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TestShould Rural Providers Invest in Their Online Reputation?

Should Rural Providers Invest in Their Online Reputation?

In a 2022 Healthcare Industry Report, analysts found that 72% of patients read online reviews when seeking a healthcare provider. This statistic isn’t particularly surprising, of course — for years now, data have suggested that the public’s inclination to read online reviews is growing.

Still, this digital shift has had a noticeable impact on the industry. 

Now, more than ever, healthcare providers are investing in their online presence to stay competitive in their local markets. A direct response to industry trends, healthcare reputation management (HRM) has become especially popular, particularly among urban practices.

Does that mean rural healthcare providers, with smaller populations and less competition, need to invest in their online image too?

In this article, we explore the basis of this question, current industry trends, and the benefits of leading HRM solutions to establish a clear direction for rural practices.


Why rural providers are hesitant about reputation management

With thousands of clients across the United States, we are no strangers to the wants, needs, and hesitations of small town healthcare providers. While individual practices will always differ in their specifics, the rater8 team has found the general skepticism boils down to one question:

“Why would we invest in reputation management when there’s little or no other competition around?”

This apprehension does not come without some truth. According to the National Rural Healthcare Association, urban areas have 31.2 physicians per 10,000 people, while rural communities see only 13.1 physicians per 10,000.

This discrepancy continues with specialty providers, as there are 263 specialists per 100,000 people in urban communities and only 30 specialists per 100,000 people in rural ones.

Doctor and patient sitting in exam room, taking notes.

This dramatic difference leads to a decreased level of competition in smaller towns, meaning local patients have far fewer options for their healthcare providers, unless they want to drive long distances. While practices in densely populated areas have to battle for attention, it seems as though rural providers simply need to continue serving their communities to stay relevant. 

With this mindset, many rural healthcare providers feel online reputation management is a costly, unnecessary endeavor — especially for those who serve older, less technology-savvy populations.

What the data say

While the pervasive logic seems sound, the behaviors of patients across the country suggest differently. 

In 2022, one in two patients read at least ten reviews before booking an appointment, according to Reputation’s yearly report. In the same study, 80% of patients said they considered providers with at least five reviews to be more trustworthy than those with less.

Three years prior, the University of Michigan’s National Poll on Healthy Aging (NPHA) analyzed the habits of older patients. In their 2019 study, NPHA found that 43% of respondents aged 50-80 read doctor reviews. Of that group, 65% read reviews of providers they were considering, 34% read reviews to find a new doctor, and 31% read reviews for a doctor they had already seen.

Infographic describing the tendencies of rural patients of all ages.

Related, a Doctor.com report from 2020 found that patients rely on digital reviews 1.7 times more than referrals. In fact, a staggering 88% of patients read doctor reviews after being referred, and half decide not to book with a referred provider if their listings are incomplete.

For small town providers, these findings contradict the notion that locality alone will continue to sustain them. Instead, just like in urban areas, patients will continue to incorporate online reviews into their decision-making process — leading some to migrate to providers with better online listings.

With rural patients already driving three times farther for healthcare than their urban peers, small town providers shouldn’t even count on long commutes to deter their clientele from visiting other practices.  In fact, today’s patients appear more than willing to make a trek to a provider with an abundance of reviews than visit a local practice with no online presence.

The conclusion is obvious: online reviews impact nearly every patient’s decision-making process and, as a result, rural providers need to modernize their approach.

The solution: healthcare reputation management

As the industry continues its digital transformation, one thing is clear: small town medical practices must adapt. With the growing popularity of online reviews in particular, healthcare reputation management is the obvious solution.

As the only reputation management platform created specifically for the healthcare industry, rater8 has an unmatched ability to support providers across the country.

For small town practices specifically, rater8 offers three key improvements:

1. Unprecedented patient feedback

For rural practices, receiving patient feedback is essential for providing patients with quality care and an overall positive experience. 

Understanding this need, rater8’s patient satisfaction surveys give small town providers the ability to collect and review feedback with ease. 

Specifically, rater8 generates feedback through automated post-visit surveys, sent directly to patients via text and email — complete with real-time data analysis, fully customizable questions, and advanced targeting capabilities. With a 26% response rate, these surveys give providers unprecedented insight into the needs and concerns of their clientele. 

rater8 patient satisfaction survey, designed to increase patient retention.

Using the feedback rater8 collects, rural practices can then implement actionable improvements into their operation, allowing them to better meet the needs of their patients. For example, if feedback showed that patients were frustrated with the waiting room experience, a practice could immediately make changes to provide a better overall visit.

For rural providers, rater8 puts an end to the guesswork.

2. Increased online exposure

With the majority of patients relying on online reviews when seeking healthcare, it’s more important than ever for providers to have a strong digital presence. For rural providers specifically, an optimized online presence can be used to grow brand awareness and increase engagement — valuable improvements, even for practices with less competition.

rater8’s goal-based review builder grows organic 5-star patient reviews via automated email and text message invitations. Patients are directed to the healthcare review sites where providers and practices most need reviews, allowing practices to increase their digital reach and cultivate a balanced online image.

rater8 also gives practices the tools they need to easily respond to patient feedback — something 65% of U.S. adults say they expect from their providers. Specifically, rater8 consolidates all online reviews in a single dashboard, with the ability to sort ratings by date, platform, and score. To truly expedite the process, the dashboard also comes with nearly two dozen pre-written, customizable, HIPAA-compliant responses

As a whole, rater8’s HRM solution allows rural providers to maximize their digital reach, grow their patient engagement, and save time by keeping all the necessary tools in one place.

5-star Google review in front of laptop, surrounded by logos for Google, Vitals, Facebook, and WebMD

3. Improved staff recruitment

Of course, prospective and current patients are not the only people reading online reviews.

For prospective staff, online reviews can provide valuable insights into the experiences of current and former employees, as well as a practice’s strengths and weaknesses. As a result, increasing their number of 5-star reviews means rural practices can improve their employee recruitment — something desperately needed in small towns.

When it comes to recruiting outside local markets, a robust online presence can even attract future staff members. Alternatively, an abundance of negative reviews can deter prospective employees — after all, who would want to commute, or even move, to a poor work environment?

Better yet, rural practices can use online reviews to identify and address any issues that may be contributing to high staff turnover rates, leading to greater retention. 

Providers can even hear employee feedback straight from the source with rater8’s Pulse Surveys — a streamlined approach to employee feedback. Using frequent, timely check-ins, Pulse Surveys enable practices to identify and address organizational issues before they fester, leading to lower turnover and a greater employee experience. 

To learn more about improving your staff recruitment and retention, watch our panel discussion, Happy Employees Lead to Happy Patients.

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Learn how rater8's patient satisfaction surveys can elevate your practice's overall patient experience with a FREE demonstration.

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Try rater8’s 30-day free trial

Ready to see how rater8 can transform your practice? To try our multifaceted solution for 30 days completely free, simply schedule a live demo with our HRM experts.

During your 30-day trial, your practice will be able to:

  • Send fully customizable post-visit patient feedback surveys 
  • Cultivate organic 5-star patient reviews across every major healthcare review platform
  • Integrate rater8 with your PM/EHR system
  • View all patient reviews and feedback via the rater8 dashboard
  • Meet with rater8’s team at the 14 and 30-day marks to track and review your progress

What are you waiting for? Upgrade your practice’s online reputation today!

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Major Health Partners, Vanguard Medical Group, Michigan Orthopaedic Surgeons, Peninsula Orthopaedic Associates, Ortho Central, and Island Eye Surgery Specialists all contributed to rater8's free patient experience guide.

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