These days, customer reviews tend to be guideposts for potential customers. As physicians, we recognize this – and routinely take advantage of it in our personal lives. Who hasn’t at least glanced online at “star ratings” when considering a new restaurant or booking a place to stay when traveling?
But, do people check out doctor reviews as they do brunch locations? Actually, yes. Austin Regional Clinic conducted a survey of 940 patients and non-patients and found that the top three ways people today choose a physician are:
- Visit health care provider website
- Get advice from family and friends
- Check online review sites
Bottom line: feedback matters.
ARC has been a Texas leader in taking a high-tech approach to obtain meaningful patient feedback in “real time” and in larger numbers. We used to be lucky to get 5 percent of our patients to fill out paper forms or respond to phone surveys (often days after a doctor’s appointment). That changed after our patient feedback system trial at three clinics in 2015, which offered patients the chance to fill out a brief survey on electronic tablets before departing the doctor’s office. It showed the potential to generate feedback from about 40 percent of patients and moved us toward ARC-wide data collection. Over time our average response rate has evened out to about 15-20 percent.
This has proven to be eye-opening and encouraging for all whose work touches our patients’ experience, from medical professionals to administrative staff. There were some difficulties while introducing this new technology into the office-visit workflow, so we now are adding alternatives to getting quick patient feedback, such as sending a post-visit text with a link to the same survey online.
What’s important is that we know we need to promptly seek and obtain patient feedback. Our tablet survey captures both compliments and criticism and directs all feedback to a receptive ARC manager in real time. Ideally, it allows us to resolve immediate issues and lessens chances it will be posted publicly online, though we have found that potential benefit hard to measure.
In our experience the ARC-solicited patient feedback spotlights the excellent care and conveniences patients regularly experience with our doctors and staff as well as actions that go above and beyond, information rarely captured in the usual online reviews. Making true patient feedback transparent to doctors and staff has also proven invaluable in giving them a window into the full patient experience they rarely hear about. This has made them more open to change in ways that will make health care better and easier for patients.
There will be demand for more public-facing data. We know that, fortunately, our patients tend to trust ARC website information more than information elsewhere online, so it behooves us to make public honest and accurate patient feedback. When we are transparent on our own website, physicians also will be more aware and accountable. I can envision when there basically will be a running, live feed of patient inputs on ARC’s website based on reviews we get – kind of like the star ratings earned by restaurants or hotels.
It’s easy to think there are plenty of patients out there, so there’s no need to worry about filling our appointment schedules. Central Texas communities continue to grow in population, successful local businesses often induce employees with health insurance to retain them and, of course, illness and injury continue to occur. Why worry about ARC not continuing to grow and prosper?
Because as we also know, competition is increasing with alternatives, including urgent care centers, telemedicine, and home doctor visits, entering and expanding in nearly every corner of the community.
When ARC tested the electronic feedback tablets three years ago, physicians at the three locations were a little nervous. But as they started to see the kind of feedback coming back from patients, their interest grew. They wanted patients to inform them about what works well – and what doesn’t.
The more, the merrier, I believe. When we hear from just a relative handful of patients, just one who is overreacting can unfairly tarnish a physician’s or ARC’s reputation. The more voices, the more quickly real problems are addressed and the more positive reviews can be considered – by a physician, ARC, and the rest of our wired world.
Online reviews overall are 60 percent positive and 40 percent negative for ARC – and we are not sure if all those reviews represent patients who actually had appointments. With the patient tablets, the feedback is 95 percent positive – and we know those are our patients who had an ARC appointment. That is truer data we all should want to share online.
Not listening or not actively seeking patient feedback would be our loss. At ARC, our motto is “patients come first.” What better way to put patients first then listening to their feedback and acting on it.
Manish Naik, MD, is a practicing internist at Austin Regional Clinic (ARC) and also serves as ARC Chief Medical Information Officer.