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How Doctors Can Cultivate and Protect Their Online Reputations

Doctor at computer, online reputation

Guest post by Janet Englehouse

Recent statistics indicate that 44 percent of patients perform online research before choosing their physicians. In today’s world, doctors must develop an online presence if they want to continue to gain new patients. Once that presence is established, they must also safeguard it. By 2014, experts estimate that 15 percent of social media reviews written about doctors and medical practices will be false. If someone published a false, negative newspaper article about your medical practice, you would respond. Why would you not take the same steps to protect your online reputation?

Establishing a Positive Online Image

A positive online image starts with good medical website design. Your practice’s website should be a communication tool that is easy to navigate and use. If your website has multiple pages for different segments of the practice or different physicians, each page should have a similar look and similar navigation tools to make the experience consistent for your patients. Also, it should regularly be updated with new content, and any old information that has been proven inaccurate should be eliminated or corrected.

You also need to be on social media because that’s where your patients are. At minimum, build a LinkedIn profile, and establish Facebook and Twitter accounts that you update once per day. Many physicians feel unsure of what’s acceptable and not acceptable to say on social media. Follow a good rule of thumb from physician and social media expert Kevin Pho: If you wouldn’t say it aloud in a crowded elevator, then don’t post it on social media.

Patients constantly enter your practice with information they’ve found online, and that information is sometimes inaccurate. A regularly updated social media feed, blog or knowledge base of articles addressing common questions can alleviate patient concerns and provide proven, accurate information. The Internet democratizes information sharing, which is both a great advantage and a major disadvantage. Democratization means that your opinion can be on equal footing with uninformed celebrities, posturing politicians and self-titled medical experts. Instead of being reactive and addressing patients’ fears, be proactive and try to anticipate their concerns.

Monitoring & Management

Electronic self-audits are an important part of reputation management. Set up Google alerts for your name or your practice name, and regularly search your name on Google to see what’s been posted about you. Also, if you find incorrect information about yourself or your practice on a medical review website, then respond professionally while clearly pointing out the misinformation. Encourage your patients to post positive reviews when they have a good experience at your clinic.

Additionally, you should consider claiming website domain names that correspond to you or your clinic, and claim your name in new social media forums even if you don’t choose to utilize that particular forum. When you take these steps, you ensure that no one maliciously misuses your information.

Finally, always keep privacy concerns at the forefront. Avoid engaging with a patient or anyone else who refuses to share his or her identity online. For your own protection, review your social media privacy settings to make sure that your personal information, such as your home address or personal telephone number, is hidden. Also, keep HIPAA compliance in mind at all times. If a patient asks you for private medical advice online, then follow up with a telephone call or a secure e-mail instead of responding in a place where anyone could see the information.

Fighting Against Defamation

An online presence exposes you to potentially false criticisms or reviews either from disgruntled patients or competitors posing as patients. Some doctors have sued for defamation, and the results have been mixed. In some cases, the physician won, and the negative post was deleted. In other cases, the doctor lost because the negative review was viewed as protected free speech.

Cases that spur defamation lawsuits are extreme, but they illustrate an important point: if you ignore your online reputation, then you take the risk of being defined by one negative review or news story. Establish an online reputation to attract new patients and to serve the ones you already have. Then, protect that online reputation by knowing what’s said about you online.

About the Author: Janet Englehouse provides social media consulting services and training for a number of clients in both the public and private sectors.

Photo Credit: kranju

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