Think about the last time you asked a friend for a recommendation. Maybe you were looking for a new restaurant, a good book, or a trusted mechanic. While you undoubtedly took into account your friend’s recommendation, chances are you then used an online search engine to gather more information about the recommended name or company. Were you able to easily find them online? What sites appeared on the first page of search results? Did the content on the company website indicate the recommendation was reputable, qualified, and provided good customer service? Were you able to find any reviews from other customers, and if so, were they positive or negative?
In the same way you search online for a desired product or service, your patients are searching for you. They are trying to find out as much about your background, qualifications, and approach to patient care as possible before making an appointment and entrusting in you their health.
Simply stated, online reputation management is controlling and managing your patients’ perception of you based on what they find online. In this article, you will learn the basics of how to evaluate, establish, and monitor your online reputation.
Evaluate Your Current Reputation
What if you were to Google yourself? What sites would be included in the first page of results? Would YOU actually appear or would someone else whose name you share be listed? As an exercise, search for yourself on a popular search engine like Google, Bing, or Yahoo. Use search terms that your patients might use to find you, such as adding MD, Doctor, or your chosen specialty along with your name in the search field. Search for both your full name as listed on your curriculum vitae as well as any alternative names and common misspellings. Most young doctors will find that the first page of Google results includes a link to their trainee profile on their residency or fellowship website as well as links to profiles on several websites where patients are asked to rate their physicians. Evaluating your present online reputation provides a baseline on which to measure your future success. With some effort, and by implementing the strategies that follow, your online reputation will gradually fill the first pages of Google search results.
Establish Your Online Reputation
If you are like most young physicians, your online reputation is somewhat sparse right now, providing you the opportunity to decide early on how to shape the perception patients will have of you once you complete your training and begin your career. The breadth and depth with which you manage your reputation is entirely up to you. For some this may include nothing more than having a LinkedIn profile and a two-paragraph biographical profile on your website. For others, establishing your online reputation may include a LinkedIn profile, a practice-based website, your own professional blog, and social media microblogging via Twitter or Facebook. Regardless of your location on this spectrum of online activity, you should think of your online reputation as a wagon wheel, whose central hub is connected to the outer rim by multiple spokes, and which disperse an equal fraction of the load, collectively moving the wagon forward.
The most complete online reputation management strategy should include use of a primary website to which you will drive all online traffic. This primary site is the hub of a wagon wheel to which the other websites are linked. While secondary sites such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and others represent the breadth of your brand, your primary site demonstrates its depth. Your site should contain content that is qualified, unique, interesting, and most importantly, provides value to your readers. As you consistently publish high quality content on your primary website, you will improve Google organic search rankings, will gain momentum as your site begins to appear less “under construction” and more “legitimate,” and soon enough you will be well on your way to establishing your online reputation. If you choose to start a blog or any site for that matter, pay for the rights to the domain name to improve your perceived reputability among Internet users. Though the visible difference in the web address may be minimal, Internet users perceive reserved domains to be more qualified, authoritative, and reputable. For example, instead of starting your blog or website as www.doctorjones.wordpress.com, pay the extra few dollars but the rights to the domain name www.doctorjones.com.
As mentioned above, the spokes of the wagon wheel represent the breadth of your online reputation, strategically reaching into various target markets, thereby providing visitors a taste of your brand but encouraging them to visit your primary website for additional information. As you might imagine, marketing professionals have found that specific demographics of consumers use Facebook and Instagram than those that use LinkedIn and Google+, and that these users are different still than those who rate their physicians on sites such as Healthgrades.com and Vitals.com. Having profiles on all of these secondary websites allows you to tap into the different demographics of each website’s target audience. Secondary websites can be categorized into resume-type sites, physician rating sites, and social media platforms. All of these secondary websites should act as direct connections to your primary site via links in the content you share as well is in your account profile, thus directing each unique market of consumers to your primary website. Let’s review a few of these secondary websites you should use as you establish your online reputation.
With over 300 million members worldwide, LinkedIn is one of the simplest and easiest ways to establish your online reputation. The format is essentially an abbreviated online resume, allowing the user full control over what information is shared. With a remarkably dynamic user interface, LinkedIn allows customization of content such that blog posts, videos, and a user-written introductory summary can be displayed in an easy-to-read format that is interesting to readers. The ability to connect quickly and easily with friends and professional colleagues, the option of making your LinkedIn profile visible to the public and not solely to your connections, and the reputability given LinkedIn by Google and other search engines are all reasons LinkedIn should be included in every young physician’s online reputation management strategy.
Similar to LinkedIn, Doximity is a resume website as well, though its unique claim is to be the resume network solely for healthcare professionals. In just a few years, Doximity has gained over 700,000 verified physician members, and while its scope is limited compared to Google, Doximity has a strong online reputation and, similar to LinkedIn, its user profiles also rank very highly in Google searches.
Physician Rating Sites
Consumers everywhere use ratings as a primary determinant in everyday online decision making and it should come as no surprise that patients are using similar rating systems to evaluate the online reputations of their physicians. As of 2012, experts estimated the existence of over fifty ratings websites, all with seemingly different rating systems, reliability, cost to participate, and ability for physicians to respond to reviews.1 Despite the increasing popularity of these sites, remarkably few physicians have claimed their profile and updated their photo and practice address. The limited participation by physicians in the sites designed to rate them is evidenced by a recent Pew Internet Study, which indicated that only 1 in 5 physicians use online ratings sites.2 These sites are not going away, and while many older physicians may choose to ignore such sites, young physicians today have a tremendous opportunity to use these sites to establish and develop their online reputations. Search for the most popular ratings sites, claim your profile, add your picture, practice location, and don’t forget to add links to your LinkedIn profile, social media accounts, and your primary website. Most importantly, to successfully incorporate physician reviews into your reputation management strategy, you must consistently ask patients for such reviews, diligently monitor the reviews, and respond accordingly.
Strategic usage of social media platforms is key to establishing and maintaining a strong online presence and reputation. The nearly instantaneous dissemination of information to your social networks of followers, friends, and connections, and the potential for these online acquaintances to then share your content with their respective social networks represents the exponential potential for your influence to be felt worldwide. Your Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, or other social network could be your least expensive yet most effective method of advertising.
As you become involved in social media as a young physician, consider the following tips:
- Choose a unique username (i.e. Twitter handle, Facebook Group Page, blog url) to give you a fresh start as a new voice and allow you to separate your social media professional life from that already established by your personal social media accounts.
- Unless you are certain you will not be changing practice locations, do not create a username that includes the name of your practice, but instead create separate accounts to distinguish between your brand as a physician and your brand as a physician within that specific practice. Most physicians change practice locations at least once during their career. By separating your physician branding from your practice branding, you allow adaptability to any practice name or location simply by changing your physical address without having to reestablish your online reputation with the new practice name.
- Be known, not anonymous. Remember the purpose is to develop your personal online reputation and not just the reputation of your username. Be sure that your social media profiles clearly display your full name, a professional and high-quality photo, and links to your primary website.
- Ensure that your username is available on as many social networks as possible to provide easy identification with your online reputation. Sites such as www.knowem.com have tools to instantly search username availability on over 500 social media platforms. While you may not need to create accounts on all 500 platforms, at least reserve your username on those sites you recognize and intend to use.
- Include links to your primary website on all of your social media profiles.
- Be professional, respectful, and always observe HIPAA regulations. Remember that once you have posted an update, that information is saved in an online server and can be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to delete or hide, particularly if it is inappropriate or unprofessional. Be smart. Your personal and professional reputation is on the line.
Monitor Your Online Reputation
Once your online reputation is established, you must diligently monitor your reputation. You should Google yourself, your social media username, and website domain name frequently, as often as once a week based on the recommendations of leading experts. To save time, you can setup Google Alerts, which are emails sent to you at specified time intervals when Google finds new results matching your search terms. For a busy physician, Google Alerts are critical to monitoring the good and the bad information that may affect your online reputation. In addition to frequently monitoring search engines, you must also monitor information and reviews posted on physician rating websites. Most sites allow you to be notified when a negative review is posted, but once again, in order for you to be notified, you must claim your profile and setup the alert.
If negative ratings or comments are made about you on a website, consider the following tips to dealing with negative reviews:
- Ask for reviews. One negative review out of 15-20 mostly positive reviews is much less damaging than one review out of two total reviews. While somewhat of a surprise to many physicians, research indicates the majority of physician reviews are positive.3,4 By consistently requesting reviews you should be able to easily neutralize one or two isolated negative reviews.
- Take a deep breath. Respond promptly, but not immediately. While you may remember the specific situation cited or know the “other side to the story,” avoid addressing negative comments while you are upset.
- Respond generally. The negative review may not relate directly to your bedside manner or clinical judgment but is more than likely due to a systems-based error such as difficulty parking, miscommunication with office staff, or excessive wait times. Ask the patient to call the office so that you may better understand the issue and improve your practice for future patients.
- If you feel a review is fraudulent or clearly erroneous, contact the website directly. Most sites have processes by which ratings or comments may be appealed, and if found to be fraudulent, such ratings may even be removed.
Your online reputation has the potential to be one of the greatest assets to your career as a physician. Whether your practice is within an academic environment, a primary care clinic, or a subspecialty referral-based practice, your patients and physician colleagues will evaluate your online reputation before deciding to make an appointment or refer a patient. By evaluating your current reputation, establishing your reputation via primary and secondary websites, and monitoring your reputation via alerts and reviews, you will ensure that your clinic schedule is filled with patients eager to tell you they found you online.
- Pho K, Gay S. Establishing, Managing, and Protecting Your Online Reputation. Phoenix, MD: Greenbranch Publishing; 2013.
- Fox S, Duggan M. Health Online. Pew Internet & American Life Project. 2013; http:pewinternet.com/Reports/2013/Health-online.aspx
- Lagu T, Hannon NS, Rothberg MB, Lindenauer PK. Patients’ evaluations of health care providers in the era of social networking: an analysis of physician-rating websites. J Gen Intern Med. 2010;25:942-946.
- Kadry B, Chu LF, Gammas D, Macario A. Analysis of 4999 online physician ratings indicates that most patients give physicians a favorable rating. J Med Internet Res. 2011;13(4):e95.