The healthcare industry, for better or worse, is an INDUSTRY, and as such is forced to adhere to the same marketing principles and strategy as any other in the business community. Though medical professionals perform a valuable and necessary public service (some would say the most important), they are still working in a for-profit industry, and therefore must rely on the same online marketing techniques in order to remain competitive. This can include anything from a professionally-designed medical practice website to an active online presence via social media marketing.

Online visibility, however, can come at a price. The more a doctor or other medical professional exposes him/herself online, regardless of the format, the more they are at risk from the damage often incurred by online negativity. A negative blog post, social media blurb or doctor review can wreak immense havoc on a doctor’s online reputation, leaving a blemish on what otherwise may have been a spotless online image. Neglecting online negativity, i.e. letting a negative comment or review fester in the online community, can have detrimental, even devastating effects on a medical professionals online reputation, serving only to destroy credibility and erode the public’s trust.

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Be Proactive

A strong online reputation management strategy, one that proactively addresses bad reviews, negative comments and other unwarranted attacks, can be a medical professionals best friend, allowing them to not only maintain a successful medical practice, but also to continue to provide what the healthcare society depends on to survive. Making reputation management an integral part of your social media marketing strategy can do wonders for your reputation, your practice and the patients you serve.

An effective social media strategy can help you promote your practice, as well as meet social media negativity head on, effectively eliminating its impact on your image. According to Dr. Kevin Campbell, contributor to www.whvheart.com, the anonymous nature of the internet facilitates the proliferation of negativity, allowing nearly anyone to post a negative comment without recourse or consequence. Consumers, he says, are far more likely to post something negative than positive, outnumbering positive commenters nearly 2-to-1! The difference between truth and fiction is often incredibly blurred and distorted, and one negative comment can sometimes become nagging, perpetual headache for a practicing physician. 

While social media is often a useful marketing tool for physicians, its high visibility makes it an equally powerful tool for dissenters and naysayers, regardless of a comment’s accuracy. Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and others, says Dr. Campbell, can “just as easily be used by unhappy patients, former employees and competitors in a negative way,” often times sullying and in some instances “may completely ruin a reputation.” It’s important, he says, to maintain an active social media presence as part of medical professional’s online reputation management strategy, discovering and addressing negative posts before they become a real issue. He stresses active participation in sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter, as well as an active blog, to harness in your online story and begin to control your reputation.

Monitor Review Sites

Image devastation can also come in the form of negative comments and poor ratings on popular online doctor review sites, such as Yelp, Healthgrades, Vitals, ZocDoc and others. Online reviews of doctors, argues Melissa McCormack of medical software research website Softwareadvice.com, are often the first and most trusted sources of information by people searching for a physician online. According to McCormack, over 25% of all potential patients (i.e. consumers) rely on online reviews to select a healthcare professional. Though this may be a lower percentage than, say, those that rely on online reviews to select auto repair or haircut services, it is still a significant number, representing a quarter of potential customers. One negative review, particularly a vehement or overly negative review, has the potential to scare away a hefty portion of potential business. Consumer reliance on healthcare review sites is an important thing to factor in to any online marketing and reputation strategy. With proper knowledge, monitoring and use of these sites, a doctor has the potential to once again face negativity before it has the opportunity to become a lasting scar on their reputation.

Like it or not, doctor review sites like Yelp, Healthgrades and Vitals play an increasingly important part in the doctor selection process, often leaving medical professionals at a loss as to how exactly to cope with the potential onslaught on online negativity. This “Yelpification” of healthcare, according to Medical Economics writer Donna Marbury, can also have the potential to create severe misidentification issues, often times leading to the confusion of one doctor for another. Some physicians, she states, have become discouraged by doctor review sites simply because a patient will often times confuse them with another, perhaps less-reputable physician, and that often times a doctor’s contact listing will be inaccurate or out-of-date, hurting their potential for more business.

Review sites also tend to receive prominence on sites like Google, often popping up near the top of ranking pages. As a result, a patient’s search often reveals review sites first, directing them towards a potential plethora of negative online activity and an almost immediately leaving an indelibly negative and lasting imprint in their mind.

Make Online Reputation Management a Priority

You may consider the management of your online information and reputation time-consuming and tedious, perhaps even irrelevant to your primary purpose. A commitment to online reputation management, however, is extremely important, particularly for medical professionals who face the constant threats of dissatisfied patients, disgruntled former employees and the ongoing spread of negative and potentially libelous online information. Developing a social media marketing strategy that involves diligent and tenacious reputation management can help to not only save your reputation, but protect it for the duration of your practice.

Provide places for your patients to address their concerns directly to you and/or your practice. By providing an avenue for dissatisfied patients on your practice’s website, and by effectively linking your site to your social media page, you are giving people a better and more productive way to express their opinions.

Monitor doctor review sites. Make periodic checks on your info on popular consumer sites, such Vitals, Yelp and others to ensure your contact and website information are always up-to-date.  Find a good way to encourage satisfied patients to leave positive feedback and 5-star ratings on the review sites that rank high on Google when your name or the name of your practice is searched. It’s also important to offer reviewers the opportunity to discuss their concerns outside of the public arena. Make as many attempts as possible to provide visible and accurate contact information.

There are, of course, many online reputation management companies now vying for the business of healthcare professionals. An ORM company can often help a medical professional develop a comprehensive reputation management approach; one that not only makes the best use of positive content, but that also effectively monitors the web for any new or existing presence of negatively, potentially harmful information. Professional reputation management firms are often an inexpensive and effective management option; one that understands how to minimize negativity and maximize positive consumer visibility.   

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