Managing Your Practice

Using the Internet in your practice. Part 4: Reputation management—how to gather kudos and combat negative online reviews

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You have more control than you might think over how you are portrayed in Web reviews


 

References

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
Warren Buffet

CASE: Decline in new patients
A well-respected physician—one of the best in his field—notices that the number of new patients in his practice has fallen off drastically over the past year. Baffled, he hires a consultant, who discovers that the doctor’s online reputation has plummeted, thanks to four negative reviews and no positive ones.

What can the physician do to remedy the situation and restore his reputation?

The problem can be fixed, but it takes time—like major surgery. Rather than wait until negative reviews are posted, we recommend that you become proactive and take steps as soon as possible to secure your online reputation. That way, you won’t get caught by surprise when one or two unhappy patients try to smear your good name. In this article, we step you through a number of remedies and proactive strategies for boosting positive online reviews and combating negative ones.

The Internet: A one-stop source of information
The Internet has become everyone’s go-to source for pretty much any kind of data, including details on products, services, and people. Anyone can access all kinds of information simply by asking.

Today, people research medical conditions on the Web, often using Google. If you have done your search engine optimization, your Web site will come up in the first page of search results, making it possible for prospective patients to click through to your homepage. (For the scoop on search engine optimization, see Part 3 of this series, “Maximizing your online reach through SEO and pay-per-click,” which appeared in the September 2014 issue of OBG Management.)

If visitors like what they see at your site, they may make an appointment. But they are more likely to visit three or four other sites before making a decision. And in all likelihood, they will research each physician to find out what patients have to say about her or him. It’s no different than looking at the reviews of hotels or products you are considering.

You are an open book on the Internet. Only a few short years ago, your peers and patients knew your reputation primarily through word of mouth, which traveled at the speed of molasses. For the most part, that information was favorable. Today your exposure is much greater, and negative comments about you can be viewed by thousands of potential patients. The speed of information has increased, as well. What is posted on the Internet can become readily available to hundreds, thousands, and even millions of Web users in a nanosecond.

The Internet provides a forum for people to say whatever they want about their experiences, both positive and negative. Regrettably, the positive experiences do not find their way online nearly as often as the negative ones!

The bottom line? In today’s Internet-­savvy world, you need to pay regular attention to your online reputation. You need to take steps to ensure that your name and practice look their best and to negate any complaints that may appear.

What patients share about their experience with you
Many online review sites provide an opportunity for your patients to describe their experience with you and your practice. To name a few: RateMDs.com, Vitals.com, ­ZocDoc.com, healthgrades.com, ­UcompareHealth.com, Citysearch.com, yelp.com, and, of course, Google Plus reviews.

And when patients post comments on the Internet, you likely will be rated on:

  • the patient’s wait time
  • how your staff treated the patient
  • the diagnosis
  • your attitude
  • the level of trust in your decisions
  • treatment and outcome.

The online surfer searching for a reputable physician is likely to believe whatever he or she finds on the leading review sites.

The good news: Most physicians have a very favorable rating, averaging 9.3 out of 10 on a scale of 1 to 10. In fact, 70% of doctors have perfect scores!1

The bad news: Someone who is unhappy with her treatment or outcome will go out of her way to find every online review site possible and proclaim your faults to the cyber-world, using the Internet as a forum, whether her facts are straight or not. Patients who are pleased and satisfied rarely bother to place a positive review.

How you can control your online reputation
It is incumbent upon you to keep an eye on your online reputation at all times. Here are some tips for taking charge:

  • If someone posts a negative review, respond to them directly in the review site. Doing so does not violate privacy laws as long as you do not mention the patient’s name or give other identifying details. Explain your side of the story without confirming or denying that the reviewer is or was a patient. Do not mention the specifics of any patient’s condition.
  • If you feel that a negative review is completely unjustified, file a dispute with the review site. Many review sites will remove the unfavorable content if you can convince them that the patient is merely ranting.
  • To protect your reputation over the long term, use your name or practice name to set up an alert with Google Alerts by visiting the site Google.com/alerts.
  • Do a Google search of your name and the name of your practice at least once a month and check out all the review sites that come up. Read the comments!

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