How the Pros Repair Damaged Physician Online Reputations

May 24, 2012

Negative posts / comments about a physician / practice will hurt, so here's how the professionals recommend you take action to preserve patients.

Within the past week alone, I have seen four articles on physicians’ reputations being damaged online, that have been printed or posted in major outlets, including one of mine - Physicians' Online Reputations Under Attack from Turned-away Drug Seekers.

Topics don’t usually get that much press in such a short amount of time unless they reflect broad concerns, so I went to HCP Senior Strategist Eric Polins and asked him how a professionally-managed reputation management program would work.

Why should you care about a disgruntled patient spouting off online? The fact of the matter is that if you are asking this question, you must first understand the gravity of not managing and keeping a pulse on your online reputation:

First, it is easy for anyone to post things about you or your practice, whether about you personally or professionally, good or bad, with relative anonymity. What is said doesn’t have to be true and no one on the posting or physician ranking site will challenge its veracity unless you do. Small businesses dealing with the public are vulnerable. Professionals, particularly healthcare professionals, are among the most vulnerable.

Second, the Internet is permanent and, in time, profligate. One or two negative postings among a sea of positive ones are annoying, but the reverse is more than a little problem, and the worse it gets, the more expensive it gets.

Third, the hard reality is that words will hurt you. Negative postings not only scare away patients, they can damage the value of your practice, increase the cost of malpractice insurance (unhappy patients are far more likely to sue), complicate malpractice suits, cause problems with partners, affect hospital accreditation, licensing and even creditors.

Lastly, what you don’t know will hurt you, and doing the wrong thing will hurt you much more than doing nothing.

Now that you have the reasons why you should care, what do you do? Here is Polins’ program:

1. Monitor the web by searching your name/practice weekly. Create a list of the issues. Go 10 pages deep on the top three search engines.

2. If you see a problem, deal with it quickly and directly. The longer it's there, the more it spreads and the greater the chance it can be archived.

3. Get in touch with the author and tell them to stop, in a kind and thoughtful way, without getting a lawyer involved. Reach them on a human level.

4. If there is more than one, triage the list of issues and decide which to deal with right away. If they are pernicious, develop a series of press releases and disseminate over a legitimate wire service over two weeks to six weeks to bury them.

5. Create online profiles on LinkedIn, Twitter, Google, Facebook, and a few others, creating a positive brand image of your practice and yourself.

6. Claim the real estate/office space on your name in Google Local and with Bing, Yahoo, and Ask.com versions.

7. Set up a YouTube channel and post a series of videos with links back to your website, indirectly addressing the issues in a positive way.

8. Engage an employee or new hire to focus on responding to the postings in the online forums or portals with your own words, in a positive light. Have someone who understands HIPAA regulations review and approve them first.

9. Companies such as ReputationDefender.com can handle smaller problems.

10. If you can't do it with the aforementioned tactics, it’s time to hire professionals.

There is one additional strategy to add. Be proactive, learn from the concern and fix what may be broken. If you know who made the negative post, contact them, ask for their help by discussing their concerns directly with you so that the deficiency can be corrected and provide a direct phone number and email contact. Lemons do make lemonade.

If all of this sounds unfair and burdensome, it is, however, considering the consequences of the alternative, that laws have not caught up with the Internet, and the First Amendment considerations, it is simply another of today’s realities.

(Fair disclosure, Eric Polins is a colleague at HCP.)

Find out more about James Doulgeris and our other Practice Notes bloggers.