To Do No Harm: Managing the Physician’s Reputation Online

A physician’s online presence is an extension of his or her identity, and must be protected with care. For a doctor, reputation is everything, and the environment of the internet can either do it a great service or deal it lasting damage.

While word of mouth from one patient to another remains important to building a practice these days, information found online has an enormous influence on patient behavior. Consumers increasingly rely on medical review sites to make choices about doctors. As the number of these sites increase, so does the breadth of any given doctor’s online presence.

Positive reviews online add to the luster of a successful practice. Even a familiar patient will find an online affirmation of a good choice reassuring. Discovering that your doctor is praised for his or her skill makes you more likely to pass along a recommendation and to continue as a patient. Even patients who hear good things about a doctor from friends or co-workers will probably check to see what others have to say about him or her online.

For a doctor who has had thousands of patients, positive reviews help to solidify his or her reputation. For a physician just starting out or beginning in a new office, a positive review can make all the difference. For any doctor, a bad review can be disastrous.

Doctor review sites increase a practice’s potential patient base. Yet they can also be a minefield for physician reputations. A single negative review can tarnish an otherwise spotless, even glowing, record. Indeed, there is a tendency for consumers to focus on the negative, under the mistaken assumption that a poor review is somehow closer to the truth.

The fact is, of course, that negative reviews often reflect irrational anger rather than lived experience. They are spiteful, malicious and meant to cause damage. Yet their posters are free to write whatever they like, no matter how offensive. Controlling the harm anonymous critics do to a medical practice is critically important. Harsh, unfair criticisms affect not merely the doctor who has been attacked, but all physicians and staff associated with the practice. A slander hurts everyone involved.

Doctors have the ability to take control of their online presence; there is no reason to let poor reviews do lasting harm. Because the task is a time-consuming and specialized one, they often retain a company to manage physician reviews. These companies know where online reputations are made and broken. They have the ability to repair damage and present a doctor or a practice in its true light.

Nothing is more valuable to a physician than his reputation. Online reviews can provide patients with guidance, yet they also run the risk of misinforming the public. Correcting this misinformation when it occurs is part of a doctor’s new position in this digital world.

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