napkin with notesAre those pesky online ranking sites a thorn in your practice’s side? Or, are they quickly becoming one of your highest referral building boosters? Or, are you completely lost with no clue what I’m talking about?

Let’s start from the top

In the world of instant online social communication, a recent trend has taken the web by storm. It can boost business to new heights and it can scare patients away from scheduling appointments in just a few seconds.

The phenomenon I’m referring to online consumer rating sites, of course. These sites provide an outlet for patients to share their experience with others. Users post reviews, ratings and comments – and they all have an impact on whether a potential client will choose your office over a neighboring competitor.

Different sites use different jargon to determine rankings, but what you need to be concerned with is what patients are saying about their experience at your office. The more ratings you have, the higher ranked you become. The better the rankings, the more patients will call for an appointment, at least that’s how it works in theory. Conversely, negative reviews will help to keep your waiting room empty.

There has been some question as to whether the sites matter as much for physicians as they do to a restaurant, let’s say. A recent study released by Tara Lagu, a physician at the Tufts University School of Medicine, says that patients aren’t too interested in rating their doctors, especially if the experience was sub-par. The study examined 33 physician rating sites and they found that 88 percent of the reviews were positive, 6 percent were negative and 6 percent were neutral.

That’s great news right? It could be. The data may prove to be inconclusive however, as only 190 reviews were used for the study. Either way, you’ll want to make sure of two things:

1. Your office is listed. You’ll want to be listed and reviewed by, at least, several patients. The sites even give you an opportunity to claim “ownership” of the page if it is your business. Claiming ownership and spending ten minutes to update your profile is incredibly useful, not only for search engine optimization, but it also serves as a free listing for you to put your brand, phone number, location and even photos on the site. Take advantage of the opportunity.

2. You aren’t one of the negatively reviewed doctors. You want every review to be as positive as possible. Stars, thumbs up, numerals – whatever the system the site uses, you want to be at the top.

One of the most common questions physicians are asking right now include: “What are these sites?” and “How can I change my ratings?”

Truth be told, those are incredible questions, and to answer them sufficiently it would take more space than the allotted amount for this article. Instead, below you’ll find a brief overview of some of the top general and doctor-specific rating sites, how they work and what they do. Following the overview, take a look at some of the most common problems reported and a few tips you can use right now to change a patient’s perception of you and your office.

Top Rating Sites:

Yelp (

Offering ratings on everything from restaurants to library systems, Yelp is used by the common consumer. This is the populist vote. The site allows users to rank your practice based on a 5-star system and share comments, and easily share the review with friends/random readers. It is also one of the top-rated sites on Google when searching for reviews of any kind. It’s a good place to be – so be there.

Yellowpages (

Taking the book online has done wonders for the phone book business, and it can for you, too. The site allows users to search for, rate and comment on their experience at any type of business that’s listed. Basic profiles are free to set up and they also offer paid services and promotions as well. Depending on your specialty, and the package selected, it can be provide a quality, measurable ROI.

Health Grades (

Physician and healthcare provider specific (if you couldn’t tell by the name), Health Grades uses a star system to provide rankings and ratings for doctors. Listings can be sorted either by specific locations or specialties. Again, the site lets you to claim ownership of your practice, although the focus here is more on you as an individual rather than your practice. Upon registering, you have the ability to add photos, your state of license, years since graduation, age, gender, insurances accepted and more. There are also tabs to include information about awards and even provide a background check. Patients can rate you based on several factors using a handy survey tool that includes level of trust, ability to help patients understand their condition and more.

Rate MDs (

As of this writing, RateMDs has more than 990,000 ratings on their site with 680 new doctors added the previous day. Here, if a user searches by zip code they are provided with a list of the 200 top-ranked physicians in the area. The more reviews you have and the higher the rankings, the closer you are to the top. Experiences are on a 1-5 scale and include categories for staff, punctuality, helpfulness and knowledge. Upon registering, you can again provide additional information about yourself and your practice.

Common Problems Reported

By now you should have a relatively good idea about what these sites do and why people use them. But what are they using them for? A majority of people are rating their physicians positively. However, many of the reviews aren’t as high as they could be with a few minor tweaks to your practice.

Waiting Time Conflicts

Nobody wants to wait, no matter how busy you are. Complaints range from having to fill out paperwork to having a disorganized reception area. Some easy solutions may include making paperwork available online through your website, not booking patients at the same time you arrive in the morning and, if there is a wait, providing a pleasant waiting room that is also kid-friendly.

Billing Errors

This is a big one. Set clearly defined responsibilities in the office and it is an easy mistake to correct, saving you and the patient money in the end. It may also be beneficial to set up an archive system by date per patient or schedule periodic reminders for patients to update their contact information just to be sure the data is correct.

Rude or Impersonal Staff

Most people expect there to be a wait. But when they have to deal with uncaring or impersonal staff, it can really turn the experience sour. Many of the complaints here revolved around front desk staff and nurse practitioners. Consider setting up a review/monitoring process to make sure everyone has a positive attitude toward patients. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but it will go a long way in boosting patient perception.

Tips and Tricks Chalk IllustrationTips to Stay Ahead of the Game

So you’ve put in some controls to help the patient experience, now what? Obviously you can’t control what the patient will say about you exactly, but you can control their experience. You should make sure that every person on your staff is doing everything within their power to make the visit a positive one – no matter what. Making the effort will result in positive reviews online, through word of mouth and in referrals to other physicians.

  • As for the rating sites, don’t wait for a patient to review you.
  • Take the proactive approach – have someone on your staff visit the websites listed above, set up profiles and update the information.
  • Add photos and video if they’ll allow. If you have a full profile set up, odds are, patients will be more likely to use the system.

Also, if you want high marks on the rating sites don’t be afraid to ask for them. Let’s be honest – you know who your favorite patients are. You know when a patient has had a good experience. Use them. It’s perfectly ok for you, or a friendly member of your staff, to suggest visiting one of the sites and putting their two cents in. There are dozens of creative ways to implement a workable system here to that requires zero work on your part – things as simple as a sign at the reception desk work wonders.

Feeling a bit overwhelmed? That’s perfectly normal. The truth is, with a little insight, the process can be a breeze, not to mention an effective way to integrate social media into your marketing plan and successfully grow your practice.