Electronic or online word of mouth can be listed among the promising concepts in business management that are currently underresearched. As for the general definition, the term “word of mouth” or WOM is used to refer to either positive or negative statements made by people who have the experience of using some products or services. Encouraged by service providers, such statements can influence people’s decision to collaborate with some organizations or individuals since they are available to audiences that are quite large. The effectiveness of online WOM is based on the rapid dissemination of data. Nowadays, e-WOM is successfully used in healthcare and other service industries in the form of online review platforms, but there is not much research on its implications for healthcare supply chains.
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With the development of modern technology, making super-speedy data communication available and transforming humanity’s dreams into reality, WOM was replaced with electronic or online WOM marketing efforts. Among its advantages that are the most critical to success in cooperation for production and service provision are an opportunity to appeal to a wider audience due to online communication channels and its elasticity and usability in different contexts (Chen, Yang, & Wang, 2016). Generalizing on modern authors’ perspectives on WOM and e-WOM, it is possible to say that they are regarded as strategically important tools that increase sales and are capable of improving the brand image (Martin, 2017). At the same time, as Martin (2017) states in his comprehensive literature review, the full potential of e-WOM in the healthcare sector and supply chain management has not been unveiled yet. Even if the actual practical uses of e-WOM in supply chains are numerous, the existing literature on the topic is scarce.
Due to its previously listed advantages, it could be supposed that the use of e-WOM is an affordable and effective decision for various organizations, including companies in the healthcare sector. However, there is not much data about the applications of e-WOM in healthcare service supply chains. Based on the literature review devoted to this type of marketing, the online dimension of WOM and its practical uses are not the most popular topics in healthcare business research (Martin, 2017). It presents a significant research gap that is likely to be filled in the nearest future since modern authors tend to agree that e-WOM is still gaining momentum (Chen et al., 2016; Martin, 2017). In the context of interpersonal collaboration peculiar to the provision of healthcare services, the most popular form of e-WOM is the use of online review platforms and physician-rating websites (Martin, 2017). Such examples of e-WOM can be found in service industries since online reviews can impact demand for some professionals’ work.
In service industries, such as healthcare, e-WOM is primarily used to facilitate the exchange of data enabling potential clients to make informed choices. More precisely, by accessing information from online reviews or other sources targeted at customers, prospective clients can evaluate service options and adopt decisions based on their preferences (Martin, 2017). The content of online WOM tends to refer to different aspects of healthcare services. For example, in his review of literature, Martin (2017) mentions the use of e-WOM to disseminate information on pediatric health professionals and their clients’ experiences. In addition, the previous studies devoted to this concept in healthcare, for instance, the work by Liang and Scammon published in 2012, regard e-WOM as an effective way to share information about health conditions and the success of different treatment options (Martin, 2017). Thus, the use of online WOM in service supply chains primarily refer to the provision of data to impact stakeholders’ and clients’ decision-making.
The ability of online WOM to influence customer choices may differ across various industries. As for general tendencies, its contribution to people’s decisions is more pronounced when it comes to prospective customers who have no prior experience with services in question (Feng & Liu, 2018). The most popular application of WOM in the healthcare industry, online platforms for physician reviews, is thoroughly discussed in the study by Li, Lee-Won, and McKnight (2018). In the 1980s, prior to the rise of information technology, potential customers used to select physicians based on recommendations received from friends and relatives (Li et al., 2018). Nowadays, healthcare clients’ participation in e-WOM processes encouraged by service providers enables people to use physician reviews and conduct their own research to minimize risks (Li et al., 2018). The study by Li et al. (2018) suggests that information from online reviews, as well as healthcare specialists’ demographic characteristics, heavily influences client decision-making. However, the practical implications of such conclusions for the healthcare supply chains are not presented.
The use of e-WOM in supply chains in service industries helps to fulfill different objectives and is aimed at producing benefits for both clients and service providers. For instance, according to Chen et al. (2016), the motives for using e-WOM include the production of social benefits, the stimulation of economic growth, and new opportunities for self-enhancement. In general, supply chains in different industries can benefit from the use of online WOM given that this tool is implemented with reference to an organization’s current position in the market (Feng & Liu, 2018). As for general tendencies, it is widely accepted that WOM and e-WOM referrals in various fields of business are predictive of increases in the number of customers and improved supply chain performance (Feng & Liu, 2018). However, their effectiveness for SCP may vary depending on particular economic sectors, but this topic has not received much attention yet.
Nowadays, there are very few studies that draw links between e-WOM and healthcare supply chains. In reference to other service industries, such as the telecommunication sector, the effects of online WOM on supply chains are studied more thoroughly and could be observed in healthcare as well (Mihardjo, Sasmoko, Alamsjah, & Elidjen, 2019). According to Mihardjo et al. (2019), e-WOM in the form of positive customer reviews can be used to promote the sustainable performance of supply chains. In particular, customer feedback, whether positive or negative, contributes to the formation of the brand image (Mihardjo et al., 2019). As a consequence, the image of a brand influences the image of an entire supply chain and, in case of positive contributions, improves supply chain performance (Mihardjo et al., 2019). However, due to inter-industry differences in supply chain organization, the degree to which the mentioned findings apply to the healthcare sector is the question to be answered in the future.
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To sum it up, online WOM is used in the healthcare industry with the help of physician review websites, and it often facilitates client decision-making. Nevertheless, its applications to healthcare supply chains are not currently of interest to modern researchers. At the same time, in reference to other industries that provide services, there are findings linking the use of e-WOM to increases in supply chain performance.
Chen, Y., Yang, S., & Wang, Z. (2016). Service cooperation and marketing strategies of infomediary and online retailer with eWOM effect. Information Technology and Management, 17(2), 109-118.
Feng, J., & Liu, B. (2018). Dynamic impact of online word-of-mouth and advertising on supply chain performance. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15(1), 1-16.
Li, S., Lee-Won, R. J., & McKnight, J. (2018). Effects of online physician reviews and physician gender on perceptions of physician skills and primary care physician (PCP) selection. Health Communication, 1‑9. Web.
Martin, S. (2017). Word-of-mouth in the health care sector: A literature analysis of the current state of research and future perspectives. International Review on Public and Nonprofit Marketing, 14(1), 35-56.
Mihardjo, L., Sasmoko, S., Alamsjah, F., & Elidjen, E. (2019). The influence of digital customer experience and electronic word of mouth on brand image and supply chain sustainable performance. Uncertain Supply Chain Management, 7(4), 691-702.