When people talk about their bariatric surgeon, others listen. When your patients talk about you–in the grocery store, at PTA meetings, on the telephone, on message boards, in email–their words help shape your public image. Word-of-mouth recommendations are potentially a bariatric surgeon’s most valuable resource for generating new patients. Now, the Internet enables your patients to spread the word faster and farther than ever before. You can maximize the reach and effectiveness of your image and expand your marketing potential by embracing the power of testimonials.
The Power of Patient Testimonials
Potential bariatric surgery candidates need to know what they can expect when they choose you as their surgeon. Your previous patient testimonials give prospective patients evidence from the mouths of those who have already chosen you as their surgeon. They want to know you are a confident and competent bariatric surgeon. A barrage of self-promotion on your Website will not win their hearts and minds; the evidence is in the results you produce from testimonials of your previous patients.
People connect with stories, spoken or written, that convey a truly personal experience. For those who are morbidly obese, reading or hearing success stories from their peers can be empowering and generate visions of the same success. Positive testimonials can mitigate fears about weight loss surgery, comfort families and increase patients’ confidence in your services. If you are like most bariatric surgeons, the vast majority of your patients are pleased with the results of their WLS and more than happy to express their delight; testimonials from patients like these have tremendous marketing value.
The small percentage of patients who are dissatisfied with their experience should not discourage you from embracing the testimonial. Regardless of the number of years you have been practicing, the quality of services and expertise you offer or the number of successful bariatric surgeries you have performed, there is always going to be someone who is unhappy and compelled to voice that opinion.
Even a negative testimonial can be valuable: one surgeon in the Northeast reported to Bariatrics Today that if it weren’t for patient testimonials, he wouldn’t have known his receptionist was doing an unsatisfactory job. She had been frankly rude to patients and had done little to support them emotionally in the insurance approval battle. As a result, several of his patients had blamed his office, rather than their health plan, for their bad experiences. Their testimonials motivated this surgeon to provide more training for the receptionist before further damage was done to his practice’s image.
Here are some sample patient testimonials from a surgeon’s online profile:
Hello, I was excited when I met Dr. Hoehn. He was so reassuring and made me feel good about my decision to have the surgery. He has been open and honest about the whole procedure and about everything that will go on after the surgery. He never held anything back. He came to me right before the surgery to make sure that it was still what I wanted and made me feel at peace about going into the surgery. His bedside manner was fabulous pre & post-op. On a scale of 1 to 10 I would give him and his staff an 11! I would recommend the program that he offers to anyone in the world. Jeanette S., Kearney, MO
My two sisters [and I] had Dr. Hoehn perform their Lap RNY with great success. He is one of the most thoughtful, considerate people I know. God gave him a talent and praise God he is using it to save lives. What can I say about the man who saved my life? His before/after care program is probably the best in the country. It’s nice to know that Dr. Hoehn wants to know how your total health is–spiritually, mentally as well as physically. He explained to me what risk I was taking several times. He doesn’t seem to be in this for the money, but to save lives. He truly takes an interest in his patients. He has a WONDERFUL bedside manner… Dr. Hoehn says he gets lots of hugs from him patients, and now I know why! Donie P., Kansas City, MO
My first impression of Dr Hoehn was, wow–he is a youngster. But after my visit with him you just feel the security that he is very knowledgeable and had the best bed side manner of any of the surgeons I’ve ever had. His staff is not only the best but very knowledgeable as well. Anyone that is pursuing this surgery would be very happy with the staff and Dr. Hoehn. If any problems arose after surgery all you had to do was call the office and someone was readily available to assist you. I rate Dr. Hoehn a 12 on a scale of 1 to 10. He is off the scale of competence and along with his bedside manner he’s a great guy. Linda W., Kansas City, MO
Real Stories from Real People
Rather than viewing testimonials in terms of “good” and “bad,” one might say that their confidence-boosting power lies in their realism. A typical patient, when asked to describe her surgeon, might start by discussing how the surgeon’s office is. Maybe the staff was impressive, but the office was inconveniently far away from her house or she winds up describing her child’s birthday party that same day.
While this clutter may seem to defeat the purpose of an efficient review for other readers, it does something far more precious: it confirms the person’s legitimacy as a real patient, not a marketing professional employed by the surgeon. These plentiful contextual details that humanize their fellow patients attract prospective patients more than the flashy all-positive of typical media advertising. When it comes time to researching major life-altering decisions, the best patients a surgeon could want are the ones most interested in nitty-gritty realism.
Many people are wary of anything that appears “too good to be true,” so a few critical testimonials can actually help you by making your image more realistic. We’ve had surgeons call in to us–literally–and ask if there is something we could do to actually help get at least one negative review up on their profile. One surgeon’s patients had seen something like 15 out of 15 glowing reviews–all legitimate–but had suspected that the surgeon had somehow been rigging them. In fact, in this example, the surgeon didn’t even know the testimonials existed until his patients brought them to his attention.
Making the Most of Online Testimonials
The Internet is the most prominent arena for WLS patients and prospective patients to seek information, express their opinions and share their personal experiences. ObesityHelp.com, for example, has tens of thousands of members who discuss WLS on a daily basis. People rarely say things on the Internet that they aren’t already saying face-to-face. Successful bariatric surgery practices and hospital bariatric surgery programs realize this and use Internet reviews to generate practice-building patient testimonials, and recognize the potential to use these testimonials as an early warning sign that trouble may be brewing in more conventional word-of-mouth circles.
As long as the Internet is home to groups of peers who genuinely seek good information and wish to share good information with others, this will exert a self-regulatory effect. Misleading messages will always be out there on the fringes, but more and more surgeons and allied bariatric professionals are encouraging their patients to post online and are pulling in many additional patients as a result of their testimonials.
Prospective WLS pre-ops genuinely wanting to make good decisions about their lives and bodies will prioritize information from reputable sources. If you provide a source of solid information, these patients will use it.
The ideal information source should:
- be sponsored by your practice
- include educational materials to increase the likelihood that patients who are perusing the site will approach what they read with the facts about surgery in mind–such as what constitutes a complication and what can be reasonably expected in terms of results
- provide opportunities for patients to interact with each other via message boards or blogs
- feature contributions from all professionals in the practice
- offer a reasonable level of moderation, either by staff or a Webmaster. Patients do not and should not believe you are perfect; it is reasonable to expect patients to post about issues they would like to see improved or about problems they have had, but malicious, abusive or extreme behaviors should not be tolerated.
Perhaps the greatest threat Internet testimonial groups pose for clinicians is to their productive focus. Most clinicians entered their fields because they wanted to become very good at providing specialized forms of help, and they want to spend their time helping patients, not worrying about legal issues and PR. Many surgeons’ objections to provider testimonials are driven by a sense of frustration that they have to contend with the issue in the first place. Life used to be a lot simpler.
The Internet provides powerful tools for good and bad, but the online phenomenon has a life and momentum of its own, driven by consumer demands for information, and it must be reckoned with. Fortunately, several respected organizations, such as ObesityHelp.com, can help professionals in the bariatric community establish their own online presence.
There are many advantages to aligning yourself with these organizations:
- association with these organizations increases your credibility
- these organizations may afford you access to their strong, growing online communities
- members who join the community often have the ability to upload pictures, bios, contact info and stories, creating a more personal environment educational materials are abundant
- these organizations can “referee” your message boards for you, filtering out malicious content
- print publications are also frequently available
- visitors to the sites can search for bariatric professionals in their area, linking them directly to your practice and online community
- you are able to interact with patients on a daily basis
Embrace the testimonial, but do it right. Establish your online presence and encourage your patients to be active participants. Let them know how much you appreciate their openness and honesty about their experiences with your practice–especially when they have found success and excellent care–and show them where to go to share that information with others. Your patients are enjoying success, and they can be your greatest resource in extending the possibility of success to others.