As more patients go online to find information about physicians, your reputation is being built and managed on the Internet. And like it or not, your online reputation plays a role in acquiring new patients and maintaining trust with existing patients and colleagues. It is imperative for physicians to have a plan and focus on online reputation management.
Online reputation management is the process of preventing and repairing threats to your online reputation. It is done by tracking what is written about you and using techniques to address or moderate the information on search engine result pages or in social media. The goal is to promote positive or neutral content while suppressing negative content.
For physicians, online reputation management involves addressing information in three areas:
- information found on search engine results pages (Google);
- information found in social media (LinkedIn, FaceBook, blogs); and
- information on rating sites, such as Vitals, HealthGrades, Rate MDs, Yelp, and Angie’s List.
Recently, a physician received an email from a company offering online reputation management services to help him mitigate negative online reviews on sites such as Yelp, Google, and health care review sites such as Vitals.
There are hundreds of companies out there offering these services. However, physicians are urged to use extreme caution when choosing a reputation management company. Some companies engage in questionable techniques that could lead to disciplinary action by the Texas Medical Board (TMB).
Specifically, the company that emailed this physician said they “will post reviews for our clients to over 40 social media web sites . . . We post up to 25 reviews per month.”
This claim is alarming in the context of medical practice. How are they managing to post reviews from the patients of a particular physician? Are they making up reviews and then posting them? It is unethical and dishonest to post reviews on these sites that are not from actual patients. Physicians are held to a different standard than other businesses, and posting fake patient reviews is problematic. Doing so would also violate TMB advertising rules, as this type of advertising (and the TMB does consider this to be advertising) would be considered “misleading.”
Here are a few techniques for managing your own online reputation.
Know what is being said. Conduct web searches on yourself and your practice regularly. Review the first 30 hits of the search. (Any hit past 30 is generally considered extraneous and not likely to be read.) (1) Among the top 30 hits, what are these sites saying about you? Continue to monitor these online discussions.
Know what you can and cannot do about negative reviews. Because of health care privacy laws, physicians cannot respond to online reviews. The fact that a patient’s identity is protected information directly hinders the physician’s ability to refute a complaint. Simply acknowledging publicly that the complaining party is a patient breaches confidentiality and violates HIPAA.
Physicians can consider giving patients more constructive ways to offer their feedback. Conducting a patient survey, for example, would be a good way for patients to express their dissatisfaction and feel empowered.
Another option is to talk to the patient directly if you can identify who made the comment. This should be done in person or over the phone. Begin by asking the patient why he or she is dissatisfied.
It is also a good idea to investigate the patient’s complaints. Is the complaint legitimate? Was the problem with a procedure, a staff member, or the patient's wait time? Can the problem be fixed?
Optimize your site for search engines. Optimizing your site for search engines will ensure that anyone typing in your name or your practice name will see your web site at the top of the search list. Optimizing your site involves creating comprehensive and targeted meta tags and web site page titles that help search engines index your site. More sophisticated techniques include editing your site’s content, HTML, and associated coding; removing barriers to the indexing activities of search engines; increasing inbound links; or purchasing related web addresses.
Create your own blog. You cannot control what other people say about you online, but you can create your own story and your own content. Your blog could be as simple as one 300-word post per week. The content could be about services you are offering to patients, the importance of getting a flu shot, or any other health topic that is relevant to your patient base.
Create a LinkedIn profile. Your LinkedIn profile is another aspect of your online presence that you create. Add information about where you went to school, your specialty, and your practice. Make your profile public so that patients and potential patients can learn about you in a way you can control.
Take advantage of that “thank you.” The next time you receive a thank you note or email from a patient or family member, ask that person to post their comments on your blog, on your LinkedIn profile, or on physician rating sites.
Keep in mind that with the prevalence of smartphones and tablet PCs, patients can post a review of you — a positive or negative review — at anytime and from anywhere. Even from your waiting room. Don’t ignore what’s being said.
For more information on online reputation management, please see the following TMLT resources:
- Quinn S. Social media for physicians. the Reporter. 2013 Volume 2.
- Malamon W. Saving face: Facebook for physicians. the Reporter. September-October 2010.
- Malamon W. You’ve been criticized online — now what? the Reporter. May-June 2009.
- Hoffman T. Online reputation management; cleaning up your image is hot, but is it ethical? Computer World. February 12, 2008.