Featured in the May/June 2012 Colorado Medicine.
Take control of your online reputation
Susan Liptak, Director of Marketing and Health Care Policy Communications
“Once you get in to see him, you get very good care but it’s impossible to get test results. I stopped going to him because of that.”
“Very good doctor but doesn’t talk much. After my surgery she checked on me often and called me at home after released from hospital.”
“He is a kind and caring ob/gyn. I would recommend him to anyone having a baby!”
The last decade has seen an explosion of online information sharing. Visit any of the online physician or consumer rating sites today and you’ll find comments like the ones listed above, which were randomly selected from local sites Yelp.com, Vitals.com and RateMds.com.
For many years, physicians were spared from being rated online, but that is changing as the number of new rating sites grow and consumer sites add physicians to their list. For example, Angie’s List, a popular rating site for home repair type services is now promoting its new physician category. Prominently displayed on the Angie’s List website are reviews of a roofer, flooring contractor, gardener and a physician. The reviews cycle continuously on the site’s home page.
Back in 2001 statements like “trust your physician, not a chat room” epitomized many physicians’ concerns about the effects that the Internet would have on their patients health and the physician-patient relationship. Fast forward to 2012 and we find Americans are not only going online for health information, but also are visiting community networking sites where they find support, swap stories, and share knowledge and opinions.
The “sharing” piece is proving to be problematic for physicians and is the reason reputation management is necessary.
The social patient
People love social media because they can instantly share their life, as well as ideas, opinions, advice, ratings, reviews and knowledge. The new word-of-mouth is peer reviews, social media posts and blogs, which have collectively become a trusted source of information for consumers. Seventy percent of Internet users say they trust online consumer opinions. It is becoming increasingly important for physicians to understand how patients use social media.
Examples of how patients might participate in social media:
- Rating a physician on a rating site like Healthgrades.com, Vitals.com, RateMD.com or Ucomparehealth.com
- Recommending a physician (or not) on a local review sites like Yelp or Angie’s List
- Writing about a health issue on their Facebook wall
- Sending a request on Twitter for physician recommendations
When a patient rates, reviews or chats about a physician online, it has the potential to be seen by millions of people. If the comments are negative or if the ratings are low, it could impact a physician’s practice and damage their reputation.
Look at the data
For more than 10 years, the Pew Research Center has been reporting how Americans use the Internet for health purposes. (www.PewInternet.org). Their most recent findings are:
- Eighty percent of all adults in the U.S. use the Internet.
- In Colorado, approximately 3.6 million adults use the Internet at home, which doesn’t include people using the Internet at work and on mobile devices.
- Searching online for health information ranked third for Internet activities and was more popular than news and shopping.
- Of the total adult Internet users, 80 percent were specifically searching for health information.
- Forty-seven percent of those health information seekers were researching physicians or health care professionals.
- Caregivers, women and parents with children living at home lead all other groups for online physician searches.
Putting rating sites in their place
Physician ratings sites were modeled after a commercial approach that measures performance based on customer satisfaction. The problem with physician rating sites is that, unlike commercial sites, they don’t have enough reviews to provide reliable results. The majority of the physicians who are rated have received just two or three ratings on the site over the span of two or three years. With numbers that low, all it takes is one really low or really high score to dramatically change the rating. Basically, for ratings sites to provide reliable ratings, they need to have the number of reviews that you see for hotels or online stores like Overstock or Amazon.
Another problem with rating sites is they don’t share their proprietary rating algorithms. They also lack transparency. Patients are allowed to post anonymously and without proof that they were actual patients or that the complaint is real and truthful.
Five easy ways to manage your online reputation
- Assess your reputation. To manage your online reputation you must know what already exists about you on the Internet. To find out, enter your name in a search engine such as Google, Bing or Safari. Try out different search queries that you think patients might use and take advantage of the browser’s suggestions. Search your practice name, the names of your partners, physician assistants and key staff members and then visit each website that appears on page one and two of the search results.
- Set up automatic monitoring with Google Alerts. A simple, automatic and free way to monitor the Internet is with Google Alerts. You enter key search words, such as your name, practice name, etc., and Google Alerts will comb the Internet and email you when they find a match. To sign up for Google Alerts go to www.google.com/alerts. It’s important to know about comments as soon as they appear so that you can address the situation right away. If too much time passes, the physician may not remember the patient or the incident and patients won’t be able to access their account because of old email addresses or forgotten passwords.
- Control the search results. Control your reputation. Reputation management is all about competing for search result space. To perform better in search engines, update and add content to your website regularly. Facebook is search engine gold; create a Facebook page (not profile) for your practice, as well as a LinkedIn profile for yourself. Make sure that your listing in membership websites such as medical societies or directory sites such as Yellow Pages is complete, current and packed with information. Ask your website developer to make sure your site is optimized for search engine requirements.
- Your website. A physician’s proprietary website is the most powerful tool in reputation management. It’s one of the few places on the Internet that physicians have total control over the content and message. It’s also the first point of contact for a prospective patient, as well as a continuing source of information for current patients.
- Make sure your website is optimized for search. For a website to compete against rating sites, it helps to know what search engines like, which includes:
- New content that has been added to a site
- Updated and refresh Web pages
- Links to social media sites, such as a Facebook page (not a profile)
- News, news, news
How to handle negative reviews
The best way to deal with negative comments is to avoid getting them in the first place.
- Take it offline. Never respond in writing on a rating website or in email. Not only because of patient privacy, but also because it will give the Web page “legs.” Adding comments will cause the Web page to be ranked higher in search results. Contact the patient by phone, work to resolve the conflict, and then ask them to remove the negative comment.
- Understand that sometimes it’s better to do nothing. Depending on who made the comment, what was written and how old the comment is, it may be best to ignore the comment and do nothing. Responding online is like adding fuel to the search engine fire and will cause the Web page to rank even higher in search results.
- Create a customer service policy. Instituting customer service policies and training staff can avoid negative comments and ratings. Don’t ignore patients who appear to be unhappy or dissatisfied. Deal with any issues or misunderstandings before they leave. Develop protocols that address common patient complaints, such as being left on hold, not being able to reach a doctor or nurse, phone calls not returned, and so forth.
- Remove posts. It is very difficult to get the publisher of the site to remove negative content. They are legally protected because they are considered third party content publishers (they don’t own or create original content). For serious issues, seek professional legal help.