Managing Your Online Reputation

The days when physicians could dismiss the online world as terra incognita are long past, and those who ignore the Internet do so at their own peril. A recent study found at least one Internet performance rating for 91% of practitioners surveyed. Here are some tips for maintaining a positive image in cyberspace.

Stay Current
“Google search” yourself and your practice. Get to know Web sites that encourage patients to rate physicians. Health insurance plans often allow the online rating of their physicians, but the sites to watch are those not associated with third-party payers and that allow anonymous posting. Even the most proficient doctors can fall victim to undeservedly malicious online comments. That said, don’t discount all criticism. Weigh the value of comments being left. (Maybe your waiting room is too crowded.)

Be Proactive
The best defense is usually a good offense, so cultivate your own Internet presence. Include positive patient reviews on your Web site (if you have one). If you don’t have a Web site, use free services such as Google Places, which are easy to join and help bring your practice’s location to the forefront of Web searches.

To promote a Web site, employ search engine optimization (SEO) tactics. For example, include as many links to other Web sites as possible (referring practices, local businesses, etc) and many internal links. Because it will often be a search term, include your practice’s town somewhere in the text, not just in your address. According to Jessica Hill, a Philadelphia-based SEO manager, “You want people to be able to find your pages, so you want search engines to be able to find common search terms.”

Manage Bad Feedback
Whenever possible, ignore unreasonable or bizarre criticism. Doing otherwise might be illegal. If the poster is identified, HIPAA legally prohibits even acknowledging the patient as yours. Never engage in mudslinging, cautions Jeffrey Segal, MD, CEO and founder of Medical Justice Services, Inc. of Greensboro, NC. Sites often have rules for taking down defamatory posts, so contacting the site itself might be a first step. Almost never file a lawsuit. “It will be expensive and capricious and will take a long time to get anything accomplished,” he says, and it may not accomplish anything. Better to take the high road with egregious anonymous posts.