“Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it and the tree is the real thing” –Abraham Lincoln
All physicians should ponder this quote for a minute. Just ask yourself, how do your patients/potential patients view your shadow? We are living in an age of digitalization where any physician’s brand and reputation survives or vanishes by what is said by others online. The years of hard work you’ve put in developing your skills to deliver best medical treatment to people is like a tree – which defines your character and is the real thing. But unfortunately, your online reputation is like this tree’s shadow, which in this age of digitalization is defined by what others say about you on digital platforms like social media, blog sites and physician review websites.
What is online reputation and why is it essential for physicians to protect and maintain it?
The reputation of any business is essential to its survival. It holds even more importance in the healthcare industry, as reputation means everything for physicians. The trust and confidence of your patients have a profound effect on your reputation. These days, patients are digitally empowered and have the option of freely expressing their views on any product/service they pay for, healthcare being no exception. They can anonymously review/rate your practice and healthcare services on various platforms on the Internet.
So your online reputation has become your image on the Internet. Negative/biased/unauthentic reviews and comments can jeopardize your online reputation, damage your status and, thereby, affect patient inflow to your practice. Online reputation management (ORM) is a strategy that aims at improving or restoring your online reputation or your brand’s good standing by countering, weakening or eliminating the negative material found on the Internet. The purpose is to interact with readers and put positive material for circulation through the Internet that is read by thousands of others.
In a sense, online reputation management is building your brand equity in the virtual world. Representing your practice as a “brand” on the Internet, helps develop a feeling of trust and credibility among your patients and many others who can be your potential patients in the future.
Monitoring your online reputation is, therefore, imperative to survive in business today. Whatever is said about you can travel like wildfire online. Failing to proactively handle your online reputation could be fatal. By following a few simple rules, you can exert a bit more control over what is being said about you online:
Don’t be ignorant – be proactive about your online reputation
Like it or not, being aware of what is being said about you online is the main prism through which your reputation will be viewed. When it comes to the world of the Internet, it is people’s words that carry the greatest weight. Juggling time, the practice and hectic work priorities can no longer serve as a valid reason for any physician to be a passive observer of his or her online reputation. If you are in the dark about what is being written and said about your practice, it can gradually turn your reputation toward a negative trend. It’s mandatory for physicians to routinely monitor their own Internet presence to know what is being written about their practice.
Create and monitor your profile on physician-rating websites and social media platforms
Always keep in mind, even if you are not active on the Internet, your reputation is. Create your profile on the major rating websites such as HealthGrades, Vitals, RateMyMD, etc. and social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter so that you are aware of what is being said about you on these platforms. Patients often anonymously post reviews, opinions and feedback on these sites. The effect these reviews have on customers is tremendous and can affect the overall success rating for any physician.
Take the first step to protect your online reputation and request your Online Reputation Assessment.
Define professional boundaries and keep private things private
While interacting with patients on the Internet, physicians must be watchful to maintain appropriate boundaries of the patient-physician relationship in accordance with professional ethical guidelines. Professional distance and privacy are appropriate for both physician and patient. To have clear personal and professional boundaries, physicians should consider developing professional profiles with an explicit purpose of networking and reaching out to patients. Physicians should maintain strict privacy settings on personal accounts and must not “friend” or contact patients through personal social media.
It is a numbers game – so when it comes to reviews, quantity rules
You have no control over what people write about you online. So you can make some efforts to generate positive reviews to counterbalance the effect of the negative ones. While unsatisfied patients make sure they leave a review, satisfied patients are unlikely to think to do so, unless you suggest it. Humbly ask your satisfied patients to post reviews. Always ask only real patients to review you online. Do not resort to the practice of asking your staff members, friends or family to post positive reviews online. Fake reviews are often easy to spot and may do more harm than good.
Don’t be a silent watchman of negative reviews
Always remember that potential patients tracking your online profiles and the way you respond to reviews is the decisive factor on whether your services are worthy for them or not. Capitalize on this! You can’t just let them sit and see your online reputation going down the drain. Though physicians have their hands tied by law (e.g., per HIPAA law, physicians cannot publically disclose an individual’s health condition), they can still respond to reviews in a balanced way. Taking negative reviews in a constructive way to improve the practice should be the standard.
Say you are sorry
Try to be humble and apologize wherever you feel there was some lack in services. Strike up a conversation with the patient and own up to mistakes that may have occurred. Focus on coming up with a solution for the problem. Your attitude about resolving issues and delivering the best possible services will be visible to all your patients and prospective patients. It indicates transparency within your medical practice and creates a sense of trust and credibility.
As Warren Buffett famously said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” A little caution and some smart efforts can help protect your online reputation.