Establishing and maintaining a positive online presence --along with using new technology, such as social media -- is the only way you as a physician can join this new kind of ongoing conversation.
Social media and the Internet present physicians with an array of new challenges and opportunities. While many physicians already use these technologies for personal use, it is less obvious how to use this new technology safely and appropriately as health-care professionals.
But as time goes on, our society’s dependence on social media and the Internet is only growing. Your patients, your potential employers, and your peers almost assuredly use technology to connect with one another, and—very likely—find information about you. It makes sense for you as a physician to learn how to use the Internet safely and appropriately to connect with other providers and patients, rather than to shun the Internet completely. Many patients use the Web to find out health-care information and connect with providers. Many, if not most, employers use the Internet to research potential hires, and many leading figures in their respective fields use the Internet to network with colleagues. It’s inarguably true that the Internet is only becoming more and more essential to people’s daily lives, influencing the way we interact with one another, learn about our individual health, and select care providers. Establishing an online presence—along with using new technology like social media—is the only way you as a physician can join this new kind of ongoing conversation. This may seem overwhelming at first. But the good news is you can do a lot to improve your visibility and reputation by taking a few simple steps:
1. CONDUCT AN INTERNET SEARCH ON YOUR OWN NAME
It might seem like a silly thing to do, but I often advise physicians to “Google” themselves, or use a similar search engine, to see what pops up. There are two main reasons for this. First, if nothing else, it allows you to see what information (and even misinformation) might already be circulating about you. I can almost guarantee that your patients, peers, and employers are already using the Internet to find information about you; wouldn’t you want to know what they’re going to find? Additionally, beyond giving you a better idea of what people are reading and saying about you, this can be the best way to start addressing and correcting any inaccurate, confusing, or conflicting information.
2. COMPLETE SOCIAL MEDIA PROFILES
It may seem trivial and timeconsuming, but completing profiles on established social network sites can be an easy and effective way to proliferate positive information about yourself, while simultaneously pushing unfavorable information farther down the list of search results. Sometimes, sites like LinkedIn or Twitter have enough clout that these results pop up first when someone searches your name—provided, of course, that you’ve taken the time to make your own profile. This is an easy way to establish a positive online presence.
3. SIGN UP FOR GOOGLE ALERTS
You don’t need to pay someone to monitor what is said about you online; you can ask Google to do that for you! Sign up for Google Alerts, and the search engine will e-mail you when new content using your name (or business’s name) is posted online. You can stay up-to-date when new Web pages, articles, or blog posts mention you. Go to google.com/alerts to sign up. This is another easy trick to help you manage your online reputation.
4. DON’T GET SUCKED INTO ONLINE ARGUMENTS
What should you do when you see an unfair or inflammatory online post about you? Though it can be tempting to respond directly to something you see posted online, it generally isn’t a good idea to post a reply back. It can be very difficult to look professional in an online argument, so don’t even bother! Even the most diplomatic response may escalate the situation, and by engaging the post and the individual authoring it, you will bring even greater attention to the post. Additionally, by even confirming a patient’s presence at your clinic, you could inadvertently raise a whole host of HIPAA and patient confidentiality concerns. Instead, try to contact the site administrators to see if they will remove the inaccurate or misleading post.
5. ASK YOUR PATIENTS TO WRITE REVIEWS
I’ve heard from many physicians that, while the vast majority of their patients love them, a single unhappy or unreasonable patient has made their lives miserable by posting an unfair or inaccurate review on a site like Yelp. The best way to combat a negative, inaccurate, or unreasonable Yelp review is to surround it with a sea of positive reviews. Consider putting posters or flyers in the waiting room that encourage patients to review you online. The deluge of positive reviews will demonstrate that the negative review was merely an outlier, and the negative review will seem more unreasonable or unreliable amid the numerous positive reviews, and may drop from prominence.
A final caveat: While venturing into the world of reputation management, keep in mind the need to comply with the rules and regulations set forth by your employer, state and federal laws, and guidance issued by the Medical Quality Assurance Commission (MQAC guidance available at http://tinyurl.com/joug4g8).
I encourage physicians to begin to use tools like the Internet to build and manage their reputations. But part of protecting your reputation means using the Internet and other technology appropriately. Whenever you post something online, it is paramount that you vigilantly protect patient privacy; avoid posting colorful or offensive statements; and without waiver, comply with myriad constraints imposed upon physicians, including the laws, workplace policies, and MQAC guidance mentioned here.
The WSMA has many resources on using social media and the Internet appropriately and safely. Check out www.wsma.org for this information, as well as guidance issued by MQAC. You may also contact WSMA at wsma@ wsma.org or (206) 441-5863 or toll free at 1 (800) 552-0612 with your specific questions.
Contributed by Tierney Edwards, Associate Director of Legal and Federal Affairs, Washington State Medical Association