As health care marketers and/or communicators, you know your doctors are being talked about on the web, social media sites and especially rating sites. Right now, as you’re reading this, toggle over to Google and type in a new doctor you are promoting and see what you find. Is the information accurate? What would a viewer say about that doctor based on those results? Is it good? Bad?
The more patients go online to find info about your docs, the more their online reputation is being managed – regardless if it’s true or not. That reputation can play a huge role in acquiring new patients and maintaining trust with existing patients.
More and more studies are showing nearly 80% of today’s consumers go online first when evaluating a medical provider. Physicians who don’t actively manage their online reputations, can suffer the consequences of an unfair and unfounded digital reputation. Furthermore, reputation defense is a concern even for very good, reputable physicians as some doctors think that because they are honest and they are good at what they do, there is no cause for worry about their online image. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
So what exactly IS online reputation management? Online reputation management is the process of preventing and repairing threats to your online reputation. This is done by tracking what is written about you (or what you’re trying to manage) 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 your physicians, this can involve a few key areas: what’s found on search engine results pages, social media sites and rating sites (such as Vitals, HealthGrades, Rate MDs, Yelp, Angie’s List).
Here are 4 tips to help you manage a physician’s online reputation:
Don’t fight patient reviews, embrace them
The truth is patients expect to check reviews before making economic decisions. And, just like consumers, patients are skeptical to see a doctor who doesn’t have reviews. If a doctor’s competitor has reviews and the doctor doesn’t, the doctor is probably falling behind.
Eric Goldman, professor of law at Santa Clara University School of Law in California says a vast majority of patient reviews are positive. “There’s really a curve of reviews,” he said. “There are only a small number of negative reviews, even smaller number of mixed reviews, and huge number of positive reviews.”
Dr. Joseph Bauer, plastic surgeon in Atlanta, said in the July 2012 issue of “Aesthetic Surgery Journal,” that reviews seen online are real. “When reviews online are real, based on accurate events, it can have tremendous value to patients searching for a qualified plastic surgeon; but the internet is not regulated. Anyone can say anything, and it sometimes gets to be difficult for patients to know which reviews can be trusted.”
Dr. Bauer continues, “Most websites don’t make a reviewer prove that they were really a patient before they can post a review. Most don’t have any process to make sure the reviews posted are reflective of a real experience.”
An example of how impactful this is to plastic surgeons can be seen in another study showing that 41% of breast augmentation patients begin their research by searching on Google. These searchers are looking for information about the breast augmentation procedure and about the options for breast implants. These patients are also looking for information on plastic surgeon of choice. This includes the doctor’s website, the doctor or practice social media participation, as well as numerous review sites.
Social media is your friend
Now, let’s move into social media. If this blog teaches you anything about online reputation management, let it be: you will have 100 percent control of an online story that you create. It is imperative that physicians create an active social media presence now. Today, in fact, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube are wonderful ways to showcase who a physician is and what they represent.
Kevin Pho, MD, owner and writer at KevinMD.com is the web’s leading destination for provocative physician commentary on breaking medical news. He says that creating and maintaining an active blog is essential to the development of an effective online reputation. And he’s really extremely successful at it.
“Blogging allows you to publish your thoughts and opinions, makes you the expert and allows readers to get a sense of who you are and what values you hold close,” he says. “If you do not create your own story you remain at the mercy of what others say and create digitally about you — much of which may not be true.”
He also says to be careful about what you post on personal social media sites. “Patients can get access to data that you may not want them to see,” Dr. Pho says. “A good rule of thumb is if you wouldn’t want your mother to see something, don’t post it.”
Be diverse and don’t get stale
When developing and managing an online reputation, diversity is key.
Dr. Pho says to not be focused on one outlet such as Twitter or Facebook. “Instead, know that search engines such as Google are constantly updating how they “hit” and by spreading your presence over several social media networking outlets and frequently updating your website and blog you increase your visibility,” he said. “Make sure you have an active presence on several different types of sites,” he says. “Frequent updates are critical to your success.”
Participate in other online communities
Physicians need to be engaging in online communities. Doctors who are involved in patient-led forums and groups can allow to better understand what is important to patients with a particular disorder or disease. For Dr. Pho, involvement and participation a group called the “ICD Users Group” has been a wonderful learning experience and has helped him improve the way his approach. “In addition, participation in professional online communities can help to boost your online reputation and increase your recognition as an expert,” he said.
Of course, these tips can also be used in managing your organization, services, department and/or products. Bottom line: Don’t ignore what’s being said about your organization, doctors, etc. Be proactive. Once you really start listening, the more positivity will come.