Sharp HealthCare, Ochsner Health look to better manage online patient reviews

Sharp HealthCare in California is betting that if it can just get more of its patients to leave Google reviews, power in numbers will improve the health system’s online reputation.

“When you just let it be organic, you’re disproportionally getting negative responses,” said Kelly Faley, Sharp’s vice president of digital strategy. “When you make it easy for patients to leave reviews on an ongoing basis, you get more positives than you did before.”

To that end, San Diego-based Sharp recently hired Podium, a company that specializes in interaction management, to remind patients to leave reviews and make it easy for them to do so. Sharp is one of thousands of healthcare providers big and small that have enlisted so-called reputation management vendors to help them get a handle on the Wild West of online reviews.

Healthcare providers were more resistant than other sectors to recognizing the importance of reviews on websites like Google, Yelp or Facebook. In roughly the past five years, physicians and other providers have finally embraced the need to monitor and respond to reviews, said Stephanie Wilson, vice president of Vanguard Communications, a healthcare marketing firm that helps providers manage online reviews.

“Doctors thought of marketing and reputation management as a dirty word,” she said.

Surveys continue to show patients rely heavily on online reviews. A 2019 survey from PatientPop, for example, found that 70% of patients consider a positive online reputation to be “very or extremely important” when choosing a healthcare provider.

Hospitals’ Yelp scores correlated strongly with their scores on a national standardized survey called the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems, a 2016 Health Affairs study found. The study found HCAHPS missed important patient experience drivers that Yelp did not. For example, Yelp reviewers covered the cost of hospital visits, parking, appointment scheduling and how compassionate staff members were.

Reputation management typically involves not only helping patients leave reviews, but collecting and analyzing the responses and helping providers understand where they fell short. It also means responding to negative reviews—a delicate task, to be sure—and ideally getting those patients to up their stars.

The ultimate goal is to improve health systems’ online scores. While providers can’t delete bad reviews, they can reach out to those patients, try to learn what went wrong and hopefully get them to add more stars to their review.

Sharp never asks patients to change their reviews. The purpose of reaching out is to improve the patient experience, Faley said. “Obviously if somebody chooses to change their review, we’ll celebrate quietly, but that is not the intent of why we reach out to patients,” she said.

The key in responding to negative reviews is acknowledging the patients’ feelings and showing that the provider cares and wants to listen, said Wilson, of Vanguard. Providers can’t divulge protected medical information on public sites, but they can ask the patients to call them and discuss offline. They also shouldn’t admit wrongdoing when it comes to liability issues like misdiagnosis, Wilson said.

“It’s OK to say, ‘We’re sorry you feel this way. We’re sorry you had a negative experience and we care about you. Here’s some information,'” she said. “It disengages that negativity. It shows that the practice is willing to listen. It doesn’t mean the patient is necessarily right.”

Podium’s platform is like other reputation management firms in that it integrates with providers’ electronic medical records and texts patients when they’re discharged asking them to leave a review on sites like Google or Facebook. Podium, based in Lehi, Utah, then uses the reviews to give providers “actionable data and insights” from the reviews to help them improve care and better connect with patients, said Omar Nagji, the firm’s senior vice president of strategic sales.

Podium on Tuesday announced a new partnership with Louisiana’s Ochsner Health that’s similar to its deals with Sharp and its roughly 6,000 other healthcare provider clients, including smaller specialty and retail clinics. Ochsner has managed its online reputation since 2015 with the goal of turning negative comments into positive experiences by connecting patients with advocates to guarantee their voices are heard, Cara Bergendahl, the system’s vice president of marketing and communications, said in a statement.

“By increasing online reviews, we supply our patients with transparent information needed for them to make an informed healthcare decision,” she said. “Our first priority are our patients, and their feedback is critical for our teams to continue and deliver high-quality experiences, every day.”

One thing that drew Sharp to Podium was that Podium does not allow clients to only release positive reviews for publication on websites, a practice known as gating, Faley said. Google stopped allowing businesses to gate reviews in 2018.

“We want to make all of the reviews available,” Nagji said. “Whether it’s a positive, a negative or an indifferent review, our stance is it’s best for those to be out there for everyone to see what’s happening.”


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