MACRA and MIPS: How the New Rating System Might Impact SEO and Social Media Traffic

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(and what your practice needs to do to improve the reputation and visibility of your practice)

Medicare New Rating System Impacts SEOThe Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA) is the new pay-for-performance Medicare reimbursement program that was signed into law a few years ago. Focused on improving quality, value of services and accountability of medical professionals being paid by the Medicare program, it attempts to reward health care providers for better care, security and services. The new Act combines parts of the Physician Quality Reporting System, Medicare Electronic Health Record incentive program, and value-based payment modifiers into a single program called the Merit-based Incentive Payment System, or “MIPS”. The new system began on January 1, 2017 and uses a scoring methodology that creates ratings based on quality, resource usage, clinical practice improvement activities, and use of certified electronic health record technology. Ratings are then reflected in a score that ranges from 0 – 100 and can have a strong impact on the reimbursement amount authorized by Medicare each year.

While each medical entity that receives Medicare patients should be positioning itself to meet the expected guidelines required to maximize their reimbursements and improve patient experiences, there is another aspect of the new program that is getting far less attention than it deserves: the potential impact on your social media representation/reputation and search engine optimization (SEO) and related visibility as your ratings are posted in the public domain and put to use.

MACRA, MIPS, and Social Media Impact.

Under the MACRA program, all physician scores are published on the Physician Compare website (https://www.medicare.gov/physiciancompare/). More importantly, these scores are also being made available to the full spectrum of social media review and rating platforms and services for usage as they see fit, including (but not limited to) Google, Yelp, Facebook, Vitals.com and Healthgrades.com. The intention of the program is to spur direct competition between providers, motivated by the consumer-facing scoring. The higher the score, the more favorably they anticipate your practice will be viewed by Medicare patients searching for a doctor. While 3rd party sites have yet to factor these new MIPS ratings into their algorithms and online rating systems, it is a safe bet to assume they will figure out how to best do so sooner rather than later, in the interest of greater accountability and patient choice. In fact, it is fair to assume that MIPS ratings for Medicare physicians and practices may reach or even exceed the importance of regular patient reviews.

To add much-needed context, we need to spend a little time qualifying and quantifying the impact of reviews and ratings on consumer decision-making. According to a major local consumer review study of more than 1,000 people conducted by BrightLocal:

  • 85% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations
  • 73% of consumers are likely to trust a local business more if they have received positive reviews.
  • 50% of consumers require at least a 4-star rating before they will seriously consider doing business with your company.

These results confirmed what we’ve known for some time: reviews matter as they heavily influence trust, which is arguably the most important currency for online traffic and lead generation. Your online ratings and reputation have a major impact on a majority of online searches and whether they choose your practice over a competitor. With MIPS scores likely to be added to healthcare provider rating websites like HealthGrades.com and general review sites like Google and Yelp, there is every reason to assume that your MIPS rating will become one of the biggest factors (if not the single largest factor) in helping people decide if you are a top choice to be their doctor or not.

MACRA, MIPS, and Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

One unknown factor is how, when and if search engines like Google and Bing will choose to use these ratings in their search results. All major search engines are focused on providing the most relevant data possible to their users to help them make the most informed decisions possible. Over the years, that has been reflected in the creation of separate local business groupings, star-based rating systems, review snippets, and more, right in the middle of page 1 search results.

It would certainly not be surprising to one day see a MIPS rating score listed in large print right next to a physician’s name as it appears in a Google or Bing search, which should be a very sobering thought for any physicians who are currently doing a poor job or the bare minimum amount of reporting. Adding MIPS scores has to be an attractive proposition for search engine services, as few singular pieces of information will be as comprehensive and easy to digest as a MIPS rating. If MIPS ratings are implemented by search engines and treated similarly to how consumer reviews are treated, we anticipate an impact on your local visibility with higher scoring medical practices ranking consistently higher than lower scoring ones and enjoying objectively better visibility.

What Your Practice Can Do to Prepare

In our opinion, it is a matter of when not if we see MIPS scoring reflected in both social media and search engine results. To that end, our recommendations are clear:

  • Physicians should focus on mitigating any reputation damage and negative search engine visibility impact by reporting as much data as possible to the MIPS program and make as many recommended changes as you can. The more data you submit and clinical improvement you make, the higher your rating score and payment incentive can be. A low score, secondary to either poor performance or simply failing to do more than the minimum amount of work required to avoid penalty, will end up looking the same to someone considering your practice, potentially doing damage to your bottom line.
  • We recommend active rating management and encouraging patients to leave reviews. The more positive reviews you have on essential review systems and platforms (Yelp, Facebook and Google are rated as the most trusted platforms), the more trust potential patients will have in your services. Encourage patients to leave them and thank them for doing so when they take their time out to do so on your behalf.

The best thing any physician can do here is to get out ahead of it now. Do your best to maximize your MIPS score, not just for the improved ratings, but to maximize patient care and experiences. Encourage past and current patients to leave a review. In doing so, you will not only see a highly competitive MIPS rating, but also a higher number of positive reviews from satisfied patients; both of which are tried and true methods to improve your social media reputation, search engine visibility, and ultimately the size of your patient base.

Todd C. Withrow
NicheLabs, LLC

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