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Reimbursement and Practice Management

Managing Your Reputation on the Internet

As patients increasingly look online to select physicians or learn more about their current ones – including you – what they find about you in cyberspace becomes a vital part of your professional persona.

In this article, you will learn how to:

  • Identify tools and resources to monitor and manage your online reputation
  • Assess opportunities to appropriately respond when online comments contain inaccurate or libelous information
  • Evaluate the current status of one’s online reputation and opportunities to improve it
  • Deploy tactics that engage current patients in contributing online comments and reviews

View related pearls

Enhancing and managing your online reputation as a physician may conjure up images of spending long hours hunched over a smartphone “friending” patients. While you may not be up for sending “Tweets” all day long, you cannot ignore your online presence. As patients increasingly look online to select physicians or learn more about their current ones — including you — what they find about you in cyberspace becomes a vital part of your professional persona.

The challenge for physicians is that ignoring this aspect of your practice may result in a negative reputation. Why? Patients who are frustrated, upset or angry – whether at you, your practice, or just their lot in life – tend to use the Internet as a go-to platform to express their opinions. The opportunity to rant anonymously with little-to-no filter makes the Internet and its array of social media tools the perfect place for a patient to take advantage of you. Ignoring the Internet is certainly an option, but a better route is to act now to manage your online reputation. If you don’t, others will. Here’s how to take command of your online reputation so that the occasional, inappropriate outburst by a patient doesn’t tear down your practice’s reputation.

Assess your current status. While you may have approved the content of your website some time ago, online reputation management requires current knowledge of what others are saying about you. Do an Internet search for your practice and your name. Scrutinize the basic data about you that appears in search engines, such as address and telephone number; should that information be wrong, email the website’s owner or webmaster to ask for a correction. Familiarize yourself with the comments and ratings made about you on major review websites such as Yelp and HealthGrades. Enroll in Google Alerts, a free service that instantly (or in daily or weekly digests) sends you an email anytime that your name is mentioned on the Internet.

Promote yourself. Patients offer you compliments every day; if you could just take those positive remarks and put them online, all would be well. Right? While you shouldn’t post them yourself under a made-up name (see “astro-turfing”), you should encourage your patients to do so. Develop a small card – including a QR code – as a patient handout that offers a link(s) to post reviews online. Set up a computer in your reception area with the browser’s tabs open to the most popular ratings websites to make it easy for patients visiting your office to post comments. When patients offer verbal compliments to you, ask them go online or direct them to the computer in your reception area. Even if just one satisfied patient a day posts a review, you’ll quickly and effectively build your positive reputation.

Rebuttals. Don’t get into an online shouting match. Negative reviews are frustrating, particularly when they are not accurate. Be careful about taking to the Internet to combat bad reviews, however. Regardless of your approach, you’ll end up sounding defensive, petty and, even, vindictive – not what patients look for in a physician. Of course, if you determine that the review is false or libelous, contact the website and, if warranted, alert your attorney.

Don’t Astro-Turf. While it may be tempting to ask your nurse to post a multitude of positive comments under a series of made-up names, writing fake reviews is not the answer. In addition to the prospect of legal trouble – Lifestyle Lift, a cosmetic surgery company, was fined $300,000 by the State of New York for ordering employees to post fake reviews of its face-lift procedure – many readers will see through your online subterfuge. In addition to appearing insecure and defensive, people may wonder why you needed to make up so many positive things about yourself, which is hardly the way to make a good impression.

Hire expert help. With every business now concerned about its online reputation a new generation of vendors have proliferated in the field of online reputation management. Make sure to select a company experienced in online reputation management, not just a general public relations firm. Look for someone who has worked with physicians because shepherding your cyber reputation will be much different than, say, trying to attract customers to coffee shop.

Like it or not, patients increasingly go online to assess and compare physicians — either to make a choice or to confirm someone else's recommendation. They want to get a feel for the physician before they meet in person. Physicians who fail to monitor their "webutation" and keep it in tune are at a growing disadvantage in today's technology-driven society.

Pearl 3/22/14

Save Face - Professional Facebook
Launch a Facebook business page – different than a “personal” Facebook page – so that patients can easily find your contact information and directions to your office. Even though it’s a professional page, avoid medical jargon; stick to simple, clear language.

Pearl 3/15/14

To Queue or not to Q?
You may decide to marshal support from established patients to ethically raise your ratings by queuing up a computer in the reception area with bookmarks for consumer ratings websites already set up on the web browser. Develop a QR code with a link directly to a quality rating site, for patients with smartphones to quickly connect to the website to post their feedback.

Pearl 3/8/14

Truth and Consequences
A website hosting a negative review about you probably won’t remove the comments, but you may have luck getting them to remove a review that contains inaccurate information. If you’re concerned that you may be a target of online slander, purchase media liability coverage from your insurance broker. This insurance was specifically created to deal with the cost of pursuing legal actions against parties involved in online defamation.

Pearl 3/1/14

First Impressions
With the growing popularity of review websites, people are accustomed to seeking, finding and writing online reviews. When it comes to physicians, many potential new patients want to read first-hand information from other patients what they liked – and didn't like – about you.

United States