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Are Online Provider Reviews Poised to Replace Doctor Referrals?

Similar to the way we can instantly stream our favorite movies or TV shows whenever we desire, today’s healthcare consumers want immediate answers to questions about symptoms and providers. And thanks to a hasty leap forward with technology — because our lives depended on it during the pandemic — we are now more digitally savvy with our healthcare options and physicians than ever before.

As informed consumers, we not only want plenty of choices from our paid channel subscriptions, like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, we also want the best services for our money (and insurance plans) when it comes to healthcare. This is why we look to online provider reviews for answers. And we trust those online reviews as much, or more, than doctor referrals. 

According to surveys like this one, nearly 75% of patients look at online reviews as their first step in finding a new healthcare provider, and the numbers continue to grow. This tells us that patients are relying less on their physicians for recommendations and more on their own research online.

We see this trend continuing, and it’s likely that online provider reviews will eventually replace doctor referrals altogether. Here’s why.

Digital convenience is king, even in healthcare.

As a society, we’ve collectively become much more accustomed to using digital technology in our daily lives since 2020 (think online ordering of food, groceries, gifts, reservations, tickets, etc.). As a result, we now want the same conveniences from our healthcare providers. We want to find our next healthcare specialist, read reviews about patient experiences, schedule appointments, and pay our medical bills — all online. 

As far back as 2017 (which seems like at least a decade ago in the digital space!), more than 50% of patients said online research was their preferred source of information about providers over doctor referrals. We’ve become a society of educated consumers who rely on reviews and star ratings for everything we purchase, including healthcare services.

Recent research shows that the use of online review sites continues to grow and influence patients deciding whether or not to choose specialists recommended by their primary care physicians. In 2013, only 25% of patients trusted online reviews to evaluate doctors. Comparatively, by 2020, that number grew to 65%.

Now, in early 2023, it’s no surprise that this trend and preference for digital solutions along every step of the patient journey — especially when it comes to provider reviews and doctor referrals — continues to gain momentum. 

Reviews and star ratings rank high for decision-makers.

Much like you’ll try out a new restaurant or book a hotel based on outstanding online reviews and five-star ratings, positive reviews make a world of difference in the healthcare field. So much so that 43% of patients said they would see a provider outside of their insurance network. 

We no longer simply and fully trust our family doctor to recommend a specialist. We feel compelled to do our own research and vet them before we commit to scheduling the next appointment, even if it means paying out-of-network premiums. 

Does your practice have enough positive online provider reviews to keep up with the trend?

Can your ideal patients easily find you online? Can they get accurate information from your updated Google Business Profile, or is it missing important information? Will prospective patients be able to read a large selection of reviews about your healthcare practice and providers before making an informed decision?

We ask these important questions, because here at SocialClimb, we help healthcare organizations like yours manage their reputation so you can stay relevant and highly visible online. Our automated review requests sent from our HIPAA-compliant healthcare marketing platform, let you invite every patient to leave feedback after an office visit. With so many great reviews, when a potential new patient gets a doctor referral to a medical specialist at your practice or hospital, your online reputation will clearly represent your excellent level of service.

Don’t rely on doctor referrals to get more patients in your door. Stay ahead of the curve. Talk to our healthcare marketing experts and learn how we can help boost your online presence and attract high-value patients.


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