5 steps to control your online reputation

Deb Beaulieu

Deb Beaulieu

In 2012, it's almost guaranteed that at some point a patient or prospective patient will Google your name. And while it does not appear there's anything you can do to correct the cringe-worthy "Dr. First Last, MD" moniker so often seen on the top-ranking listings, there are several steps you can and should take to manage what the public learns about you online.

1. Embrace online reviews. We've said it before, and Simon Sikorski, CEO of Healthcare Marketing Center of Excellence, recently echoed the point in a blog post for Physicians Practice by citing his own research about the impact of doctor review sites on a medical practice and hospitals. In particular, he gave an example of a small ambulatory surgery center out-competing a local hospital "purely on the fact that their doctors embraced patient reviews and the hospital was still afraid of even featuring the doctors on its own website." Further, when review sites post physician ratings based on percentages, you want to make sure that it's based on more substantial data than from perhaps four patients who reviewed your practice five years ago.

2. Train staff to impress. It's unavoidable that patients' feelings toward your employees will affect--and in many cases overwhelm--reviews that will appear attached only to the physician's name. As part of your strategy of encouraging patients to rate you and your practice online, train and hire great staff that will reflect positively on your reputation, in person and online. As noted by plastic surgeon Joseph G. Bauer in a recent journal article, employees who keep patients satisfied and address their complaints promptly go a long way toward fending off negative or defamatory reviews.

3. Ensure listings are up to date and accurate. Inaccurate or empty listings not only keeps patients from finding you but may also drive would-be clientele straight to your competitors' doors. As Sikorski explained, because physician rating websites advertise on Google, profiles for other physicians who purchased space on those sites will appear prominently next to your name, leading someone who was searching for you onto a different track. And in many cases, these listings offer patients the ability to schedule an appointment right through their platform.

4. Populate the Web with information you control. When practices take control of their online reputations, their own professional websites, Facebook pages and blogs take up higher search-engine rankings than the likes of CitySearch, RateMDs and others. To ensure patients find trustworthy information about you, make sure the results on the first page of Google consist of Web property the practice owns and controls, Bauer wrote.

5. Defend negative reviews. "Not every comment or post needs addressing," Bauer wrote, "but for those that seem to be extreme, a process is established in addressing these posts and taking action to have them removed or neutralized." There have been a handful of recent cases in which physicians have sued patients for defamation over negative online reviews. But because bringing such suits to court is risky, experts recommend you first attempt to resolve the patient's complaint, if a name is provided, and encourage them to remove or amend their review.

As always, if you've got any tips to add to this list, please feel free to comment! -Deb (@PracticeMgt)