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How Physicians Should Deal With Online Rating Websites

How Physicians Should Deal With Online Rating Websites

Many of you may be tempted to ignore what patients are writing about you online. After all, actively monitoring rating and review websites will take up more of your already limited time and energy. Plus, there's the fear of what you might find. Reading negative comments about yourself and your practice is probably not your idea of a good time.

But experts say that in the case of online ratings and reviews from patients, ignorance is not bliss. The more aware you are of what patients are writing about you, the more able you will be to improve your online reputation.

That online reputation may be playing a bigger role in your practice's well-being than you think. Take Los Angeles-based solo OB/GYN David Ghozland as an example. He says 50 percent of his new patients point to online reviews and rating sites, such as Yelp and ZocDoc, as their referral sources. "... Where once our referrals were in large part from other physicians, we find that our biggest referral basis today is the online referral," he says.

While your practice may not have experienced such a dramatic shift in referrals, it's likely that online ratings and reviews are playing a bigger role in your ability to attract new patients.

A 2012 survey of more than 2,000 individuals found that 59 percent considered online reviews and ratings at least "somewhat important" when choosing a new doctor; and nearly 25 percent had actively sought out physician ratings when choosing a primary-care physician in the previous year. The survey findings appeared in a recent JAMA article based on research from the University of Michigan Health System, School of Public Health, and Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. Another survey, conducted by healthcare technology company Digital Assent in 2013, found that 72 percent of 341 respondents said that bad reviews would prevent them from going to see a particular doctor.

Given the growing role online ratings and reviews are playing in new patient acquisition, it's time to take a more active role in managing your online reputation. But it can be difficult to determine how to begin. To help, we asked online reputation management experts to weigh in. Here are five simple steps you can take today to ensure the first impression you give online is just as great as the one you give in person.

Step 1: Claim the listings

While only a small percentage of patients are actively rating and reviewing their doctors online (10 percent according to a 2013 survey of more than 4,500 patients conducted by software consultancy Software Advice), nearly all potential new patients are exposed to such ratings, says Laurie Morgan, partner and senior consultant at practice management consultancy Capko & Morgan. That's because whenever an individual types a physician's or practice's name into an Internet search box (after he finds that the physician is an in-network provider on his insurance plan; or when he is trying to find a practice's phone number to set up an appointment), online ratings and reviews tend to sit at or near the top of the search results. Sometimes, Morgan says, they outrank even a practice's own website.

For that reason, the first step to take better control of your online reputation is determining what patients are exposed to when they search for you online. Family physician Michael Woo-Ming, founder of RepMD, a medical marketing consulting firm, recommends typing your name and/or your practice's name into Google, as this is the most popular search engine. Then, scroll through the first and second pages of results.

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