Online Reputation Management for Physicians (Part 1 of 3)

In this particular post I am going to explain a bit about why physicians should care about online reputation management (ORM). In two follow-on posts I’ll share high level guidance on the proactive management of one’s reputation and deal with the repair or reactive options when misinformation or mistakes need to be corrected.

As the online world becomes more pervasive, reputations are increasingly built and managed on the Internet. Online Reputation Management is the process of monitoring, addressing or mitigating SERPs (search engine result pages) or mentions in online and social media.

Physicians are as visible as anyone on the Internet and the visibility is only going to increase.  Historically a physician understood he/she was a leadership figure in the community. A certain expectation and responsibility is inherent in the role. While physicians aren’t expected to be super-human, they are role models, like it or not. With the proliferation of information on the Internet, driven heavily by blogs and more recently “social media”, a physician’s reputation can get enhanced and/or dinged in a nano-second.

Several weeks ago I spoke with a group of physicians in Oregon. In advance I did a Google search of several of those who were going to be in the meeting and took screen shots of the first page on Google. In every instance there was misinformation about the physician. In several cases the mistakes were significant. In that same discussion, physicians described the hassles they go through trying to correct bad information on sites like Vitals, HealthGrades, Yelp etc. One operations manager for a large group in attendance shared a story that took place several months prior in which a patient wrote a scathing review of one of their doctors on Angie’s List. They didn’t think much of it until they realized the review received thousands of hits within weeks. That’s a reputation management problem!

More and more patients are researching physicians online. Fellow physicians are doing the same. Unless you are on the verge of retirement, you have to pay attention. This affects primary care physicians just as much as specialists and surgeons. While employed physicians may think they are immune, not true. Not only does your institution gain or lose on the collective reputations of its physicians, but you may not always be in the same role. Ignoring your online reputation now is akin to college kids posting pictures of themselves involved in all kinds of bungholery on Facebook, thinking that the professional world is far off in the distance. It’s your professional reputation. You worked hard to get where you are and you owe it to yourself to manage and protect it.

Before discussing tools and techniques for managing one’s reputation, I want to make sure we have a common understanding of reputation and who might care and why.

To keep things simple, let’s focus on just two primary constituents that matter when it comes to a physician’s reputation: colleagues and patients. In each case they care about different things, with one major area of overlap loosely categorized as competency. At the end of the day, colleagues want to associate with competent peers and collaborate in the treatment process with colleagues who will match their standards. Patients obviously want to be treated and healed in the most effective manner possible. This doesn’t diminish interests in ancillary issues like cost, personality fit and so one….but at the end of the day results speak loudest.

In the offline world (we use to say ‘the real world’), one’s professional reputation was built through the combination of a number of things:

  • Outcomes
  • Collaboration/Assistance
  • Word-of-mouth based on people’s experience or perception
  • Research/Publishing
  • Teaching
  • Speaking
  • Community involvement including charitable contributions
  • Extracurricular activities

Interestingly, reputations are built the same way today. The difference is the velocity at which information spreads and the distances it travels.  Outcomes are perhaps more widely known today with the ease at which data is accessed and passed along. There is a now fairlhy commoly understood truth that if a restaurant has one good customer experience they’ll tell 1 friend, but if they have a poor experience they’ll tell 10. Not only does this essentially hold true for physicians, but the 1 or the 10 are reached leaps and bounds faster than in the pre-Internet days. Additionally, the numbers go from 1 and 10 to 1,000 and 10,000 in some cases. Thought leaders are still thought leaders, only today they have a few more tools at their disposal. Their voice is magnified through the power of the web. Same holds true for collaboration, research and so forth.

To summarize, your online reputation is serious business. You owe it to yourself to pay it some attention.