In the early days of social media and online reviews, health care providers didn’t have to concern themselves much with managing their online reputation. After all, few people were writing or reading doctor reviews, and even fewer people trusted these sites as a source of accurate, unbiased information. But that’s all changed. The number of patients now utilizing online doctor practice reviews has increased by 63 percent in the past year, according to a new survey by systems consultancy Software Advice.
While it once may have been a solid strategy for doctors to ignore any negative feedback about themselves or their practices online, now it’s imperative to monitor what’s being said about you on the Internet, to consider how or if you respond, and to avoid the many potential pitfalls of online communication.
Protecting and promoting your online presence can make the difference between attracting patients – or losing them. Here’s what you need to consider.
Preparing for the worst
Let’s start with the worst-case scenario. It’s a sad fact that in our hyper-connected, litigious society, a medical procedure gone awry can end up as front page news – consider the untimely deaths of Michael Jackson and Joan Rivers, and the resulting scrutiny of their doctors. But even doctors who don’t treat celebrity patients can find themselves under fire online, as did these two doctors. Unfortunately, all it takes is one disgruntled patient or ex-employee to create a major Internet headache for a doctor.
Instead of living in fear of an incident like this, there are several things you can do to protect your reputation and image online. First, don’t stick your head in the sand. As one doctor told the Wall Street Journal earlier this year, ignoring bad reviews doesn’t work. When he discovered new patients were cancelling appointments because of negative online reviews, he knew he needed to take a more proactive approach, encouraging satisfied patients to write reviews and inviting dissatisfied patients to contact his office for resolution. One Johns Hopkins doctor does this by putting iPads at checkout stations in his practice.
In addition to cultivating good reviews, doctors can impact their online reputation in other ways. First, set up a Google alert so that you receive an email every time you or your practice is mentioned online. Next, create and/or update your profiles on social media sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, etc., adding a professional headshot and bio. Those sites tend to come up first in search-engine results for a doctor’s name.
Avoiding online pitfalls
Hopefully, most doctors won’t receive front-page notoriety. But you can still succumb to common pitfalls of online communication if you’re not careful. According to a survey published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, 71 percent of state medical boards have investigated doctors for violating professionalism online. Examples of behavior that would trigger an investigation include a doctor who posted photos of himself intoxicated, a physician’s blog post that used potential patient identifiers, and discriminatory language on a doctor’s Facebook page.
Even online behavior that is not outright inappropriate can cause problems – for instance, appropriate email tone. Make sure your emails are not coming across as too terse or unprofessional. At best, your meaning can be misconstrued; at worst, you risk angering or alienating employees or patients.
On Twitter, even a lack of response can be interpreted negatively. A recent study by Oracle found that 81 percent of Twitter users expect a same-day response from a business. People want to be heard and acknowledged – even if they’re sharing a positive experience, but especially if they had a negative experience. You should monitor your Twitter mentions regularly, and acknowledge any issue or complaint as soon as possible. It’s wise to encourage the patient to contact your office directly, and to take the conversation offline if possible.
Doctors who want to engage and attract patients need to be online because that’s where their patients are. While navigating this new space is unfamiliar for many doctors and there is indeed a learning curve, common sense and professionalism go a long way. For more information, check out the American Medical Association’s guidelines on professionalism in the use of social media, and Establishing, Managing, and Protecting Your Online Reputation: A Social Media Guide for Physicians and Medical Practices, a book by Kevin Pho, the doctor behind KevinMD.com.
And to find out more about how doctors are using technology and social media to promote themselves online, get in touch with us today.