The Physicians Guide to a Positive Online Reputation

For physicians, the importance of maintaining a positive online reputation is at an all-time high. Continue reading to see what steps can be taken to maintain a positive digital presence.

Your online reputation is important. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. As a physician, your first impression is used to determine if you would meet with a specific patient again. In today’s world, however, it often determines if you will ever meet that patient at all. This is not because the importance has subsided, but rather because the location of your first impression now occurs online. Even if you are not active online, your online reputation still exists, in some way. More patients than ever before are using the Internet to find a doctor. If you haven’t established a positive online reputation for them to discover, it is very difficult to make a good first impression.

Physician rating websites are gaining popularity at an alarming rate. To improve your digital rankings, some physicians hire online reputation managers. The increasing significance of these websites is pressuring doctors to reevaluate their online presence. Whether or not you’re aware of it, patients are evaluating your work and publishing their opinions online for the world to see. The influence customer reviews have can tremendously affect the overall success or failure of any product or service--physicians and healthcare professionals are no exception to this global trend. For physicians, the implications of a bad review can be especially costly.

Here’s what experts are saying:

"The biggest mistake physicians can make is ignoring their online reputation, or downplaying its relevance… Physicians need to take proactive steps to establish and manage their online reputation. Soon, it will be as important as their reputation in the community."

– Kevin Pho, M.D.

"I think we should realize that these products (physician review sites) are here to stay and doctors are just going to learn to live with them and there are ways to deal with them that are better than others."

– Tara Lagu, M.D.

"Our study indicates that the public is using online physician ratings to make important decisions for their healthcare, despite persistent questions about how trustworthy these rating sites are."

– David Hanaeur, M.D.

In today’s digital world, developing a positive online presence is practically mandatory for any physician trying to advertise themselves to the public. Patients are becoming tech-savvy customers who want to make informed decisions when it comes to selecting a doctor. Therefore, you must take the proper steps to prove to these potential patients that YOU are the doctor for them. I wrote a piece a few weeks back that listed 10 ways healthcare professionals can boost their online profile in 1 day. However, introducing yourself is the easy part. Maintaining a positive online reputation is what will separate you from other physicians.

Below are 8 steps physicians can use as a guide on how to maintain a positive online reputation. These general tips will substantially enhance your presence online, and your success as a physician.

1. Search yourself

The first step in managing your online reputation is knowing what you need to manage. As I said earlier, just because you haven’t personally broadcasted information about yourself online, it doesn’t mean that others haven’t either. Your online reputation--a digital footprint, if you will--is a constant work in progress. The Internet is a powerful tool where information can spread like wildfire. You need to be aware of what others are saying about you to stay ahead of a potential issue. I’m not suggesting you be paranoid to the point of searching yourself every day – that would be both unreasonable and unnecessary. Simply Google yourself once or twice a month, see what comes up, and deal with it accordingly.

2. Check for correct information

After searching for yourself, do what you can to manage the results. Just because you are aware an online review or piece of information is incorrect, that does not mean your prospective patients will be. While Googling yourself or working with an online reputation manager, be sure that all information--including “non-opinion” bits, such as your phone number--is correct.

3. Understand HIPAA regulations

Perhaps the most common (and valid) reason doctors are reluctant to engage in online activity regarding their professional life is the fear of violating HIPAA regulations. HIPAA has a major impact on what you are and are not allowed to say online.

Being flagged with a major HIPAA violation is a detrimental issue that can jeopardize your career. Therefore, as any healthcare professional knows, it must be taken very seriously. At the same time, allowing your HIPAA-related hesitancies to prohibit you from taking a proactive approach to your online reputation can hinder your career success. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword, but there are ways to use it to your advantage. The number one rule to remember is to avoid discussing specifics regarding a particular patient or case. Keep your comments as general as possible while still getting your point across, and you should be fine. If you are unsure whether or not you are violating regulations, err on the side of caution and make adjustments.

Here are a few helpful references for avoiding HIPAA violations:

    4. Accept that online ratings do matter

    Plenty of studies have been conducted on the use of doctor rating websites, and virtually all lead to the same conclusion: they DO make a difference. Your online reputation exists, and cannot be overlooked. Yet, many physicians inexplicably continue to downplay the significance of such sites. If you are one of these naysayers, consider these facts:

    79% of physicians are rated by at least one of the 10 most popular free physician-review websites - Source

    66% of the general public is aware of online physician rating sites - Source

    Like it or not, these statistics demand your attention. The relevance of these websites simply cannot be ignored anymore. If you want to reach your full potential as a physician, it’s time to give online ratings the respect they deserve.

    5. Encourage positive reviews

    A physician’s “rating” on a certain website is often distorted by the fact that it represents only a small portion of their work. The vast majority of patients don’t leave reviews online, which makes each review more impactful. With such a small sample size, a single review can adversely skew your overall rating. Positive reviews can be very impactful. Unfortunately, patients who have a negative experience are more likely to leave a review than those who have a positive experience. Without additional reputation management practices, this will skew your online reputation in a negative direction.

    This being said, you must garner as many positive ratings as you can – and it’s easier than you think. While blatantly asking patients to write a good review on a specific site can end up working against you, encouraging patients to do so naturally by creating a culture in which your parents understand you appreciate reviews (both good and bad) is feasible. If the time is right, asking a satisfied patient to leave you an honest review can improve a physician’s online appearance. With the patient’s consent, you can also display helpful reviews on your website. Testimonials and recommendations are two of the most valuable tools for increasing brand credibility. Many patients are likely to leave a positive review, but may not think to do so unless you suggest it.

    6. Respond to comments

    Most physician review sites give you the ability to comment on reviews that have been left on your behalf. You need to do so – especially for bad reviews. Although studies show a large majority of online reviews are positive, you need to be prepared to deal with bad reviews. The anonymity of the Internet could even cause you to receive a negative review based on false information. Accept the fact that bad reviews are inevitable. You cannot keep them from happening, but you can lessen the blow by addressing the situation in a constructive manner. Dealing with negative reviews can be a bit tricky – remember to always keep HIPAA laws in mind. Immediately responding to a negative review while upset can prompt you to respond with something that will only worsen the situation.

    The Physicians Guide to a Positive On...

    Take time to consider what was said, reflect on the circumstances, and respond rationally. Direct engagement is a very humanizing interaction that will help your online reputation improve. Your responses will vary depending on the specific complaint, but always try to identify yourself, apologize (if necessary), explain your perspective, and make it clear that their criticism has been heard. The most important thing for you to do is show that you care and that you will make proper adjustments to improve your practice. Also, always try to make your responses public. The unhappy reviewer isn’t the only person you are talking to. Other potential patients will see this review and need to know that you place value on your patients’ experiences and opinions. Show them that you do.

    7. Create positive content

    The key to building a positive online reputation is being able to control what you can. You can’t control the content others produce about you. But you CAN control the content you create about yourself. There are a variety of tools you can use to create positive content about yourself (again, revisit this post to help you get started). Pushing favorable material through your social media accounts, blog, and website provides additional data that can help affirm your credibility to prospective patients. The best defense is a good offense. Creating a sufficient amount of positive content about you can outweigh the effect of negative content created by others. It won’t make it disappear, but it will dilute its impact, and guide your online reputation in the right direction.

    8. Improve offline

    The most common complaint patients make on physician review websites refers to the physician’s bedside manner. Publicly apologizing and addressing the issue online helps, but it doesn’t prevent it from happening again. Embrace constructive criticism in bad reviews. Never get so caught up in your online reputation that you lose sight of the greater goal: learning from your mistakes and becoming a better doctor because of it. Up until now, all prior steps have suggested relatively indirect methods of managing a positive online reputation. But at its most basic level, your online reputation directly stems from how you conduct yourself offline. Believe me, all of these steps will help, but don’t overthink it – the best way to maintain a positive online reputation is simply by being the best physician you can be.

    As you can see, there are many ways a physician can improve their online reputation. Each of the digital reputation management strategies mentioned above can offer your firm a unique advantage. Investing time and effort in improving your digital footprint will inevitably create positive outcomes for your medical practice.

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