First Impressions: Cultivating Your Online Reputation

One in five Internet users has consulted online reviews and rankings of health-care service providers and treatments. What people say about you online is a reflections of your quality and integrity as professional. Luckily online reputation management isn't rocket science.

Love it or hate it, your patients are looking online to make decisions about their providers. From reading online patient reviews to watching educational videos, patients are getting to know their providers before they ever set foot in the door. To take control of that first impression, physicians and providers can assume an active role in managing their online reputation. All the time you need is six minutes a day or 30 minutes each week.

According to the Pew Research Center, one in five Internet users has consulted online reviews and rankings of health-care service providers and treatments. What people say about you online is a reflection of your quality and integrity as a professional. Luckily, online reputation management isn’t rocket science. All you or your staff need are decent writing skills and a baseline knowledge of how social media and the Internet work. And, a bit of a thick skin.

The main benefits of taking an active role in your online reputation management include attracting and retaining patients, strengthening your credibility, the opportunity for personal or professional branding, and being a resource for people seeking information. When done well, a strong online presence will provide information, help patients discover more about your practice, or answer common questions. It could be something as simple as posting onto Facebook items of interest to your patients, such as will your offices be closed on Martin Luther King Jr. Day? What types of insurance providers do you accept? Are you bilingual? What are the surgery options available? Where can patients go for more information? This goes beyond a list of your qualifications and research. The Web is often a patient’s first impression of you, your practice, and your staff. It can set the tone for that relationship. Even if you have a steady group of loyal patients or you have a less publicfacing practice, satisfied patients are critical to keeping your business sustainable. The Web can help.

The best way to start building and cleaning up your online reputation is to know what is being said about your practice. This gives you the chance to celebrate what is going well. For example, acknowledge a receptionist who went above and beyond to calm a fussy infant, or thank your care coordinators for their speedy follow-up with distressed patients to schedule an appointment. It also gives you the opportunity to address areas of improvement. The first step to start the listening process is to set up Google Alerts. Visit www. and type in your name and the name of where you practice. Any time these words or phrases (keywords) show up online, you will receive an e-mail notification. Then, start visiting online review sites. What sites are you listed on? Where should you be listed? What profile information needs updating? Start the process of creating or updating profile information regularly. Store all your passwords in a handy document, and add a reminder on your calendar to check back in with the sites to see if any new reviews have been posted.

Many people become aware of their online reputaton nasty comen or review is posted online. Your work in managing your reputatio should start well in advance of said comment. That way, one damaging comment in a sea of positive reviews, combined with a well-oiled social media presence and professional Web site--well that one review doesn't seem so signifcant anymore.

Now that you understand the benefts of managing your online rep and have started paying attention to what is being said about you online, the real work begins. You can scale up how much time you put into this work depending on your time and interest. Here are five things you can put into practice right away.

 1. Clean up your Web site and/or bio page. Is your Web site the best reflection of you as a professional? Is it easy to read, or chock full of medical terminology? Are the photos clear and highresolution? Hire a professional writer to spruce up your Web content and scrub for typos, and consider redesigning the site if it needs it. Use the employee bios page on your site or group’s site as an opportunity to highlight your personal achievements and interests, such as specific modalities and interest in a particular treatment or patient group, or even hiking or your love for golden retrievers.

2. Resurrect your Facebook page. Chances are, you haven’t posted to your Facebook page in months. If you have, bravo! You’re one step ahead of the game. Make sure your banner graphic is a strong representation of your brand. (No exterior building shots please!) Consider using stock photos that you may already have featured on your Web site. Post pictures of employees and links to articles you believe your patients will find helpful. 

3. Set your personal social media pages to private. Your personal Facebook page is just that—personal. Potential or current patients should not be able to search for you on Facebook and view photos of your children’s soccer tournament or what you had for dinner last night.

4. Make reviews a part of your strategy. Whether you include a sign on the door of your examination rooms or include a message in a follow-up email, ask your patients to post reviews online after an office visit. Research the review sites listed in this article and pick your favorite. Make sure you thank patients who post positive reviews.

5.Create custom content. Start writing about what you know best. If you are a podiatrist in a town full of podiatrists, why not become “Frank the Foot Guy” and develop a blog that provides a how-to on proper care of your feet? LinkedIn offers a super simple blogging platform that is easy to implement, as is WordPress or SquareSpace. Be known for something. Use your expertise and experience to build that brand and drive more people to your practice (and keep the ones you already have from going anywhere).

6. Other resources about social media can be found on the Physicians Insurance Web site at: Blog: Article:

It’s deflating to read somebody’s negative experience with you or your business. Fortunately, negative reviews provide an opportunity to demonstrate your integrity, professionalism, and respect for your patients.

When responding, taking the high road is always the best option.Your gut reaction will likely be to get defensive and disprove what is being said about you or your business. Or, desiring not to “stoke the fire,” you might be tempted to just ignore it and let readers judge for themselves. This does more harm than not responding at all. When responding, always do so in a gentle and constructive way.

Write with your potential clients in mind versus the one person who is upset. Sometimes a simple response will suffice: “We apologize you had to wait for an hour for your appointment. We do our very best to avoid that, but medical practice can be unpredictable. We hope to see you again soon.” If the patient has a more specific complaint about a treatment or medical experience, evaluate whether a short response with an invitation to follow up with your office directly will be effective.

Keep in mind that the more Web pages there are that include mention of you or your practice, the farther down in search those negative reviews show up. You can help this along by adding physician profiles to the online review sites, by requesting referring providers to link to your Web site, or by starting a blog.

For more serious situations—litigation, scandals, or adverse patient outcomes— you’ll want to call in the pros and seek advice from a professional communications firm, in addition to your group’s leadership and legal department. You may also want to seek professional advice if online reviews go from snarky to scathing and include false or defamatory information. (See “When to Call in the Pros: Managing PR in a Crisis”.)

Also, if you receive a claim or summons, your first step is to immediately contact Physicians Insurance. (See “How to Report a Claim”.)

In summary, true online reputation management takes a proactive approach to creating a robust online presence and paying attention to how your practice is represented across the Web. It’s not just reviews. It includes your Web site, your Facebook page, online review sites like Vitals or Yelp, and media coverage posted online. With a little time and attention, you can make a great first impression before your patient walks through the door for the first time.

That’s all it takes—trust us
Review your Google Alerts.
Check your online profiles for new reviews, and follow-up, if necessary.
Schedule social media content for the week.

Contributed by Kelly Bray, of Team Soapbox, a communications firm in Seattle, working with
organizations and companies that strive to make an impact on our community. They specialize in issues and advocacy communications, marketing, media relations, and public affairs.