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Hospital reputation management: 9 tips for success

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by Jennifer Bridges  @JenBridgesRD

Doctors Working on Patient in Intensive Care Unit

This post has been modified to reflect new information since its original publication.

Hospitals have always valued their public image, but most have not viewed it as a strategic priority until recently. However, the growing number of online review sites, shifting patient demographics, and evolving insurance rules are now leading hospitals across the country to realize that they must proactively manage their online reputations in order to succeed in today’s healthcare marketplace.

Why do I need to worry about my hospital’s reputation?

The extent to which patients report positive experiences at a hospital directly affects a facility’s bottom line. For example, insurance payers are increasingly using patient satisfaction ratings to judge a healthcare organization’s quality of care. This is altering how payers structure their reimbursement agreements, leading to new kinds of partnerships, based specifically on patient experience, between hospitals and payers.

Eclipsing reimbursement in terms of its effect on revenue is a hospital’s ability to attract and retain patients. As consumers pay more and more for healthcare, they are increasingly motivated to comparison shop for providers on review sites like Yelp and Healthgrades. This is especially true for younger individuals, who have come of age during the digital revolution and routinely use online review sites to inform nearly every aspect of their lives.

As a result, hospitals with better online reputations tend to draw more patients. In fact, according to a Google study, over 90 percent of prospective patients thought that a hospital’s reputation was more important than whether it was in their insurance network or recommended by their doctor.

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Conversely, a patient who experiences an unsatisfactory hospital stay that causes him or her to never return costs that facility roughly $500,000 over the person’s lifetime, according to US Census Bureau statistics. This figure grows exponentially if that individual leaves a negative online review that influences others to avoid the hospital. Further damaging your hospital’s reputation is the fact that each unhappy patient tends to share his or her experience with an average of 11 individuals. In contrast, a 2016 Advisory Board Company report claims that hospitals that increase customer loyalty by 10 percent could see returns of over $22 million.

How do I improve my hospital’s reputation?

So, now you understand why you need to control your hospital’s reputation, but how do you go about it? Here are nine things every facility needs to do to effectively manage its image:

Find out what people are saying about your hospital

You can’t do anything to repair or strengthen your hospital’s reputation if you only have a vague idea of what your stakeholders are saying about it. A good way to research your facility’s image is to conduct a survey of all those who interact with the hospital, including community members, vendors, physicians, and employees. This will give you a well-rounded picture of your facility’s image.

Some health systems, including the University of Utah, Integris Health in Oklahoma, and Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta, have decided to maintain their own ratings sites. As a result of the data it gathered from its internal reviews, the University of Utah was able to slash wait times and boost patient satisfaction scores by a significant amount at the four hospitals it runs.

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It’s also a good idea to go online and check out various healthcare provider review sites to see how people rate the doctors affiliated with your hospital. Additionally, you’ll find valuable information in employee posts on employer review sites like Glassdoor. Finally, do a Google search of your hospital to see what kinds of results appear. Are they mostly positive, negative, or neutral? Are there any common concerns that the hospital should address?

After you have researched your hospital’s reputation, you can begin to categorize what types of issues you are facing. Systemic problems, like unclear billing policies, poor staff training, and so on, should take priority over one-off complaints about a particular physician, although you should certainly address these later on.

Prioritize the patient experience

A positive customer experience has many repercussions beyond just making patients happy, including the following:

Better reviews: Structuring services with the patient’s needs in mind can help hospitals avoid garnering negative reviews and earn positive ones instead. It can also elevate the hospital’s standing in the industry by improving scores on the Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS), which ranks the best US hospitals. This survey includes many patient-centered measures, such as the quality of communication between patients and providers, pain medication processes, the thoroughness of discharge information, and improved patient health.

Better patient outcomes: A patient-focused hospital experience also leads to greater patient cooperation and better hospital performance. For example, research by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) shows that the Georgia Health Sciences Medical Center saw a 62 percent decrease in medication errors, a 40 percent drop in falls, and a 50 percent decline in average length of stays as a result of implementing policies to expand patient and family engagement.

Better business outcomes: According to studies published in the Gallup Management Online Journal, patient-centered systems of care not only lead to consistently improved hospital performance, but they also promote better business outcomes and increase long-term earnings. Research from Accenture even shows that patient-centered care can result in a 50 percent expansion of a hospital’s profit margin.

One reason for this better business outcome is that patient-centered hospitals actively engage all stakeholders, which causes them to be more efficient. These facilities reduce waste of materials and staff by encouraging streamlined processes, better patient education, and fewer diagnostic tests and referrals.

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Another reason for the increase in hospitals’ bottom line is that patient-centered facilities tend to enjoy a larger market share. In fact, studies show that 40 percent of patients would switch hospitals to obtain the better value-per-cost and the high level of service that patient-centered hospitals provide. Therefore, facilities that offer a patient-centered model have a competitive edge over those that rely on traditional methods of care. The Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, for example, greatly increased its market share by folding patient-centered processes into its business model.

Respond to negative reviews

The best way to reduce the impact of bad reviews is to quickly and thoughtfully respond to negative comments. When replying, be sure to be courteous. Many people will judge you on how you respond to criticism, so it’s best to take the high road. Moreover, if the review is especially rude, readers will be able to see the obvious contrast between the two vastly different tones.

You should apologize and attempt to resolve the issue if the hospital is at fault. Sometimes, just letting critics know that you have heard them is enough to get them to remove their negative comments.

If the poor review is lacking some important details that you can disclose without violating HIPAA regulations, you should briefly and nonjudgmentally provide them in your response. The missing information can clear up any misconceptions or, on occasion, negate the critic’s argument entirely.

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Give your website a checkup

Next, you need to ensure that your website represents your hospital in the best possible light. It needs to be accessible, mobile friendly, easy to navigate, and comprehensive. It also needs to clearly display the information that most people are looking for. A website that frustrates potential patients will only generate more negative reviews.

Your hospital website should make it easy for potential patients to find a search tool that will let them know if the hospital takes their insurance. Patients should also be able to effortlessly access an up-to-date provider directory and a link to patient testimonials and reviews. Studies show that these are the top three items that people expect a hospital website to provide.

Build a strong social media presence

Social media is a key component of every hospital’s successful reputation management plan: not only does it provide you with a cheap and effective method for promoting your brand and telling your hospital’s “story,” but it also helps you stay in touch with patients and their families. However, many hospitals underutilize social media, limiting themselves to a few generic tweets or posts.

To develop a more comprehensive social media reputation campaign, you need to view your hospital as a unique and diverse community, with a vast array of specialized groups and initiatives, for which the outreach and engagement possibilities are nearly endless. For example, if a certain department is hosting a health fair or obtaining new technology, you can use these opportunities to connect with the community through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

You can also take advantage of special occasions, like National Nurses Day, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, or World Alzheimer’s Day, to reinforce your brand. For example, you could highlight your staff, promote awareness, or encourage community members to share their own experiences and pictures related to the particular issue.

Highlight your staff

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Highlighting physician profiles should be part of any hospital’s reputation building campaign. By showcasing your staff’s experience and friendliness, you’ll put potential patients at ease and attract more patients for your staff to meet.

One way to demonstrate the professionalism and competency of your team is to have an oncologist, for example, discuss the steps of chemotherapy in a short video on your website in a confident and informed manner. This will not only reassure potential patients, but it will add to the volume of positive online content about your hospital.

Share the experiences of former patients

When it comes to hospital recommendations, people value the opinions of former patients the most. Take advantage of this fact and ask former patients to share their positive experiences on your hospital’s website or social media pages. Just be sure to get permission before sharing any photos your hospital didn’t take.

Engage with the online healthcare community

To establish your hospital as a thought leader in the healthcare community, you should regularly join in community discussions on healthcare-related websites. Your goal here should be to solidify your facility’s reputation as a healthcare authority, not to promote your services. Don’t take over the discussion. Instead, just listen and respond to a comment only if you can provide some value.

Continue to monitor your hospital’s online reputation

Unfortunately, there is no point at which you can be “done” managing your hospital’s reputation. Maintaining a positive professional image takes constant vigilance and effort. Not only will you have to aggressively track your online reviews, but you will also need to consistently post your own content to position your hospital in the best possible light. If you need help with hospital reputation strategy, contact ReputationDefender. We’ll gladly help you plan and implement an image management campaign to help your hospital put its best foot forward.