Reviews play a crucial role in marketing your practice to prospective patients. But not everyone understands the true value of patient reviews, and in fact, we believe that reviews are often overemphasized. In this article, we will break down the reasons why patient reviews may not be as valuable as you think -- and how you should strategically use patient reviews to promote your dental practice to new and existing patients.
Patient reviews are more popular than ever -- and more inflated than ever.
Over the past few years, patient reviews have become more widespread across appointment booking sites like Zocdoc, as well as patient communication systems like RevenueWell, Lighthouse 360, Demandforce, and Solutionreach. All of these companies will help you solicit reviews from your patients, but keep in mind that they are also simultaneously boosting many other practices' ratings in the same way -- so it's important not to overestimate the advantage that these reviews will give you.
In addition to the rising number of reviews, reviews have also become more inflated. As many physicians have earned above-average ratings, those ratings become devalued because they no longer help you stand out from your peers. In a 2011 study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, researchers analyzed 4,999 reviews from popular ratings sites (including HealthGrades.com, Yelp.com, and RateMDs.com), and found that patients tended to rate their physicians positively, with physicians earning an average rating of 3.84 out of 5 across sites using a 5-star scale. According to Zocdoc, doctors receive an average rating of 4.68 out of 5 stars after one year of listing their practices on the website.
To confirm that patient review inflation impacts dentistry, we analyzed dentists located in NYC on Demandforce Local and RateABiz (Lighthouse 360’s microsite for displaying patient reviews) to see how patients are rating their dentists within a large city. In our analysis, we excluded practices that did not have any ratings/reviews (39 out of 131 on RateABiz and 11 out of 203 on Demandforce), and limited our analysis to one geographical area (New York, NY).
In our analysis, we discovered that only 1–3% of practices had average ratings that fell below 4 stars (on a 5-star scale). In fact, the vast majority of practices on these sites earned 5-star ratings (87% on RateABiz and 75% on Demandforce).
These results suggest that a high rating won’t give you an advantage on these fiercely competitive platforms. For example, if your practice has earned an average rating of 5 out of 5 stars on RateABiz, that high rating alone won’t give you any edge over 87% of other practices who have also scored 5 out of 5 stars among RateABiz reviewers.
Although this analysis only looks at a sample (one metropolitan area) of patient reviews and ratings on two reputation management platforms, it does provide valuable insight into the nature of patient reviews, and is a good indication of how 5-star ratings have become inflated because patients tend to rate their dentists favorably on a 5-star scale.
Though having genuine 5 star reviews certainly won’t hurt you, the risk you face in soliciting reviews is that if you dip below the 5 star average rating, you’ll be way below the average on these sites.
Reviews posted on niche microsites are less valuable than those from popular sites like Google, Facebook, Yelp.
According to a Dentaltown poll, 52 percent of 168 respondents agreed that Google Reviews carried more marketing value than other outlets like Yelp and Healthgrades. Facebook came in second with 27 percent of the votes.
Many practices use reputation management and patient communication services like RevenueWell, Lighthouse 360, Demandforce, and Solutionreach to help solicit more reviews on their behalf. While it's true that this can be a very effective method of attracting more patient reviews, it's important to keep in mind that many of these services require you to host those reviews on specific microsites (e.g. local.demandforce.com/your-practice-name). These websites tend to carry considerably less name recognition/value than reviews posted on more well-known review sites, such as Google, Facebook, and Yelp.
When prospective patients come across reviews that are hosted on these microsites, they won't value them as highly or find them quite as compelling as reviews they see on Google or Facebook, which are websites where they expect average customers to post their reviews. Also, since the reviews posted on these microsites tend to be universally in the range of 4.5 to 5 out of 5-stars, visitors are more likely to suspect that those reviews are biased or fake, since they know that you are paying a service (where the microsite is hosted) to solicit these reviews on your behalf. Therefore, even if you boast a high average rating on one of these microsites, it probably won't help your reputation as much as a slightly lower (but still high) rating on Google, Facebook, or Yelp. As such, it’s important to make an effort to solicit reviews organically (from existing, satisfied patients) on reputable reviews sites, or use a service like the one shown below, which pulls in reviews from other sources like Google or Facebook.
Reviews are prone to user error, leading to confusing results.
Because they are user-driven content (and users will inevitably make mistakes), reviews are an imperfect science. To further add to the confusion, some reputation management services automatically set the default rating to five stars when asking patients to review your practice. Although this sounds like it will help raise your practice's overall rating, it can lead to unintended side effects.
For example, RevenueWell's reputation management software asks patients to submit a review after they've visited your practice. Either because it assigned a default rating of 5 out of 5 stars (and the reviewer didn’t notice or understand what that meant), or because the patient didn’t understand the ratings scale, a less-than-positive review can end up being paired with a 5-star rating.
In the screenshot below, you can see that one of the 5-star reviews (which happens to be highlighted on the page) does not match the written text, which says, "Not the friendliest service."
The practice above displays an impressive overall average rating of 5 out of 5 stars across 99 reviews, but anyone who reads the highlighted snippet (which is definitely at odds with the 5-star rating) might start to second guess the validity of that perfect average rating.
The right way to use patient reviews
Patient reviews certainly play an important role in increasing your web presence, and in attracting new patients. However, we think that by going overboard in soliciting reviews, you can actually do yourself a disservice and cause prospective patients to question the validity of all of your reviews.
Patient reviews on websites like Google, Facebook, and Yelp are certainly valuable. However, there are many instances of practices with a few reviews on these sites, and then hundreds of reviews on a microsite from their patient communication software. Rather than soliciting reviews on these microsites, you’re best off making sure that you have a few positive reviews on Google, Facebook, and Yelp. Even on these sites, it’s not worth going overboard -- having a few positive, recent reviews on each site (potentially with some less favorable reviews sprinkled in) is realistic, and natural. In contrast, if you have 200 reviews on multiple sites, all of which are glowing, you may actually cause prospective patients to question those reviews.