet ones who stew in silence or don’t voice their concerns before walking out of your facility? I am currently working with a health system whose internal mantra is “if you see something wrong, fix it.” In other words, if you notice someone who looks like they may be unhappy or having a problem, approach them and ask how you can help.

These expectations, and the skills required to execute on them, are not reserved for those working the front desk or directly interacting with patients. The idea is that any employee walking the halls has an opportunity to impact a patient’s overall experience.

The health system shared with me stories of instances where employees, from executives to custodians, checked in with individuals who appeared lost or frustrated, to see if how they could asist them.

Patients are an underutilized resource in healthcare

When there is so much focus on innovation and finding new ways to increase efficiencies, improve patient satisfaction, and reduce costs, hospitals and health systems are always looking for ideas. They are also looking for leaders to instill a culture of innovation and bring ideas forward. And they are increasingly trying to bring more diversity of thought into their organizations and create an inclusive environment where a greater variety of individuals are heard and can share their ideas. Healthcare is also embracing consumerism and, like other service industries, needs to listen to patients—the customers—for feedback on their experience in order to improve service quality.

One final thought on all this: An important piece of the puzzle is that communicating and dealing with people who are upset should extend beyond your patients and/or your external customers. In his blog, 4 No Brainer Ideas to Improve Patient Experience, Michael Ganeles describes how to meet the personal and practical needs of not only patients, but staff, as well.

This is an especially important when you consider that the patient experience is directly linked to employee satisfaction. In fact, Ellen Lancer May, writing in a 2015 Healthcare Executive article, reported that up to 60 percent of the patient experience and the patient’s perception of quality of care can be impacted by the attitudes and behaviors of the organization’s workforce. Hence, it is vitally important to make it a priority within a health system to check in with, and listen with empathy to coworkers, direct reports and internal partners. This will start a dialogue that will serve to continually improve employee experience.

High employee satisfaction levels can, in turn, have positive impacts on patient experience—which can aid in keeping negative social media reviews at bay.

View the webinar, Improving Patient Experience with DDI's Service Plus Health Care.

Eric Hunsaker, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist and client executive within DDI’s healthcare practice. When he is not partnering with healthcare systems across the country, you can find him on the rivers and hiking trails in southeast Missouri, explaining to his young son why the sky is blue.

Posted: 30 Jan, 2019,
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