Google + Local & The Healthcare Industry

If you are in the healthcare industry, or any industry for that matter, we are sure you know about the game changing adjustments Google recently made. In case you don’t, Google Maps and Google Places are being replaced by something called Google + Local.

For most industries, this will advance the review system. For the healthcare industry, the changes might have the opposite effect. In a seemingly great attempt to increase the authenticity of reviews, Google revoked the ability to post reviews anonymously in hopes of creating a space with “real” reviews. This means you would now have to post a review using your full real name. This, in theory, should decrease the amount of untrue or biased reviews.

With the changes, people will now be held accountable for their reviews, something many businesses have demanded for years. But for the healthcare industry, there is more to it.

Healthcare patients are most candid when their privacy is respected. With Google + Local, anyone posting a review must use their full, printed name publicly. This is a major problem because patients demand privacy for a number of easy to understand reasons. It is safe to assume that very few people would be willing to post a review, whether good or bad, at the expense of their privacy.

To make matters worse, HIPAA makes it difficult for doctors to collect and respond to legitimate feedback online. If a patient posts an anonymous review, the doctor may respond. But once an individual’s name is attached to a post, HIPPA precludes a doctor from even acknowledging that the poster was a patient.

While Google+ Local’s approach will likely prevent an avalanche of negative reviews which could decimate a doctor’s practice, the company needs to consider carving out a healthcare-friendly version for doctor reviews. Until HIPAA or Google makes a change, there are very few options for physicians looking for a way to have anonymous yet real reviews available online for future patients.

So does this mean healthcare practices can ignore Google+ Local? Absolutely not. Google+ Local is actually extremely important. Not necessarily for the sake of reviews, but for the +1 aspect. If you +1 a page on a website, and a friend in your circle perform a Google search on the topic, that very site will show up first. It will also show that a trusted source (you!) approves the website. Because we trust the people we know, this serves as a huge call to action. In terms of modern word of mouth, this is most certainly the next big thing for Google SEO as it combines social networking with search engine results.

What do you think? Will Google + Local help or hinder the online review sphere of the healthcare industry? Let us know in the comments!