Can patients reliably choose a good doctor online? Inevitably, some will.
Many doctors are not comfortable being visible online. So if you do not have a blog or a social media profile, what shows up when a patient Googles you most likely will be something from an online rating site. This trend can have a profound impact on a medical practice. As one of authors (KP) noticed, patients are now saying that they found his practice through the Internet, in stark contrast to 10 years ago, when their information sources were the Yellow Pages or a newspaper ad, or from calling the local hospital. Below are five key reasons why determining your online reputation today can pay off in the future. This article will guide you in establishing your social media footprint and includes a personal story of one physician’s reaction to conducting a Google search on herself.
The first step in determining your online reputation is simple: Google yourself. You may find mixed results—some positive and some negative reviews.
Most likely, the results of your Google search will be inconclusive. Most of the rating sites found during a Google search will contain basic data, such as where you went to medical school, number of years in practice, and the names of hospitals where you work. On some sites, that is all the information you will find. There may be a couple of reviews from patients; but on many sites, there will be none at all. Then why waste time looking, you may ask? There are several reasons why doing a Google search now will pay off in the future:
- Establishing a positive presence. Twenty-one percent of consumers say they now read online reviews for doctors and dentists, nearly double the number (11%) from just two years earlier.1 Data such as this and numerous other studies and surveys show that consumer use of the Internet, not only to find but to comment on their experiences with healthcare, is growing. If you do not have many ratings now, consider yourself lucky that you’re able to get in on the ground floor in establishing a positive online presence and cultivating positive reviews from your patients. Even your current patients may be watching!
- Correcting errors and out-of-date information. You may find errors in some of your listings and can correct them so potential patients know where to find you. Most rating sites allow physicians to manage their basic data. An old address or telephone number can cost you. If you have moved to a new practice but the group you were previously with still exists, potential patients who call your old phone number will probably be offered an appointment with a doctor in that group. Your former practice is not likely to pass on your new contact information!
- Having no reputation is as bad as having a negative reputation. Next year or the year after, when potential patients do a search and find several physicians’ profiles that meet their criteria for specialty or geography, do you really want yours to be the one with no information about your practice? Increasingly, patients will be making decisions based on other people’s opinions. A straightforward and positive online presence could boost your business now, as more patients find you and decide to make an appointment with you based on what they’ve read.
- Knowledge is power. No one wants their weaknesses broadcast to the whole world. Understandably, many healthcare professionals are nervous about the transparency brought about by social media, especially the trend toward online reviewing by patients. But think about the kinds of Google searches you do. Perhaps you’ve used TripAdvisor to plan a vacation or read hotel reviews. You’ve most likely Googled an unfamiliar restaurant to find reviews of what other people thought of it. How many of those hotels or restaurants have had 100% positive ratings? Probably none. Feedback can be healthy, allowing you to discover ways to improve patients’ experiences with all aspects of your practice.
- Claiming your identity. One fact of life in our increasingly small and interactive world is that there are no names that are truly unique to one person. No matter how unusual you think your name might be, chances are there is at least one other person somewhere in the world with the same name and with an Internet presence.
Internist Vineet Arora, MD, associate program director of the University of Chicago’s internal medicine residency program, tells a story of what happened the first time she Googled herself. See what she did about it:
My online reputation was not something I had ever thought of until I had a bad one. When someone would Google my name, he or she would find the top hits referred to my exact namesake, Vineet Arora, an ophthalmologist in Ontario, Canada. This would not be so terrible, except that most of the links were accompanied by a headline like “Ophthalmologist accused of blinding patients.”
Needless to say, that really concerned me.
Would people think I was that guy? My name and even professional identity was associated with this other person. What’s worse is that my own faculty profile at the University of Chicago was not coming up high in the search. So at that moment, I decided to generate my own online content.
The first thing I did was set up a LinkedIn account as a landing page for myself that included a list of my positions. I will confess that I was afraid of being too “out there” at first, so I kept my LinkedIn page pretty barebones. While I had started embracing Twitter, I was still experimenting and purposely did not link my Twitter account to my formal name “Vineet Arora” but instead used “Vinny Arora,” a more personal name my friends know me as. Well, there was really no reason to worry.
Twitter has changed my life. Through Twitter, I have made contact with a vast network of individuals interested in improving medical education and healthcare. Through Twitter, I have received numerous speaking invitations, media inquiries, and job offers. I even have a funded grant with an individual I have not yet met in person! I have also made many friends, some of whom I have actually met.
I link all my social media accounts to my LinkedIn page. I also created a Google profile and a very cool about.me page to aggregate Web content related to my work.
Controlling my online reputation allows me to control what people say about me, too. For example, when I give talks, I simply send my Google profile bio, as opposed to having someone reinvent the wheel from my CV.
I share my story with trainees so that they not only become familiar with their online reputation, but also take control of it. Even if they are not ready to dive fully into social media, setting up a LinkedIn page is an easy first step to building an online reputation.
Because I see patients only when they are hospitalized in an urban academic center that cares for an underserved, diverse population, my patients don’t likely know who I am until they meet me. But these days, the minute you hear about someone you don’t know, what do you do? You Google them. So I would not be surprised if that is what some of my patients do, and certainly more will do so in the future. In this day and age, because your online reputation is often your first impression, it better be a good one.
Often, the topic of online ratings causes a sense of anxiety among physicians, as most have not been trained to deal with being reviewed online.
Many physicians say their greatest fear is Googling their name and seeing a negative review from one of these sites. What if, when you Google yourself, you were to find comments like these:
“Going to this dermatologist was a waste of time and money.”
“What a mistake. This man has the bedside manner of someone from the Amazon.”
These comments were taken from real reviews at a physician rating site. It’s obviously not how you want patients to find you on the Web.
Despite the risks to your online reputation that bad reviews can bring, many physicians still don’t see the value of both social media and the time it takes to develop a strong online reputation. If you want to determine the impact of social media on your practice, you can use a metric every business uses to measure the impact of its investments of time and money: the return on investment (ROI). Simply ask new patients how they found you. You may find that a growing percentage of new patients coming to your office are there because of information they found about you online.
Also, consider this: patients who’ve explored your practice online may also be more comfortable with you, because they may feel as though they already know you. They may be more willing to share their concerns because they’ve read an article or an interview about you. In addition, because they have made a conscious decision to come to YOU (perhaps even selected you from among several choices), they may be more receptive to your instructions. Not only might this enhanced comfort level make the relationship between you and your patient stronger, it could minimize the chance that the patient will go elsewhere after the initial visit.
And finally, the research firm YouGov found that 57% of consumers said that a social media connection was likely to have a strong impact on their hospital choice.2
Social media’s ROI is starting to be quantified and will surely grow as more patients go online.
1. Anderson M. Local Consumer Review Survey 2012: Part 2. Search Engine Land. May 7, 2012; http:/searchengineland.com/local- consumer-review-survey-2012-part-2-120321. Accessed November 3, 2012.
Health Care Association of New York State. Health Care Social Media: Getting Executives on Board. April 2012; www.hanys.org/communi cations/social-media/assets/docs/health_care_social_media.pdf.
This article first appeared in The Journal of Medical Practice Management.
Kevin Pho, MD is Founder and Editor of KevinMD.com, and an Internal Medicine Physician at Nashua Medical Group, Nashua, New Hampshire
Susan Gay is a medical author.
Their book is Establishing, Managing, and Protecting Your Online Reputation: A Social Media Guide for Physicians and Medical Practices