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Here is a list of the top five most unethical practices to watch out for online that can hurt your medical practice.
Internet companies have launched an all-out assault on the medical practice industry. From SEO companies to health information sites to physician ratings websites, they’re all competing for the same thing - a physician’s name.
Whether it’s lack of physicians’ interest in their online reputations, lack of knowledge of what should be on page one of Google, or the lack of regulations in the space of medical marketing, all three issues have led to some of the most unethical practices in the industry.
Because of lack of regulations, even lawsuits against Internet companies have resulted in nothing. Because of the failed lawsuits, more companies with unethical practices are springing up. Upon review of the last lawsuits in the industry, it was very clear that neither the lawyers, the doctors themselves, nor possibly the judges/jury were even remotely aware of why these Internet companies’ practices were unethical.
Here are the top five most unethical practices to watch out for online:
Use of doctors' names in advertising campaigns without their knowledge or consent
If a website is listing your name or the brand of your practice on their physician locator is it justified? Every time this happens, the Internet company utilizes the fact that patients Google their doctors, and they attract attention to their websites and advertisers by enticing people to view information about you. When they get on the website, there is no information about you, but rather advertisements of other doctors who pay the company for patient lead generation. This is the most common unethical practice used by most Internet companies and it’s rampant. From health information sites that use physician locators with propagated ratings, to physician review sites, to physician directories, to SEO companies, they’re all competing to entice more advertisers at your expense.
Use of physician reputations for monetization schemes
It’s without doubt that patients go online to run a background check on their doctors. But are three random physician reviews from the past five years representative of the thousands of patients you see? Well, imagine if a doctor who has two negative or so-so patient reviews pitched against an advertisement of another doctor. Without doubt, patients do not want to go to a poorly-reviewed doctor. They will click on that advertisement. So while possible patients are going to review information about you they’re fooled into going to see another doctor. Again, this is a standard practice among Internet companies that uses doctors’ names to improve advertisers’ results.
Manipulation of public services for profit
Recently many doctors have been affected by patient review and ratings websites that manipulate physician reviews. Many patient reviews are hidden behind filters to make the doctors look worse. Doctors are displayed with awful ratings for their medical schools, hospitals, and training. Then these same doctors are called by the companies to advertise with them, create custom profiles, and remove negative ratings from public view.
SEO (search engine optimization) services for “page one Google results”
The only way to achieve page one of Google is to advertise using Google Ads. Many SEO companies claim to boost your rankings for your website on Google by tweaking your content and building links. At the end of the month they will put together an ad, will call you to review it, and then claim that they brought your website to “#1 Result on Google” Once you review it and have a smile on your face, they get you with an annual contract. The next day they remove the advertisements. If you want page one on Google to list the most important information about you, you need to be proactive. There’s no magical service that will fix this. What good is SEO for your website if the next listing on Google is a bad patient review?
Google advertisements without reputation control and website tweaks
There are now many Internet companies switching from other industries to focus on doctors to offer Google Ads as stand-alone services for several thousand dollars a month. They mostly prey on physicians in surgical specialties who can afford such ads. What they don’t tell you is that if you were to tweak your website and your reputation online was improved, the cost of Google Ads can decrease by a few thousand dollars. Don’t get sucked into getting one or two patients from Google Ads. Internet advertising has to part of a marketing plan. Alone it’s simply a very costly waste of money.
To summarize, doctors need to be aware of their online reputations. The practice of using doctors’ names and reputations are not a public service if there is no service, but rather an unethical monetization scheme. Be careful of who uses your name for their profit. And remember that Internet marketing is not about SEO or Google Ads. Internet marketing is about everything that appears on page one of Google.
Find out more about Simon Sikorski and our other Practice Notes bloggers.