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Customer Feedback, Reliable Info Key to Healthcare Consumerism

Medicine’s digital infrastructure needs to reconcile customer feedback with reliable clinic or hospital information to enable a culture of healthcare consumerism.

Healthcare is nowhere near functioning like the travel industry, but give it some time and Andrei Zimiles, the SVP for Consumerism & Marketing Solutions at Press Ganey, says the breadth of customer feedback and online infrastructure will enable a culture of healthcare consumerism.

There was a time when the travel industry was extremely manual, with jet setters turning to travel agents to book their flights and hotels with the hope it’d make for the vacation people wanted.

“But if you think of travel today, I can take out my phone, and in five minutes, from pretty much any entry point as a consumer, I can book a flight,” said Zimiles, the co-founder of, which was acquired by Press Ganey.

“I can book a hotel. I can go to Google, Expedia, TripAdvisor, Travelocity. I could go to I could go to,” Zimiles offered. “Pretty much anywhere in the travel ecosystem I can get trusted, factual information. Is this hotel open? Does it have a pool? Is it handicapped accessible?”

Much of that is fueled by customer feedback, online reviews, and even pictures of an airline or hotel—all information someone can see before they even make the decision to book their trip.

“We're nowhere near that in healthcare,” Zimiles said, suggesting the medical industry is more like that old model for travel. “But it's going to go there, and what fuels it getting there is having high-quality data and engagement from consumers sharing their feedback.”

Patients have a huge appetite for this, the most recent Press Ganey data shows. Patient acquisition is going to rely on a good online presence, with more patients than ever consulting online information—from reviews to hospital websites to Google—to learn more about the clinics and hospitals they’re considering visiting.

This makes sense in an age of healthcare consumerism, Zimiles explained. Patients, increasingly viewed as healthcare customers or consumers, are learning these behaviors from other services industries like hospitality and are now demanding it from healthcare, too. After all, patients’ dollars are increasingly on the line in healthcare just as they are when the patient is booking a vacation; out-of-pocket costs and patient financial responsibility both continue to grow.

Now, it’s time for the healthcare industry to meet that moment by building out an infrastructure and utilizing the customer feedback at its disposal to build a good online presence, Zimiles stated.

“One of the biggest problems is managing provider data,” he said. “It's the foundational piece of information you need to help consumers get connected to the right care—knowing and accurately representing where they are going, which doctors work at which places, when they work there, what they do, and what people think about them.”

For example, Press Ganey’s data shows that patients are increasingly relying on the “near me” search query. Instead of looking for a dermatologist specifically in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, they might simply type “dermatologist near me,” trusting that the search engine will be able to accurately determine the user location.

Having accurate online data is of great consequence, Zimiles said. If the search engine doesn’t have an accurate office address—or office hours, or payer information—it can’t push out a high-quality recommendation to the user.

It’s admittedly hard for healthcare organizations to manage that data considering how large many of them are, Zimiles pointed out. Organizations and individual clinicians might be changing the payers with whom they are contracted, or the hours or care sites at which they practice. The healthcare ecosystem needs to develop a workable way to keep that kind of information updated and streamlined on a consumer-facing platform so it’s easier for patients to shop for care.

“Once there's foundational, trustworthy data that can easily get where it needs to go, then you layer on more of a transactional layer,” Zimiles advised. “That would be like online booking and more sophisticated ways for people to actually book a virtual or a physical appointment right from a search engine or right from a website. That's coming too.”

Healthcare organizations don’t need to wait for the digital infrastructure to exist to build out a good online reputation, Zimiles noted. Hospitals and provider organizations can start right now to assess or audit their online reputation and make positive changes from there.

But organizations would be wise to make sure they don’t focus too much on one online entryway, like Google. Per Press Ganey’s figures, patients look at an average of three websites before making a healthcare decision.

“One of those is Google,” Zimiles suggested. “The other could be the hospital's website. It could be WebMD. It could be HealthGrades. It could be a health plan directory.”

And once an organization has cast a wide net and has an understanding of its online reputation, Zimiles said it can begin to rehab any bad feedback that’s on the web.

“The first step is just knowing globally what your reputation picture looks like,” he suggested. “It's pretty easy if you're a small primary care office; you can do that by hand. But if you're a major health system with thousands of providers and different facilities, you need enterprise tools to help you regularly track all those things to surface red flags when they get detected.”

And if there are bad reviews, Zimiles said the best defense is a good offense. It’s going to be hard to get a bad review taken down by the online review site—maybe if there is profanity or something particularly untoward, Zimiles said—but organizations can remediate bad reviews with individual patients.

Many online reputation management tools offer service recovery solutions that notify organizations of bad reviews and give marketing or PR departments the opportunity to get in touch with the reviewer to make things right. That, plus a focus on increasing the number of authentic reviews, can help organizations build out a good online reputation.

This healthcare consumerism tipping point will of course need to move beyond patient acquisition, Zimiles added. After all, a patient doesn’t stop being a shopper once they walk through the door of the clinic; if they have a bad experience, they’ll go somewhere else next time.

Building out the intent around the patient experience is going to require adopting practices from hospitality and retail, Zimiles advised.

“It requires a cultural change within organizations to be thinking about the care they provide as a product,” he stated. “We don't like to say that. It's healthcare. We're above that. We're not selling stuff. But people have choice. They shop, they compare, and at the end of the day the service that organizations provide is a product.”

Zimiles said he understands where the reticence to embrace healthcare consumerism comes from. Clinical quality and good outcomes are of utmost importance to both clinicians and patients, so it’s hard to think of those good outcomes as a commodity.

“Of course, that's not a substitute for great clinical care,” he concluded. “It's table stakes that the actual clinical experience needs to be great. But this is an ‘and.’ It's not an ‘or.’”

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