In the past, reputation management meant doing your job well and avoiding controversies. Take care of your patients. Participate in your community. Don’t kick puppies.
Then the internet emerged, and the public received the power to praise and condemn doctors online anonymously. Many doctors perceive the online world as a two-edged blade. Case in point: A patient who experiences a positive outcome may share that experience online in the form of a review. That positive experience, memorialized online, has the potential to influence many more patients than a single word-of-mouth referral. There is no better marketing platform.
But unfavorable reviews enjoy as much visibility, if not more. And if a favorable online review can drive patients to your practice, unfavorable reviews will drive them away.
Capitalizing on the good while mitigating the effects of the bad is the task. On paper, it sounds simple. Yet reputation management is challenging for everyone, especially doctors. We must respect HIPAA. We must respect the TCPA (more on that acronym shortly). And our jobs, by their very nature, require we deliver important news our patients. That important news is not always good news. Still, many of your colleagues are thriving online. Their online reputations drive revenue. There are ways to do it.
This piece covers tips specific to reputation management for doctors. We’ll open with key definitions. Then we’ll identify the dials you can turn to benefit your practice. Here’s a summary of the topics we’ll cover. Click on the links below to jump to the topic that interests you most.
There’s a lot to unpack. Let it be said Medical Justice understands reputation management for doctors viscerally. And we understand the regulatory landmines most others do not. Our strategies are designed to promote your practice and keep you out of the crosshairs.
Let’s begin with the basics.
This phrase has multiple definitions. Here’s the one that matters. Reputation management for doctors refers to strategies that increase the likelihood your quality of care is portrayed accurately.
Simplified: Any action that makes you look good (assuming, of course, you are delivering high quality care).
Reputation management for doctors can be broken into two categories: offline reputation management and online reputation management. Offline reputation management refers to actions specific to your brick-and-mortar practice (for example, the three A’s: affable, able, and available). Online reputation management refers to digital properties that influence how you are perceived on the internet.
To thrive, you must take ownership of both. We’ll explain how.
What is a doctor’s offline reputation?
The cornerstones of any doctor’s reputation are laid offline. Your reputation is the fruit of human-to-human interactions.
Develop your offline reputation by establishing professional rapport with your patients and staff. Do your best to be a great doctor. Practice according to the standard of care. Don’t cut corners. Don’t leave patients in the dark. Over-communicate. Set the correct expectations before, during, and after a patient’s treatment. Be transparent. Provide patients with a clean environment. Optimize wait-times. And if you are surprised by an unfavorable outcome, be upfront. Yes, there’s more. But you get the picture. Treat your patients the way you’d want to be treated.
What is a doctor’s online reputation?
A doctor’s online reputation is the summation of that doctor’s perceived quality of care, limited to data points published online. Put simply: How a given doctor looks according to Google.
Your online reputation is influenced by every online property that has your name on it. For example, your website, your social media, and your patients’ online reviews all contribute to your online reputation.
Positive or negative, accurately or inaccurately, those properties define you online.
And if there is nothing on the internet with your name on it, you have no online reputation. You’re invisible. And that’s a problem.
The bigger challenge: A doctor with a great reputation is not guaranteed to have a great online reputation. What gives?
The internet moves quickly. Technology moves quickly. And doctors are preoccupied with being doctors. Not every great doctor has a great website. And not every great doctor is equipped to safely, compliantly, and conveniently facilitate publishing of patient sentiment online. A doctor with no website and few reviews will have a harder time standing out online because there is little evidence that he exists online. And search engines (such as Google) cannot supply patients with information about a physician who does not exist online.
Recall our prior definition: A doctor’s online reputation is limited to data points published online.
Therefore, if you want to capitalize on your online reputation, it is critical you understand the advantages of maintaining a high-quality website and empowering your patients to share their experiences online.
Reason one: Patients are using the internet more and more to inform their healthcare decisions. Patients seeking elective care are especially attuned to a doctor’s online reputation. A physician with a strong online reputation (a well-maintained website and favorable online reviews) will be perceived as “the right choice” by new patients.
Reason two: Google is not omniscient. You’ve heard the joke: “Google knows everything.” But that’s not true. Its library of knowledge is limited to the content that human beings publish online. Just because you exist does not mean Google knows you exist. If a doctor has no online properties, as far as the internet is concerned, he doesn’t exist. (This would probably drive René Descartes mad.) This means that patients seeking the kind of care you provide will not find you. They’ll find a competitor. Doctors taking ownership of their online reputations will be found more easily by those patients using the internet to identify qualified providers. A doctor who ignores the online world cannot capitalize on the same opportunities. That doctor is limited to opportunities generated via alternative, and less effective, marketing methods.
Before improving any metric, you must establish a benchmark. You must answer the question: “How do I look now?” Gathering this data alone is challenging. Leave that to us. Request an online reputation analysis. We’ll scan the internet and compile your existing patient reviews into a single report. Our report will identify where you excel and reveal opportunities for growth.
Think of your website as your brick-and-mortar practice’s digital twin. You cannot develop your offline reputation without a brick-and-mortar practice. A doctor lacking a website can still thrive online if he focuses on online reviews. But having a website dedicated to your work can only help you – provided the website is well-maintained.
What role do patient reviews play in a doctor’s online reputation?
Patient reviews (positive and negative) represent your perceived quality of care online. These imperfect metrics are used by patients to evaluate physicians. You deny this evolving truth at your own peril. The more of these reviews online, the more likely a patient will perceive your quality of care accurately. A doctor with few online reviews is at risk of being defined inaccurately. Why? Such a doctor has no counter-narrative. It is the digital equivalent of the heckler’s veto, whose voice drowns out others.
We’ve had many clients contact us with questions specific to toxic reviews published by non-patients. These reviews were written by ex-spouses or former employees who left on bad terms. We’ve devised strategies for managing these situations, but the best strategy is as follows: The solution to pollution is dilution.
If a doctor’s patients populate the internet with reviews in advance of a bad outcome, the likelihood the doctor will be defined by that bad outcome is low.
Search engines (such as Google) seem to play a key role. How can I make Google “work” for my practice?
Put more stuff with your name on it on the internet. It sounds crude, but that is the solution. The implementation is tricky. To understand why, it is necessary to briefly discuss how search engines work.
First: The job of a search engine is not to ask questions. Its job is to answer questions. A search engine is like a librarian. Let’s pretend a patient asks Google a question specific to plastic surgeons in his geographic area. Let’s assume this patient lives in Miami, FL. He submits the search query below…
“best plastic surgeons miami florida”
It is Google’s job to assemble a list of websites, patient reviews, and articles that it “thinks” are most relevant to the patient’s question. But Google can’t tell the user where to go or with whom to schedule an appointment. It can only present data points. The decision making is left to the human being.
Therefore, it is critical that doctors, particularly those specializing in elective care, take steps to manage their online reputations. If there is little or no information about you online, there is little for Google to report. You won’t show up. Possibly worse – if the only patient review attached to your name was published by an angry patient, that review, young or old, becomes your reputation.
As we said previously, Google is not omniscient. It cannot fact check. It can only report data points published by its human masters.
The most reliable way to make Google “work” for your practice is to take the following actions…
Deputize your patients to post online about their experiences…
Update your website so that it accurately reflects your current offerings and expertise…
Collaborate with colleagues. Consider producing content (articles, videos, podcasts) specific to you and your work. If it is on the internet and has your name (or your practice’s name) attached to it, Google will associate that content with your name and your business. If the content is well-received, it has the power to favorably impact your online reputation.
Which is most important?
Prioritize the publication of patient reviews. Though patient reviews are an imperfect way to measure a physician’s quality of care, most patients trust them. We understand the importance of these metrics and have devised strategies for uploading patient sentiment to the web. To learn more, schedule a consultation with us.
We’ve constructed an interactive tool to help answer this question. Use the slider below to adjust the formulae to suit your circumstances.
On a mobile device? For the best experience, click here to access the mobile responsive online review calculator. Tap the grey bar to adjust the slider.
Patients are like us – they are busy. To increase the likelihood a patient will share his experience online, do the following: Make it easy and make it quick.
Strike while the iron is hot. Ask the patient for “feedback” before he exits your practice. This feedback will likely become a “review.” Trusting the patient will remember to take this action at home is risky. Once he departs, he becomes consumed by his other priorities. What’s for dinner, for instance. A point-of-service survey tool (like an iPad equipped with a short survey) works best. If a point-of-service survey is not possible or practical, email or text the patient a link to a survey he can complete online.
We devised a texting-based option in the wake of COVID-19. Our member doctors have implemented this tool with great success. Want to learn more about how this works? We are happy to demonstrate. Schedule a free consultation with us.
A critical medico-legal issue: Texting a patient a link to a survey may be considered a “marketing tactic” by most regulatory agencies; meaning, you must obtain a patient’s written authorization BEFORE sending him such a text message. What are the consequences for texting a patient a marketing message without his prior written authorization? This is that TCPA acronym we warned about earlier. If a patient acts (and it’s a cash cow for attorneys), you’ll likely be fined hundreds of dollars per text. And these damages are uncapped, meaning the sky is the limit. If you are using texting for ANY marketing activities, you must be compliant with TCPA. We can help walk you through this thicket.
Medical Justice designed its own point-of-survey and email/text message marketing tools with regulatory compliance (including TCPA and HIPAA) in mind. So, our clients don’t need to worry – we’ve got their back.
With expert advice, a cool head, and strategy. First, don’t freak out over one or two poor reviews. The occasional bad review is inevitable. It means you are human. And many patients perceive doctors with a few negatives more favorably than those with perfect reviews. Why? Patients, like us, are smart. If a doctor looks too perfect online, most patients assume that doctor is gaming the system. As the saying goes: “You can have too much of a good thing.”
This is a topic we’ve written about extensively. For general tips specific to negative review management, read our previous publication: How to Respond to Negative Patient Reviews…
If you really want to keep a bead on the online space, request a consultation and ask about our complimentary review monitoring. For a limited time, we will monitor your online reviews. Review content is memorialized in a dashboard you can access at your convenience. Schedule a consultation to learn more.
The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed all aspects of healthcare. Old rules have been modified. New rules were written. At the time this piece is being written, most states have re-opened their economies. Doctors are returning to practice. And patients are returning to their doctors. But the rate at which patients return varies. Some are returning in droves. Others are being cautious. But patients everywhere have the same appetite: They want to feel safe.
Here’s what we know: Doctors who go the extra-mile to keep patients safe are being celebrated online. These positive processes and outcomes draw patients to their practices. There is a ripple effect. Conversely, when patients perceive, accurately or inaccurately, that their doctors have dropped the ball, they take that frustration to the internet. You do not want to be labeled unsafe.
Medical Justice is equipped to provide member physicians with guidance specific to COVID-19 safety precautions. We’ve been working around the clock to dispense this counsel to our member physicians. And our survey tools make it safe and convenient for patients to share their experiences online. Our guidance will help you address two emergent priorities…
Create a safe environment for your employees and patients…
Get the revenue flowing…
Closing Remarks: A Prescription for Success
Great doctors will always be great doctors. Unfortunately, not all great doctors are represented accurately online. Still, remedies exist. Online patient reviews carry the most weight. Implement a tool that makes the publication of online patient reviews safe, compliant, and reliable. Be prepared for the occasional negative review. If you consistently survey patients, the positive reviews will likely drown out the rogue negatives. And if doctors supply Google with sufficient signals, their online reputations will likely reflect their quality of care.
Medical Justice is equipped to partner with your practice to ensure you nail all these critical elements. The medico-legal and regulatory landmines cannot be overstated. Our expertise will protect your patients, market your practice, and keep you out of the medico-legal (and COVID-19) crosshairs. To get started, schedule a free consultation with our Founder and CEO, Jeff Segal, MD, JD.
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Jeffrey Segal, MD, JD
Chief Executive Officer and Founder
Dr. Jeffrey Segal, Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Medical Justice, is a board-certified neurosurgeon. Dr. Segal is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons; the American College of Legal Medicine; and the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. He is also a member of the North American Spine Society. In the process of conceiving, funding, developing, and growing Medical Justice, Dr. Segal has established himself as one of the country’s leading authorities on medical malpractice issues, counterclaims, and internet-based assaults on reputation.
Dr. Segal was a practicing neurosurgeon for approximately ten years, during which time he also played an active role as a participant on various state-sanctioned medical review panels designed to decrease the incidence of meritless medical malpractice cases.
Dr. Segal holds a M.D. from Baylor College of Medicine, where he also completed a neurosurgical residency. Dr. Segal served as a Spinal Surgery Fellow at The University of South Florida Medical School. He is a member of Phi Beta Kappa as well as the AOA Medical Honor Society. Dr. Segal received his B.A. from the University of Texas and graduated with a J.D. from Concord Law School with highest honors.
In 2000, he co-founded and served as CEO of DarPharma, Inc, a biotechnology company in Chapel Hill, NC, focused on the discovery and development of first-of-class pharmaceuticals for neuropsychiatric disorders.
Dr. Segal is also a partner at Byrd Adatto, a national business and health care law firm. With over 50 combined years of experience in serving doctors, dentists, and other providers, Byrd Adatto has a national pedigree to address most legal issues that arise in the business and practice of medicine.