Tips for gathering powerful, personal feedback to market your practice

Doctors, you may be overlooking an important tool for marketing your practice and attracting new business: effective patient testimonials. Ever since patients began reviewing their health care providers online, doctors have become aware of the power of word-of-mouth on the Internet—for better or worse. Patient testimonials are an effective way to collect and share positive feedback about your practice and services. Do you know what it takes to capture a good testimonial?

Online reviews vs. testimonials

First, you may be wondering what the difference is between a review and a testimonial. Reviews are generally collected by third-party platforms like Google Reviews, Yelp, and Healthgrades, explains online marketing expert Vikram Rajan in Forbes. Testimonials, on the other hand, are collected by businesses and generally used on their web sites and in their marketing materials. Doctors have the advantage of another place to showcase testimonials: their waiting rooms. On a TV screen or an iPad, for example, loop in patient quotes and photos (with permission, of course) along with your other educational and marketing content.

While it is important to monitor your practice’s online reviews, respond to negative ones, and request positive ones from satisfied patients, ultimately you have very little control over reviews on third-party sites. That’s where testimonials can help.

Real patients talking about your practice in their own words is more impactful than an anonymous online review.

Real patients talking about their experiences in their own words carries much more clout than an anonymous review. “When clients give you a testimonial, they won’t use your carefully crafted corporate words. They’ll talk like normal people…Speaking naturally resonates with people,” wrote Rajan. He urges businesses to use the language from testimonials in their marketing copy.

“Testimonials affirm our credibility and trust. Nowadays, this is called social proof,” he wrote in another Forbes article, titled “Top Seven Overlooked Benefits Of Testimonials.”

There are ways to get patients to give better testimonials and use specific language, which we’ll get to in a moment. But first, let’s make sure you don’t land on the wrong side of HIPAA laws.

HIPAA guidelines for patient testimonials

Testimonials for doctors and medical practices are different from those for other types of businesses because you’re dealing with patients and protected health information (PHI). We’ve all heard of instances where an innocent mistake on social media cost a health care employee their job or a hefty HIPAA fine.

HIPAA allows for patient testimonials provided that a practice gets written authorization first.

HIPAA does not prohibit practices from using testimonials, according to the web site Planet HIPAA. “Instead, HIPAA mandates you get written authorization from your clients to post their protected health information on the organization’s web site or social media page.” Planet HIPAA provides a link to download the free patient testimonial authorization form. Also, a written copy of HIPAA policies must be made available to all patients and practice employees.

You may be tempted to avoid the HIPAA issue altogether by posting anonymous testimonials. Opinions vary as to whether or not these are effective. “Anonymous testimonials may as well be fake,” stated Rajan. Yet this practice’s web site includes a page of anonymous patient testimonials that praise their weekend hours, online check-in, and customer service. Consider your strategy and patient base to decide whether or not anonymous testimonials would achieve your practice’s goals.

Best practices for better testimonials

The difference between a testimonial being perceived as biased or authentic is whether patients’ words are their own, according to Rajan. “Don’t write testimonials for references to sign. Voice-recorded and/or video testimonials show your raving fans’ authenticity.”

While you don’t want to put words in their mouths, you can guide patients by asking them the right questions. Rather than asking yes or no questions like “Were you satisfied with your experience?” ask leading questions to generate “quotes that specifically highlight your differentiators and benefits,” suggests the CareCloud blog. For example, if your practice offers extended hours, you could ask patients, “What do you like about our evening and weekend hours?” An eye care practice might ask, “How has LASIK impacted your life?” If you want to promote the fact that you use digital tools like Rendia to explain conditions and treatment options, ask patients, “What did you like about our educational materials?”

Ask patients specific questions to direct their answers, such as ‘How has LASIK impacted your life?’ or ‘Why did you choose our practice over others?’

A good testimonial makes an emotional connection with prospective patients. For that reason, dental practice marketing company RevenueWell suggests that the “reverse testimonial” is the most effective format. “This type of testimonial starts with the problem the patient faced when selecting a doctor, and it is more of a patient journey or story. The reverse testimonial talks about what the practice excels at, while also addressing a pain point that prospective patients may have on their minds.”

A good testimonial makes an emotional connection with prospective patients. Click To Tweet

Ideally, you should capture a number of testimonials that speak to each of your “buyer personas”—a.k.a. patients—advises inbound marketing software company HubSpot. “Every testimonial should highlight different types of people using your products or services in ways that are specific to their needs. This is because buyers want to know how people similar to themselves are using your product.”

HubSpot cites data that “89 percent of marketers say video testimonials are the most effective content marketing tactic.” The company recommends looking into tools that can help you create professional video testimonials on a budget, such as the Bravo and Nimbb apps.

Here’s an example of an eye care practice that captured video testimonials from LASIK patients.

How to ask for testimonials

The best testimonials are fresh and specific, according to HubSpot, so ask patients that have recently had a good experience with a treatment or procedure in your practice. CareCloud suggests asking a few trusted long-time patients if they’d be willing to provide a testimonial. “You might offer them a small gift as a thank-you, such as a $50 Whole Foods gift card.”

Make it easy for patients, suggests HubSpot. “Tell your customers exactly how they can leave you a testimonial, whether it’s written or in video format.” Here’s an example of HubSpot’s own testimonial landing page. Notice how each one is paired with a photo to make a more personal connection with prospective customers.

“The Internet is making the world small again,” stated Rajan. “Personal recommendations and testimonials will outweigh reviews in the future.”

Rendia’s video-based patient engagement tools are easy to integrate with your patient testimonials, and they help you accomplish the same goal: building a successful practice and a strong reputation.