In 2017, when Alaciel Torres joined Northwestern Medicine as a Social Media Specialist, they were just starting their journey to improve their online reputation strategy by looking at ratings and reviews across their hospital locations.
Since then, her work connecting with patients through Facebook, Yelp, and Google Business Reviews has not only helped zero in on key areas for improvement or communication across departments and hospital locations, but has humanized their organization as well.
According to Alaciel, the journey to that success began when they found a vendor to pull in all their review data across channels.
“Our goals were to see what was out there, clean it up, and then see how we can engage and with patients through these channels and direct their concerns to the right people,” she said. “But, at first, there was a little ambiguity when it came to really learning how we could take advantage of all the access we had.”
She said their first big insight was that nearly 90% of their reviews come from Facebook, Yelp, and Google My Business.
“We have notifications set up where we receive an email anytime a new review comes through, but everything flows into our dashboard where we can export and manipulate the data as it comes through,” she said. “That’s where we were able to really put together where the reviews were coming from and how we should formulate our strategy.”
She said these insights of where the reviews were coming from made a big difference because, within the hospital, people had hypothesized that most of their feedback would be from physician review sites like ZocDoc and HealthGrades.
“There was a learning curve that most of the reviews weren’t coming from those, they were coming from Google, Facebook, and Yelp — because when patients are wanting to express grievances or complaints, those are the channels that first come to mind,” she said.
She emphasized that, while those physician review sites are still important to them, these insights changed how they approached their process for reviews and responding.
Once they knew where the reviews were coming from, their next step was figuring out how to appropriately engage with them.
She also made sure to reach out to stakeholders from across departments as she formulated their strategy.
Alaciel and the team sought out leaders in billing, patient relations, HR, and compliance throughout the process and got them involved.
“We worked with those teams to have a contact list on speed dial — so any time we need a specific response or needed to escalate a review, there's a number we can call or email,” she said. Once she had those partnerships mapped out, she crafted a deck that outlined what community management is for them — and how reviews fit into that picture.
“We term it ‘virtual patient relations,’” she said. “Because we have a presence online, we have an obligation to our patients to acknowledge them and hear them out.” Alaciel said they quickly learned that the patient experience extends beyond the four walls of the hospital into their social and digital channels online. And when the patients are there, they expect a speedy response.
Through their work with reputation management and online reviews, Alaciel said they are alerted to a lot of operational issues.
“One of the biggest complaints we get outside of patient relations is billing issues that are very specific to locations,” she said. “Appropriately dealing with those is a continuous process with us.” Currently, their steps include passing the information along to the regional marketing representatives and other relevant departments to ensure communications channels are open and they’re able to take actionable steps.
Alaciel has also started to compile quarterly reports that outline specific information to those regions and give them insights on sentiment.
Alaciel and her team also work with their billing and patient relations departments to provide those updates and check-ins with them. “One thing we've noticed is that if a patient provides feedback on one platform, more likely than not, they will provide it on the other platforms as well.” She said this information has been beneficial for continuing the conversations effectively with the patients, because it allows the involved stakeholders to cross reference with each other and make sure they have all the information they need.
According to Alaciel, paying attention to these insights and doing this work is important because it helps humanize them as a hospital system.
“As a healthcare organization, it’s important to come off as human as possible through a digital platform — especially when it comes to Yelp, Facebook, and Google where people are most likely to write negative reviews thinking they won’t get a real, human response,” she said. “Sometimes when we take some conversations to direct message we will get some responses that say ‘thank you, I thought I was talking to a robot.’”
She said it’s crucial to keep this perspective in mind because, more often than not, those patients are going to social as their last resort. “We are really the last line of defense in helping a patient address their issues and on behalf of Northwestern Medicine, so we owe it to our patients to uphold the same patient care standards they’d expect when it comes to customer care,” she said.
Alaciel also said being mindful with these responses can also have the added benefit of the patient updating their review to reflect their positive experience. “That's something we keep in mind for helping educate our other team members across different departments on the value of what we’re doing,” she said.
Alaciel said the next step of developing their ratings and reviews program is solidifying their cadence of quarterly reports.
According to Alaciel, sharing these insights has already provided real value to locations across their health organization.
“We recently opened a new hospital in a particular location and immediately started receiving negative feedback on the ER and the wait times,” she said. “Being cued into those reviews gave us an opportunity to address and communicate with this community.”
She said that kind of work is helping bridge that gap between what she and her team know, and what the marketing representatives and key stakeholders at their individual locations know.
And, Alaciel and her team’s work responding to reviews and building out their online reputation strategy won them the Customer Experience Award at Yext’s conference this past October.
For anyone looking to build out a similar program, Alaciel advised looking at your objectives and where you are in the process of maintaining your digital presence.
“For us, the first step was revamping our website because we were in the middle of a merger — because what happens if we give them a link to a website to answer their question about a service and then you go to the website and it's not available,” she said. “Recognize where you are in that digital process, then do a competitor audit.”
She also said it’s important to build relationships with departments like billing and patient relations to be able to take negative comments, and direct them to the right places so they can get resolved positively and continue to improve their patient experience.
Finally, she emphasized that, though it takes time — and a lot of effort — this work can provide a lot of value for healthcare organizations. “When looking at online reputation for healthcare systems, it’s important to recognize that we're not just dealing with angry customers, we're dealing with angry patients who care about their own personal customer care,” she said.
Alaciel Torres has been a member of SocialMedia.org Health since 2018. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.