Online reputation management for doctors tends to be more complicated than practice managers or doctors expect. In our experience, we’ve seen doctors and office managers make the following 5 online reputation mistakes far more often than any other. Unfortunately, this leads to lost patients, increases in malpractice suits (not necessarily successful ones, but they’re still costly in terms of time, stress, and finances), and an overall weaker referral cycle. We want to ensure that other physicians don’t make the same mistakes.
Without further ado, here they are:
1. Ignoring The Internet
Doctors are brilliant life savers and often our greatest heros; however, even the best physicians are known for their stubbornness. Physicians and practice managers used to the old ways of practice marketing view the Internet with ambivalence and suspicion. What a huge mistake!
Over 40% of consumers have used the Internet when researching a physician, and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is pushing more consumers to use government databases to find physicians. Additionally, many insurance providers encourage patients to use online physician databases, and online patient referral services market heavily to the mass market.
All of this means that the Internet is a primary resource for patients and grows in importance daily as a resource for medical information and choosing the right doctor. Just know that the resources available on the Internet will guide patients to you, away from you, or directly to the office of a competing physician. Ignore the Internet at your peril.
2. Not “Googling” Their Names
What do you look like online? Ask Google, and you’ll find out. Over 5.1 billion searches are conducted on Google daily, along with another 2.4 million for the term “doctor” and that of course doesn’t include permutations on “(type of doctor) + (physician name) + (city),” which are responsible for innumerable (and growing) patient referrals annually.
Before reading on, Google your name. That’s, “Dr. [Your First Name] [Your Last Name].” This will give you insight into the experience had by patients who seek you out. You’ll likely be surprised to learn that you have a presence on anywhere between 10-50 websites that you never even signed up for. And many of these websites have personal details, and all of them are viewed on various occasions by patients. That means anything from bad reviews to public disputes are available for widespread consumption.
3. Request Patients Leave Reviews Online
Although this sounds like a best practice, it’s actually a big no-no. The problem here is that online reputation for doctors is far more about the lack of negative than it is about the presence of positive. You can’t guess who your happy patients are any better than you can predict the future. A happy patient one day can be an angry phone call a month later when the nausea you warned about with the medicine you recommended against didn’t subside. Once a negative review is online, it remains there FOREVER. In the privacy of their own homes, a patient may feel inclined to vent on multiple review sites.
The better option is to install control mechanisms that allow you to absorb patient feedback in the office and then earn the legal rights to publicize a testimonial. Then use a service to post that testimonial on the Internet where it is most advantageous for you.
Patients expect impenetrable judgment from doctors. Bad reviews therefore taint the confidence a patient may otherwise have in a doctor, leading to lost patients. Furthermore, who would refer a doctor with bad reviews to a friend or family member?
4. Ignoring The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)
Online reviews, just like any patient data, are tricky business. Soliciting patients to leave reviews without the HIPAA control protocols in place can risk a doctor’s license to practice medicine. That may sound harsh – but think about it. Let’s say a patient received a chemotherapy treatment or even cosmetic surgery, and the Doctor requests the patient leave a review online. That patient then leaves a review with their real name and later determines one way or another (e.g. a friend or family member or work colleague Googling that patient’s name) that it’s not a great idea to post information about your personal medical history online.
Suddenly the doctor is involved in proposing patients write about personal medical information on the Internet. According to HIPAA, there are very specific rules surrounding the transfer and use of patient information, many of which have to do with verifiable Information Technology processes and data encryption tools. It’s one thing for a patient to publish information themselves and quite another for them to do so at the Doctor’s request.
The worst stories are when doctors or practice managers solicit for reviews directly from patients and then allow their office staff to publish those reviews — but without the proper legal authority. That’s a direct way to lose a license. What are the odds of this outcome? Small, but how long did it take and how expensive was it to earn those medical credentials? And how many patients will you see over the course of your medical career? This is a stupid, unacceptable risk at any time – we hate seeing this mistake made and it’s surprisingly common.
5. Pursuing Litigation To Deal With Negative Reviews
Litigation is expensive, public, and staggeringly ineffective. Review sites like Yelp, RipOff Reports, and even Google have legal precedent, free speech laws, and damn near impenetrable arbitration processes on their side. In every single case we know of, litigation against someone who left a negative review online has always resulted in large legal costs, ZERO positive outcomes for the Doctor, and occasional malpractice counterclaims.
Doctors who use lawyers to protect their online reputations are applying hacksaws where a scalpel is required. Online reputation management for doctors is more about effective online public relations than it is about the courtroom.