The Truth About How Your Best Patients Really Choose You as Their Doctor

How to overcome the emotional roller coaster of online doctor reputation sites, how patients really choose a doctor, and how to own your online presence.

Are you afraid of what is being said about you by your patients?

A negative review from an actual patient about one of my doctors on a popular online review site.


This patient specifically comments on the doctor’s personality, professionalism, and support staff. Then after the perfect tri-fecta they get to the real purpose which is to warn other patients to “BEWARE”.

Now I know what you are thinking.

“Well this is one of many patients and we can’t focus on one disgruntled patient who clearly has issues of their own. Why not focus on a good review? There are surely plenty of those.”

You are right.

A positive review about the same doctor. 


“Remarkable”. That should make the patients come running!

Praise and Blame. Your ego driven emotional roller coaster.

What do both of these reviews have in common?

They both influence the way we think about ourselves and how we judge who we are and what we do. Personally and Professionally.

A positive review makes us feel a little inflated and proud.
A negative review makes us feel discouraged and bitter.
In both cases we are allowing outside factors to influence our self-awareness and self-judgment.

It’s like a slow erosion from the whispers in your head judging ourselves on how “good” we are.

Over time it becomes a foundation of self-imposed fear and insecurity.

“Will my next patient say how remarkable I was or how uncaring I was?”

Working from this state of insecurity is the worst foundation for a sense of accomplishment and value. That uncertainty flows through you and to every patient interaction in a mashed up mess of miss-communication.

How to handle praise and blame like an Enlightened Physician

In the Art of Medicine, we learned how to connect with our inner well-being in order to super charge our level of satisfaction in practicing medicine.

We learned about the five components that integrate to enhance our own well-being:

  1. Deriving something positive from patient interactions;
  2. Having awareness of your own state of well-being;
  3. Having a stable personal and professional sense of self;
  4. Practicing personal well-being that has an effect on patient interactions;
  5. Committing to a healthy practice of self-care.

Physicians that integrated these components into their life focused on the patient’s needs rather than primarily on clinical issues or visit management and are more successful in all areas of patient and professional satisfaction.

They are skilled in effectively drawing out the patient’s story, through active listening, including eliciting the patient’s fears and concerns.

When you focus on enhancing your own sense of well being you are better able to connect with your patients and minimize the influence of Praise and Blame.

The truth about how your patients actually choose you as their doctor.

Now that we have our sense of self-worth and security stabilized, let’s address what really influences a patient’s selection of you as their doctor.
In reality, there is a three-step process that patients go through to select a doctor who they will trust.

Evidence from a national survey gives us some insight into the process and the role online sources play.

  1. When faced with the need to visit a healthcare professional, patients seek out a word of mouth referral from family, friends, or co-workers which starts the decision-making process of “can I trust this doctor”. It is important to understand that the need to see a doctor breaks down into 3 categories:
    1. Acute problem
    2. Chronic problem
    3. Preventative desire
  2. Patients then search for supporting information to feel better about choosing you as their doctor for their particular need. They now commonly do this viaGoogle and other Online Sources. This is what they look for in order of importance:
    1. Insurances Accepted
    2. Doctor’s Experience
    3. Location
    4. Practice Reputation
    5. Word of mouth reviews
  3. Finally, they make first contact with the office looking to schedule an appointment after they have made the decision. This is the most critical time because they are looking now for an indicator of how efficient and friendly their experience will be.

Practice Management Tactical TIP: Your front office staff should be asking every single new patient how they heard about you and keeping a log so that you know specifically how your unique mix of patients are finding you.

The real influence of the web on you and your patients.

A Pew Research study showed that 87% of US adults use the Internet and 72% look for health information online. And, according to Google, 77% of patients used a web search before booking an appointment.

The search for supporting data today begins online and is often launched for both hospital and medical facilities as well as, and most importantly, the physicians in whom an individual will entrust their care or that of a family member.

Also, physicians who receive poor ratings don’t have a chance to refute any of the claims.
According to a ZocDoc survey released in October 2013, 85% of physicians do read their online reviews.

It’s true that “Yelpification” is on the rise and physicians are paying more attention to their reviews.

Despite these facts, when you are empowered with the mindset to overcome the effects of Praise and Blame, it is easier to see the reviews as constructive criticism that helps you to identify opportunities for improvement with the way you practice.

Wake Up: Patients Google It

The other trend that has been in place for years and on the rise is patients arriving at their visits armed with print outs regarding the severity of their conditions and various self-diagnosis recommendations from WebMD, Google a health and the spectrum of symptom checking sites out there.
In “Wake up health care: Patients Google it” , it proposes a rather unorthodox campaign launched in Belgium to get patients to stop “Googling” their symptoms.

How to outrank “Dr. Google” and show up first even before popular reputation sites.

With a basic understanding of Search Engine Optimization and an accurate, visible website you can make sure you have the right information up online about your doctors and clinic. This does not erase the review sites but it does change the conversation by giving the patient what they are looking for when seeking out data to select a doctor.

Step 1. Google thyself and find out what your patients see

The first step is to find out what your patients see when they google you. There are two types of google searches that can be performed:

Branded Search: A branded search is a search done with the information already in hand about the doctor name or clinic name the patient wants information on. A branded search is a search entered with the intent of finding a particular website or webpage.

Informational Search: An informational search will be done on a broad topic. This would include a patient search for a symptom or a condition like “Migraine Relief”

Once you complete your search you will see what shows up on the first page and then on the pages after. This is called “ranking”. Ranking is basically how google determines how relevant you are to the patient search.
You will see three separate results categories:

    1. Paid or sponsored online advertising results
    2. Local business listings and maps results
    3. Organic results

Depending on the content of your website and how many places you are mentioned, you will show up in one of three or all of these places. The Google SEO Starter Guide below will give you more details about Organic Results.

Notice how popular review sites come up below ads and business listings but still on first page.

Action Item: Perform your own search with your name, your clinic or practice, your location, and what conditions you treat.

Step 2. Stop hiding and get your website up

Now that you have discovered what your patients are finding are they finding you?

You may or may not have a website for your doctors or clinic up online. If not, now is the time. There are many options available nowadays. Be sure your website addresses your patient’s needs and answers their questions.

A survey of top features patients want in their doctor reveals 5 main elements:

  1. An accurate list of what insurances are accepted by the doctor.
  2. The ability to schedule online so they don’t have to wait on hold when they call in.
  3. Enough information to “GET TO KNOW” the doctor before they came in for a visit.
  4. Easy to follow directions to office and accurate contact information on their smartphones.
  5. The ability to fill out paperwork before they come in for their visit.

Your Ideal Website

Your ideal medical website layout should be clean, simple and easy to read for your patients. It should have all of the elements listed.



It is also important that you have a Website that is smartphone friendly for patients that are searching for your office and for you with their devices.

How to choose a vendor to get your website built
You should choose a vendor that has medical practice experience. Many sources recommend setting a project budget of $5,000+ and $1000/yr. in hosting and maintenance for a custom website. This is a sizable investment but can be worth it if you have special services or cash based services you want to promote. You can take the DIY route but this can be time-consuming and not the best use of precious hours.

There are more inexpensive Do-it-for-You options available that can be just as effective as hiring a designer and save you time.

Step 3. Maximize Search Engine Optimization

According to the Google SEO Starter Guide, SEO affects only organic search results, not paid or sponsored results. For most small practices, this is important because you may not have the budget for paid advertising online. Optimizing your SEO does not involve a big investment in money but does involve an investment of time.

It can take some time for your new site to get noticed by search engines and show up on search sites like Google and Yahoo. Make sure you have the right keywords listed on your homepage so if people are searching for new conditions to treat it will show up.

Effective SEO requires a lot of small strategic adjustments to your website content over time.
You will not see results right away, but when you do see results it helps you rank higher in search and stay there.

Step 4. Promote Your Website

Once you get your website up you want to make sure it can be found. It does take some promotion to show up on the first few pages. It will not magically appear on it’s own.

You also want to start driving traffic to your site via offline efforts like flyers, brochures, business cards, and word of mouth. There are great low-cost printing options available like Vistaprint and

Submit your site to search engines.

You can manually submit your website to google and over 250 business listing directories and search engines. This can speed things up. There are a few great sources than can help. Try Universal Business Listings and even take control of social media profiles.

Add email marketing.

If you aren’t already collecting email addresses from patients, start as soon as you decide to implement your site. When the site goes live, send an email to patients—and others, such as referral sources and vendors—to let them know about the new site and the features and services it offers.

Emails are also are a great way to remind patients of seasonal services and to come in for follow up visits.

Email software like Aweber, Mailchimp, or Constant Contact are cost effective and can reach large audiences for little money.

If you have a mass mailing or email capability with your EHR you should utilize this to drive patient engagement.

Google Local Business Listings.

Create a Google Business Listings Account and get office details, your website link and even post photos of your doctors and office space.

We’ve just seen above how Google business listings ranks top of the page next to paid ads and it’s free!

Claim your online listings.

Many physicians are already listed on a wide range of physician search and rating sites such as Doximity, Healthgrades, ZocDoc, & Vitals. You can claim your profile on these sites and make sure the information is correct and there is a link to your website.

Pay a little to Rank #1.

You’ve probably noticed Paid Google Ads ads before. They’re at the top of Google on the search results page.

The majority of people click on paid ads because they are always at the top of the page and most people don’t even realize these are ads, believe it or not.

Paid ads can deliver great results, especially if you have certain special services that you need to advertise for.

It is easy to set up an account and get started.

Google makes it really simple to do it yourself however, you can waste a lot of money if you don’t know what you are doing.

You should absolutely find a certified Google Pay Per Click Expert to manage your account.

Crush your fear and grow your practice with the power of 4 billion searches a day.

Now you know how to control the conversation online by delivering your true self to patients where they are looking for you. You will never be at the mercy of patient review sites again.

You also know how to outrank “Dr.Google” so your patients are ready to hear your expert advice without influence.

Finally, you can be proactive and reach new patients with the power of 4 billion online searches per day on Google.

People are looking for relief from the diverse mix of conditions that they suffer from. This is where they need to find you, an expert physician, before they find the massive amount of questionable online advice.

Ready to take action?

Free Resource: Download the 7 Step Complete Guide to marketing your practice for success.


About The Author

James Riviezzo

Over the past decade, I have served over 50,000 (mostly) satisfied patients. I have tracked measured and documented what makes a successful practice inside (and outside) the third party payer and oversight system of medicine.