Online reputation management for physicians and medical institutions is absolutely necessary today. The Internet has revolutionized almost every industry, and you may be surprised to learn that an enormous number of patients regularly use the web to locate and evaluate medical providers. That’s why it is critical for every doctor, dentist and hospital to practice medical reputation management.
Critical Online Reputation Risks for Doctors
As a doctor, your online reputation can be affected by legitimate or unfair reviews. Legitimate risks manifest themselves in the form of reviews and comments made by unhappy patients.
For example, a patient may post a review on Yelp, detailing how the doctor has rushed through his or her examination without really listening to the problem. Legitimate complaints like this may turn away future patients, which means that they must be dealt with quickly.
Perhaps the most maddening problem regarding medical reputation management is the one related to fake reviews. In 2013, New York regulators charged 19 companies with creating and posting fake reviews on sites such as Yelp and Google on behalf of competitors. The prosecution claimed that the fake reviews constituted deceptive advertising, and the case was settled quickly.
Fake reviews are a huge issue in the medical field. It may be hard to believe it, because often times the people behind the reviews have taken the Hippocratic Oath, but fake reviews appear in medical listings more than in any other online business niche. This is one more reason why medical reputation management is critical for every doctor and every medical institution.
Physician Online Reputation Management
Physician reputation management doesn’t start online. It starts in the office.
A receptionist who has a bad attitude is inviting problems – as is a doctor with poor patient skills. The bedside manner of a physician is often enough to make the difference between a patient writing an online review which is praising his doctor’s expertise, and a negative review which is telling others to stay away.
Still, negative reviews are bound to appear sooner or later, and responding to these reviews is tricky, because physician-patient confidentiality is a concern. If a complaint addresses the medical care you’ve provided, there is little you can do other than post something like “We’re sorry you feel this way. Please contact us so that we can discuss your concern.”
A number of physicians have reacted to negative patient reviews by filing lawsuits against the patients for defamation. This approach is not a good one as Dr. G, a dentist, learned the hard way. He sued a patient who left a bad review on Yelp; the court, however, ruled in favor of the patient and ordered the doctor to pay close to $50,000 in attorney’s fees incurred by the patient.
Why has this happened? Because patients are entitled to free speech. Just as we can all criticize politicians freely, patients can criticize medical providers, as long as their statements are true.
A second reason why physicians should avoid suing patients is the lasting effect this can have on their long-term reputation. Put simply, the case will get plenty of publicity, and this may lead to massive attacks on social media, turning a single bad review into a tsunami of negativity, which can crush the reputation of any medical provider.
When it comes to fake reviews, a very simple, and yet very effective response is to post a reply noting that the review is fake, and that there is no record of the person ever being a patient. The public is now generally aware that fake reviews exist, so this explanation will carry credibility and defuse the power of that fake negative review.
Dental Practice Reputation Management
Of all the medical disciplines, dentists face the harshest online environment, because fake reviews are a huge problem, and a large percentage of patients use the web to select a dentist.
A University of Michigan study, for example, found that 53 percent of participants considered the online reputation of a dentist the most important factor when selecting a dental provider. This explains clearly why a dental practice which fails to monitor its online reputation is a dental practice inviting financial ruin.
Optimal dental practice reputation management techniques include:
• Monitoring the web for mentions of the practice;
• Creating a policy regarding responses to complaints on social media and review sites;
• Using SEO to create positive listings for the practice in search results, thus pushing negative listings out of view for potential patients.
As a general rule, it is best to respond to negative feedback online in a calm, reasonable manner. Many of your potential patients will see these responses, so make sure to prepare them carefully.
Medical Social Media Monitoring Strategies
We live in an age when social media dominates much of our lives; a good example is the GoDaddy Super Bowl commercial spoofing Budweiser’s puppy commercials. The commercial was released online prior to the Super Bowl and received such a negative backlash on social media that the company pulled it completely.
As a medical professional, you are in the business of treating patients, and not monitoring social media. For this reason, many doctors retain online reputation management firms to take over this time-intensive task. If you prefer to handle it in-house, then you need to use a website like Social Mention, for example.
As the name suggests, the website can monitor close to 100 social media sites for mentions of your name, for example, and then sends email alerts when a new mention occurs.
Once you are alerted by a new comment on social media, the best strategy is to respond as quickly as possible. If the comment is positive, thank the person posting it. “Thank you” is becoming a rare expression in the world today, so this small step can create a lot of good will for your practice.
If the comment is negative, avoid lashing out at it. Instead, investigate the basis of the comment, and then provide a response which does not violate HIPAA or patient confidentiality.
Search Engine Optimization for Doctors
Search engines are often used by patients to locate doctors online, or to learn what other patients have to say about a physician. This explains why a negative review in the top ten results for your name is likely to turn prospective patients away from your practice.
SEO for doctors is aimed at preventing negative reviews from appearing in the top ten results for your name. Multiple strategies are employed to create pages which outrank any negative listings. Specific steps include:
• Publishing positive press releases that are optimized to rank highly in the search results;
• Creating accounts on many social media websites, in an effort to push those profiles onto the first page, thus moving the negative reviews down;
• Building links to the positive results that are listed in Google’s top 30;
• Creating third-party blogs that include positive content, but rank well for the negative keywords, in order to push the bad reviews down in the search engines’ results pages.
Hospital Reputation Management Techniques
It’s not just doctors who must monitor patient comments online; this is crucial for hospitals as well. With the sheer number of patients treated each year in a hospital, negative comments on social media and bad reviews on consumer review sites are inevitable.
A hospital administrator should definitely use the services of an online reputation management firm, to pursue all the strategies mentioned in this article. However, there is a specific offline technique that can go a long way to minimize negative reviews and maximize the positive ones.
This technique involves in-house reputation management. Various procedures should be developed, requiring every patient to be politely questioned at checkout regarding their treatment, any problems they might have had, and thoughts on how the hospital can improve the patient experience.
Patients providing positive feedback should then be given a handout, listing the various online profiles of the hospital, and asking them to provide reviews. Ultimately, this will lead to a bevy of positive reviews, which should “drown out” the limited number of negative reviews that any large operation like a hospital is likely to receive.
Medical Reputation Management Is Essential
Many patients use the Internet to find and perform due diligence on physicians and medical institutions. Ignoring this fact puts the future of your practice at risk. If you are not currently pursuing reputation management, it is crucial to start immediately.