4 considerations for your practice's online presence

By Aine Cryts

A disgruntled former patient who created a website to impersonate his surgeon's online presence. Plastic surgery practices posting the work of another plastic surgeon on their websites. These are just two reasons you must be careful when you set up an online presence to market your physician practice, according to a recent Medscape article.

"Like many things in life, your website isn't a problem until it becomes a problem," writes Michael J. Sacopulos, CEO of the Terre Haute, Indiana-based Medical Risk Institute and a malpractice attorney. "With a minimal amount of time and expense, you can make sure your website is an asset to your practice and not a liability."

Here are four tips to ensure your online presence doesn't get you into trouble:

Secure legal rights to images. The plastic surgeon who had images of his work stolen and misrepresented as other surgeons' work should have secured the legal rights to the images. While "copyright laws are stacked against you," it doesn't cost a lot to secure rights to use images on your website, writes Sacopulos. But if you don't have the rights, remove the images, he advises.

Articulate appropriate use of website content. Blog posts can substantiate your clinicians' expertise--they're also a patient favorite. Still, blog posts aren't intended as medical advice. Make sure that the website explains that patients with particular health issues should contact the practice to address those concerns, writes Sacopulos. In addition, consider adding a "Terms of Use" page to provide guidance about the appropriate use of the information found on the site. The American Medical Society and some specialty societies are good sources of information on this topic, according to the article.

Purchase domain names related to your practice. Consider purchasing domain names related to your personal name and the name of your practice, writes Sacopulos. Purchasing these domain names doesn't cost much, and it's money well spent, he advises.

Determine your strategy for handling negative patient reviews. Patients are increasingly turning to the web to write about their experiences with physicians. If one of your physicians receives a bad review, the best approach is to thank the reviewer for his or her feedback and note that the practice is taking steps to improve the patient experience. Have members of your legal or marketing team--rather than physicians or other clinicians--handle comments from patients. Another option is for physicians to reach out to patients privately, as previously recommended by FiercePracticeManagement.

To learn more:
- read the article