In my previous posts, I've walked you through the challenges and burdens of suing a patient for online defamation. Such lawsuits are expensive, time-consuming, stressful, and full of risk. In short, they are a last resort, only to be used when your reputation is so severely in peril that legal action is your only viable option. This final post will offer a few ideas of proactive steps you can take to safeguard your online reputation.
Given the prevalence and influence of online reviews, physicians cannot ignore their online reputation. A simple Internet search will turn up reviews of your practice in seconds. Survey data makes clear that potential patients will read those reviews and form an impression of you before they've ever set foot in your examination room.
You cannot stop a patient from defaming you online, but taking these steps can help lessen the reputational damage of a single negative review. The goal is to create a substantial and positive online presence
You should be aware that on many doctor rating websites, anyone can create your profile. For example, on RateMDs, the patient need only complete the most basic information about a doctor (name, specialty, address) to create a physician profile. Then the patient can review the doctor, and the profile and review are available for anyone to see. Other websites (such as Healthgrades) pull practice information from public sources to create profiles. Either way, you may not be aware that such profiles even exist.
Here are a few steps you can take right now:
First, if one does not already exist, create a profile on the major review websites, including general review sites like Yelp.
You want to be the person to describe your practice, ensure that contact information is correct, and provide an accurate description of your specialties and experience. It sounds silly, but a warm, approachable headshot —taken by a professional — can offer a strong first impression.
Second, if someone else created a profile for you, "claim" your profile to make any necessary changes to the information in it.
For example, the patient may have listed an incorrect subspecialty or the wrong fax number. By claiming and verifying the profile, at least you will be sure that prospective patients can find your office and contact you.
Third, take steps to create a substantial and positive online presence so that a single negative review will cause little harm.
You can ask patients to write reviews when you have treated them or their close family member. It is not right to pay for reviews, write your own reviews, or post negative reviews on another doctor's profile. Some websites prohibit the solicitation of reviews. But there is nothing wrong with asking your patients to review your practice if they are happy with it.
Fourth, constantly monitor your online reputation.
If you do not know what is being written about your practice, you have zero chance to protect your reputation. You need to check your profile regularly and read all the posted reviews. A staff member can be assigned to this task on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis, depending on the size of your practice. Apart from finding reviews that you may want to try to remove, this effort also provides you with invaluable feedback about your practice and may help provide ideas to tweak your office policies to fix problems that patients identify. As I have written before, there may be times when you need to respond to negative reviews on the review website itself.
Fifth, be aware that the presentation of online reviews on some sites may not accurately depict all of the reviews of your practice.
Yelp has come under considerable criticism for its internal algorithm that decides which reviews are prominently displayed and which reviews are hidden on a separate page. I talked with one home renovation company that had several one-star reviews on their Yelp profile page but numerous five-star reviews hidden on a second page. The upshot is that even if current patients write positive reviews, this is no guarantee that those reviews can be found easily by potential patients. This is simply one of the problems with online review sites.