Six Ways Physicians Can Build a Great Online Reputation

January 20, 2016

Patients nowadays will most likely search for a new physician online. Here's how to make sure they find great results about you and your practice.

Eighty-eight percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Like it or not, what patients say about you through online rating sites affects your practice. Even patients who are referred by a friend or family member will most likely search online to learn more about you before making an appointment. What they read on rating and review sites can impact their desire to schedule - or not.

Here are six ways to build a positive reputation:

1. Search for your name on all rating sites.

Before you can manage your online reputation, you've got to understand what patients have already posted about their experience with you. Delegate the task of searching for your online reviews to a staff member and summarize your average ratings into one comprehensive document. Visit at least RateMDs, Healthgrades, Vitals, Yelp!, Angie's List, and Google - and if you are a plastic surgeon or cosmetic dermatologist, add RealSelf and RealPatientRatings to the list.

Read through the consolidated summary thoroughly to get a sense about what you are doing quite well and which areas can be improved. You may be surprised to find that simple improvements could boost your scores.

2. Use automation to monitor what is said about you.

Once you've taken a look at the ratings and reviews that already exist, keep abreast of new postings by using an automated tool such as Google Alerts (www.google.com/alerts). Designate one staff person to monitor these so that negative reviews can be dealt with (more on that in a moment) and positive reviews can be turned into social media tidbits and testimonials.

3. Complete your profile and correct errors.

A profile with the default gray silhouette as the photo, along with nothing more than your street address, makes you look old school. Complete all the profile fields on each rating site. Upload a professional photo, not the one with you and your dog on the beach. And if you are able to include a short description or bio, develop a standard paragraph that is friendly and upbeat.

If you find incorrect data on a rating site, fix it. One young doctor was surprised when people he'd never treated began calling his cell phone. A rating site had included that number instead of the office number in his profile. He quickly corrected the mistake.

4. Self-assess your consultation and interpersonal skills with patients.

Do you sit next to patients or stand towering above them? Do you really listen or just wait for the patient to stop talking so you can impart your advice? Do you educate or just "tell?"

Minor modifications to your style can reflect positively in how patients perceive the value they receive and improve the reviews they post. Ask open-ended questions. Lean toward the patient to demonstrate you are listening. And to make sure patients understand their treatment options use teach-back strategies. For example, you might say to the patient, "All right, Denise, when you get home tonight, what are you going to tell your husband about our conversation?"

5. Ask satisfied patients to write reviews.

Don't just hope that happy patients will dash off and give you a five-star review. Ask them to share their positive experience, and direct them to the specific sites on which you want them to post. To make this easy, create and personally hand the patient a small business card that says something like, "It's been an honor taking care of you! We'd appreciate you taking a few minutes to rate your experience with our practice at one of these websites." Then list your preferences.

Some physicians are reticent about handing the cards directly to patients. Enlist staff if that feels less awkward.

6. Use caution when handling negative reviews.

There's no need to mope about negative reviews. In fact, having a few of them can make a cadre of glowing ratings seem more authentic.

Patients understand that no one can be perfect 100 percent of the time. The key phrase to remember is: The only solution to online pollution is dilution. In other words, the best way to deal with negative reviews is with an ongoing stream of positive reviews from satisfied patients. (See #5.)

When your automated alert system does turn up a concerning post, be careful how you handle it. HIPAA limits your ability to respond, and trying to correct or argue with the patient online is a mistake. Encourage the poster to call and speak with someone at the practice instead. Before you address truly blasphemous posts, contact your attorney.

Karen Zupkois president of practice management consulting and training firm KarenZupko & Associates, Inc., which has been working for and with physicians for more than 30 years.