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Patient reviews, search engine optimisation – why it matters in UK healthcare

August 10, 2012

As CEO of iWantGreatCare I meet senior executives and management from a wide range of NHS and independent organisations, as well as individual practitioners whether doctors, dentists or physiotherapists.

These can be broadly divided into two major groups: those who are exposed to competition and the impact of patient choice, and those who are (or who consider themselves to be) immune from any form of market forces. In the latter group sit most of the NHS organisations I meet, although interestingly, the best of these increasingly now treat public and patient engagement as an important driver for improved communication and see better use of social media (including patient experience reviews) as a path to increasing trust and awareness amongst their local healthcare community. (This is especially true for GP practices working out how they can meet the demands for engagement and involvement to meet the demands of CQC registration.)

I’ll return to how independent patient reviews are often the simplest, safest way for primary care to meet CQC and DH guidelines in a future post, but this article is focussed more on the former group: those organisations and healthcare professionals who are all too aware that they have knowledgeable, demanding patients who will access a range of information sources to inform their choice. Whether choosing a private hospital for their elective operation, finding a local physiotherapist, choosing a new dentist when moving house, or deciding which surgeon to choose when presented with a range of options by their insurance company, in every case the reviews and opinions of fellow patients have always been a key factor in the choice of the individual.

So if this is nothing new, what has it got to do with that technical sounding and dark art of search engine optimisation (SEO)? Well, as is so often the case, it comes down to Google. The majority of patients will do an internet search as part of making their choice of where to get care. Either to make the initial choice (for some elective surgery over 95% of patients now use a Google search as the primary source to decide who will operate on them), or to find more information about care recommended to them by their GP, friends or family.

This means that if you are do any private practice or deliver care in a setting where patients have a range of choices (some doctors, most dentists and physiotherapists) you need to ensure that when users search (for example, “Dentist in Oxford”, “knee surgery, Manchester”) you will be one of those listed in the first page of results – preferably at the top. Because if your competitor is above you in the Google ranking they will win more business than you, and this effect is growing year on year, month by month.

Unfortunately – despite what they might claim – the impact of “clever” firms offering SEO support is unlikely to make any difference, other than to deplete your bank account. I hear over and over again from healthcare businesses who – realising the importance of SEO – have paid large sums to advisors, but then see a negligible impact of all the changes to their website, expensive videos and other content initiatives recommended to them.

So why are do patient reviews matter and how can they make a difference. Two simple reasons:

1. Google likes frequently updated user reviews and gives sites with lots of patient comments higher ranking.

2. Patients like and trust independent reviews added by other patients – they are far more powerful in guiding the patient choice than any content on the organisation/practitioners website.

Put simply, the more patient reviews you have (preferably over 50), and if these are added to multiple times a week (Google loves frequently updated content), then whether you are a hospital, dentist, physiotherapist or doctor you will win the SEO “game” and those patients searching for great care will see you at the top of their Google search.

Moreover, so long as when patients read the reviews of your care these are clearly independent and authentic (this means unedited, including criticisms as well as plaudits) they will be highly trusted and influential in the choice made by the patient of who provides their care.

SEO can be very simple in UK healthcare – ensure that a central part of your web presence is a continuously updated stream of patient reviews that are honest, open and authentic.

Currently very few hospitals, dentists, doctors or physiotherapists do this in an effective way but – just as as happened in so many other sectors – this will change dramatically in the near future: within two years having patient reviews on the web will be absolutely normal across UK healthcare.


Additional reading from other sectors (the future of healthcare is easy – it’s what has already happened in other sectors!)



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