Are you online? The answer is yes – whether you know it or not. If you haven’t been paying attention, you should start now – because your patients are certainly paying attention!
You only have one chance to make a first impression. This is truer now in the digital age than it ever was. Unlike bygone eras when the choice to see a patient a second time rested solely in the hands of the physician, with online ratings in play a weak online presentation can mean a physician never sees a prospective patient in the first place.
Regardless of whether or not you think being online is important, many of your patients will be online – not just searching for a doctor, but rating and discussing experiences with doctors they have seen.
Websites that rate physicians are not only easy to find, but alarmingly plentiful. Some provide a regulated and reasonable service, others have little or no oversight. Patient provided reviews can have a positive influence on your online reputation and presence, but negative reviews can be personally and professionally damaging – causing you to lose potential patients, time, and money trying to address a negative online presence.
Here’s what a sampling of doctors have to say about the web:
“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.
“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.
“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.
Obviously, establishing a positive online footprint for potential patients to find should be a priority. How do you get there from square one?
1.) Search yourself
In order to understand what you need to focus on, you have to know what is being said about you. Google yourself! Put your name in the major search engines and see what people are saying. Do a checkup ever month or few weeks to stay on top of new information, so if anything needs to be addressed, you are on top of the situation.
2.) Check for correct information
Is the information that you find about yourself accurate? Believe it or not, not all corners of the web are well regulated or regulated at all. Are your professional credentials and certifications up to date on your profiles? Are you being listed in the proper location? Have people presented false information regarding you in reviews? Anything you can correct will improve your presence and the ability of people to find you.
3.) Understand HIPAA regulations
HIPAA regulations must be observed online just as strictly as offline. This fact is often what keeps many physicians from engaging online at all, due to the possible damage violations can do to a career. Avoidance, however, is not the answer. Negatives must and can be addressed in a safe manner. Avoid specifics about patients or cases, keep your comments general in nature, but make your point. Always err on the side of caution when in doubt.
Refer to these references regarding avoiding HIPAA violations:
4.) Accept that online ratings matter
Whether you like it or not, whether it seems fair or not, many people refer to online ratings as a part of their decision making process when choosing a physician. If you think your online reviews don’t matter, consider this:
- 79% percent of physicians are rated by at least one of the 10 most popular free physician-review websites
- 66% percent of the general public is aware of online physician rating sites
- 41% percent of people have consulted online reviews when seeking information on a specific doctor
5.) Encourage positive reviews
Online reviews are not perfect. The patients who provide reviews are usually a tiny fraction of those you will see over the course of a year. The obvious problem with this is that one bad review can skew everything if there are only a few reviews for people to see. In such cases, a bad review stands out. Another problem is that satisfied patients rarely post reviews while dissatisfied and angry patients tend to leave them in multiple places.
While you don’t want to overtly solicit positive reviews, you do want to foster the idea that a patient is appreciated and their support online would be equally valued. Many patients are willing to take the time to leave a good review or provide a testimonial for your website or social media pages, but they generally don’t think of it unless you make them aware they can.
6.) Respond to comments
If a review site or venue affords you the opportunity to respond to comments, it is usually in your interest to do so. Responding to positive feedback demonstrates that you appreciate the confidence in you, and helps build and maintain the doctor/patient relationship. Negative reviews require a response in most cases as well. Eventually, everyone will get a bad review, so don’t obsess over it. If you can counter a bad review while respecting HIPAA regulations, consider doing so. Also make sure you only engage in a public venue, never respond out of anger, apologize if needed, but never get into a shouting match. Say your piece and move on.
7.) Create positive content
If you want to shine online, you need to polish your reputation. The best way to do this is publicizing the positives that are already online. Let people know about your good works and community involvement. Blog about your experiences, and share stories that help paint you in a good light. Spread the joy all around your social media accounts and make it available for others to share as well. Anything you can put online that enhances your image will help dilute any negatives that may arise. Think of it as preventative medicine.
8.) Improve offline
Sometimes the answer to better reviews online is doing a better job offline. The most common complaint people on review sites have is and always has been that a physician has a poor bedside manner. Acknowledging and apologizing for it online is helpful to a degree, but ultimately developing a better rapport with your patients is the best solution for everyone. It cannot be stressed enough that the best way to garner good online reviews and a positive digital image is to be the best physician offline that you can be.