The Four Basic Principles of Online Reputation Management For Doctors

online reputation management for doctors

A recent Software Advice survey confirmed that nearly 85% of would-be patients use doctor reviews to determine who to consult. Thus, it is crucial for doctors and practices to have a strong online healthcare reputation management strategy.  

Several physician review sites exist where potential patients can read reviews about you in one place. Managing your online reputation for your medical practice is increasingly recognized as a vital part of running a professional medical practice.  

As is the case with any industry, negative reviews won’t simply disappear. Physician practices have unique requirements when it comes to responding to and managing negative reviews or online content.  Physicians can manage their online brand and reputation themselves or they often choose to partner with an experienced reputation management firm. 

If you are dealing with a reputation management problem, it is probably linked to one of the following issues:

  • You have received too many negative medical reviews
  • You were perhaps involved in an embarrassing public incident
  • Your practice garnered negative press coverage
  • You were victimized by a malpractice lawsuit

Considering that almost half of all Internet users leave reviews about products or services and that  nearly 85% of consumers trust the reviews they read it is important to understand the strategies behind good online reputation management.

Group medical practices or individual physicians are realizing that managing their online reputation, their reviews and overall brand are critical. It is the difference of potential patience calling you or someone else. Even if your business is based upon referrals people trust reviews they read. 

The four basics of physician reputation management include:

  • Maintain a Positive Online Presence
  • Monitor
  • React & Respond
  • Remove & Bury

Step 1: Maintain a Positive Online Presence

Your reputation is determined by your website. Your website is the most authoritative source about your practice. We recommend having testimonials, awards, certifications, bios, community participation, volunteerism, and other information that shows you and your medical practice in the best light.  

A professional-looking website with regular updates will go a long way to create a positive online presence. This is often a potential patient’s first opportunity to virtually meet the physician and his or her team. This is also the place to communicate your core values and share patient success stories. 

The following factors when building a website will also help assure the site ranks high for keywords such as the doctor’s name and his areas of expertise: 

  • Use your name in the website URL
  • Create a blog page with content that is updated at least twice per month
  • Solicit reviews from your satisfied patients
  • Let users leave a comment on the website
  • Interact with comments and reviews from all patients

With online reputation management for doctors, it’s best to not do it yourself. You want to assure that every page has a properly worded Title Tag and Meta Description of the correct character length for optimum Google exposure. You also want a strategy for securing backlinks from other quality websites to help your site rank higher in Google results.  

Again, the more positive pages you can get to rank, the more likely any negative search results will get pushed down. 

Create A Blog

Writing new blog posts (or hiring an outsourced digital marketing company to create content) generates authority in Google’s eyes. And authority equals higher rankings. It also tells the search engines that this site is active and constantly updated to maintain relevance. 

Do you already have a newsletter? If so, a blog can be created on your website showing your practice as vibrant, active and a trusted place for knowledge in your field of practice.  

A blog is also a place where patients or users can interact with the physician(s). By having an interactive forum, you tell prospective patients that you care about what they think. It also shows that you are available for easy interaction. That builds trust that goes a long way to combating negative comments or reviews. 

Step 2: Monitor Your Medical Practice

It’s important to continuously monitor your reviews and the directories in which your practice appears. Understanding that doctors are extremely busy, a staff member or assistant can check the various review sites on a monthly or quarterly basis. If this still seems daunting, an online reputation firm will be able to help make these connections to get your name out there in a more expansive way.

The first step when starting a practice today (after building your website) is to update or create business directory listings. Foremost in so doing is to… 

Claim Your Yelp & Google My Business Pages

Google My Business (GMB) and Yelp have become necessary and valuable tools for doctors looking to establish a positive, legitimate reputation. Over 95% of web users search for local businesses by using the professional’s name. In so doing, a doctor’s claimed GMB page will likely be the first thing a web surfer sees.

“By claiming your GMB page, you show legitimacy with contact info, personable photos and hopefully positive reviews,” explains Bradley Weber, CEO of Calabasas-based digital marketing agency, Avita Digital. “It’s also on your GMB page where you’d ask for satisfied patients to write 5-star reviews.” 

When searched in a local area, this GMB page will be the most prominent graphical element on the search page. While also helping to take up real estate on Page One by pushing any negative results down, it may also capture the user’s attention. In doing so, he’s more likely to interact with the GMB page to see photos, read reviews, etc. rather than scrolling further down the results to read anything else. 

Seek Out Medical Specific Directories

There are many industry-specific directories that all doctors are encouraged to create a profile on. These are some directories that potential patients will most actively seek out after searching Google My Business and Yelp:

  • Vitals
  • ZocDoc
  • HealthGrades
  • Webmd
  • Rate MDs
  • MedlinePlus.gov
  • Doximity

LinkedIn, however, is not an ideal place for patients to seek out doctors. While having a professional profile on LinkedIn makes sense for any business, don’t expect new business to come from it if you’re a physician. 

“Unless you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, you’ll find the connections you make on LinkedIn are weak,” admits Dr. Howard J. Luks, an orthopedic surgeon in Hawthorne, New York. “My presence on LinkedIn has not resulted in one patient entering my office. Instead, your patients are looking you up on health-oriented sites.”

To prevent unsolicited phone calls or messages from salespeople and spammers on LinkedIn, be sure you turn off the messaging feature attached to your LinkedIn profile.

Tracking Reviews And Websites

Since reputation management is an everyday undertaking, it’s important to stay on top of everything that’s being written or said about you and your practice. 

While an online reputation management company can oversee this strategy, Google also has an alert feature that you can use that is easy and free. When turned on, the feature will alert you by email when Google finds new content posted about you or your practice. 

In so doing, physicians can instantly respond and be on top of managing their online reputation. This way, the professional can stay out in front of any negative reviews or thank a user who left a positive post. You can also subscribe to monitoring services that automate this process at a reasonable fee. 

Step 3: React & Respond

Working with doctors requires a special set of online reputation management strategies that don’t affect other industries. How physicians respond to reviews is a potential HIPAA issue that should be carefully explored and understood. 

You certainly can and should call patients, but any discussion on or offline should be cognizant of potential HIPAA issues along with patient confidentiality breaches. 

With that in mind, responses to reviews are often as important as the reviews themselves. A response shows the doctor is actively monitoring his practice and truly cares what his patients think. 

In fact, 97% of consumers admit they read responses to reviews from businesses as much as they read the reviews themselves. To that point, 53% of customers expect a business to respond to negative reviews within just one week of posting. 

So, timing is key. 

Review responses also show a clear and open line of communication which can be another important attribute that a potential patient looks for in a medical professional. 

How To Handle Complaints

How you respond to a negative review or complaint says a lot about you as a professional. First and foremost, don’t take complaints personally or grow defensive. Consider a complaint constructive criticism as a means to improve your practice.

It has also been noted that nearly 94% of complaints are caused by miscommunication. A doctor-patient relationship can be complex and, often, the patient is in an elevated stress level when interacting with his physician, particularly if he is experiencing a medical scare.

Bridging any potential communication gap is key to making the patient feel at ease and ensuring he understands the instructions or diagnosis he’s receiving. 

No matter what, don’t ignore a critical review. Instead, view it as the patient calling out for help. Before responding online, try reaching out to the patient by phone. Your voice will always reflect empathy and your true concern more than words on a webpage. Treat the phone call as an opportunity to turn an unsatisfied patient into a happy one. 

Perhaps in so doing, the patient will better understand where the communication broke down. 

Sometimes getting to that level of understanding will make the patient amend his previous review and even thank the doctor for going the extra mile and reaching out. 

It deserves mentioning once more that if you do respond to a patient’s review online to never divulge any of his personal information. To do so could put you in violation of HIPAA and could jeopardize your license. 

Solicit Positive Feedback

Asking satisfied patients to post on your Google My Business and Yelp pages is the best form of free and positive advertising a doctor can get. As a busy physician, you could spend all day trying to respond to reviews on multiple sites.

That’s where an online reputation management firm comes into play. A digital marketing team can use a variety of tools and personnel to help manage the many reviews. 

Sometimes, rebutting a review as erroneous or litigious can make the review get taken down. Again, the better bet is asking happy patients to post on review platforms. New, positive reviews will go to the top of the review sites’ pages and push down older (and perhaps negative) posts. 

Since every industry operates differently, one of the keys to good online reputation management is customizing the strategy to that profession. How to manage a doctor or lawyer will be different than managing a restaurant or a celebrity’s reputation. So, it’s important to seek a reputation management agency that has experience in your given industry, especially if that industry is medical.

Step 4: Removing and Burying

If you already have a reputation problem, it’s probably from reviews, past litigation or something personal or family related. The first step in burying negative reviews or news is to push it down with positive content that strategically rises to the top of search results. 

During a crisis, a digital marketing agency can respond as your PR firm or coordinate with your current PR agency to react to negative results. Then, the agency should go back to the top steps of making sure your information is correctly set up and optimal in Yelp, GMB and the various medical directory listings. 

How To Bury Negative Reviews Or Bad Press

Pushing down negative content in search results or on review sites takes time and dedication. If you have a basic understanding of how Google’s search algorithm works, you can create quality, favorable content that will appear on Page One of Google’s search results when someone types the name of the physician or practice. 

Of course, it goes without saying that no results will take place right away. Over time, with beefing up quality content and other strategies, a proper healthcare reputation management system can be put into place.  

What Types of Positive Content to Create

Press releases only help temporarily. Making sure your website is properly optimized and constantly updated with new content is the most important aspect to protecting your brand and reputation. 

Keep in mind also that it’s not just patients who cause online damage. Competitors posing as angry customers can also do harm to your reputation. In addition, litigation and embarrassing personal information, including unfortunate family matters can also contribute to negative information that could potentially deter new business. 

Reputation management in the medical field is necessary when people are putting their health and trust in a doctor’s hand. Showing your best self and positive attributes will provide consumer confidence and boost not only your integrity, but your business and client base as well. 

Soliciting positive feedback from your satisfied patients and constantly updating your website are the best ways to make a positive impact before any negativity suddenly pops out of nowhere. As the old Benjamin Franklin adage goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This is true for the health of your patients, and it’s true for the health of your online reputation. 

Brad Weber is a serial entrepreneur and founder of The Avita Group, a leading online reputation management company.