The era of the Internet is upon us. Whether you’re a frequent Internet user or not - and quite a few of you are still choosing to ignore it - Internet plays an important part in people’s lives and provides an open and safe environment for patients to vent feelings about their physicians.
These are the numbers:
·82% of patients look for - or research - a physician Online
·90% of consumers trust reviews and recommendations of other patients
·58% of your prospective patients will make an appointment with your competitor after seeing negative reviews of your practice
Patients’ reviews Online have become the norm and yes, you’re being judged by them as we speak. Many physicians perceive them as a threat to their reputations and income which they can - but don’t have to! - be.
These are the three possible case scenarios: obviously, glowing patients’ reviews are a blessing; lack of patients’ reviews Online (unless your practice is located in a very poor and uneducated area) looks suspicious; unmanaged negative patients’ reviews Online scare off prospective patients.
Positive patients’ reviews should be utilized and quoted as much as possible: they contribute to your professional reputation and yes, they’ll prevent negative reviews. (A patient will have to think twice before criticizing a good doctor!)
The lack of patients’ reviews is not a good thing, it may suggest that you’re requiring your patients’ to sign review waivers. Having patients’ sign “gag orders” that prevent them from commenting on your work is not the answer. (You may thing that it’s only fair since you’re prohibited by law from expressing your feelings about trouble-patients. This method however has too many downsides. Patients can - and will - find a way around the waiver. It will scare many patients off. Finally, if you insist on a waiver, what does it say about your self-confidence as a physician? Are you unsure of your knowledge or afraid of your patients? In the best case, you’ll have no patients’ reviews Online. This will raise a flag of caution for prospective patients, too. Lack of patients’ reviews Online is not a good thing.)
Negative patients’ reviews: just ONE negative patient’s review of your work has the potential of damaging your professional reputation and making a dent in your practice’s revenue. Those who will read it won’t know that it may have been made for reasons not necessarily related to the practice of medicine; or at the wrong stage of treatment; or not even by an actual patient. (Yes, a vengeful ex-spouse, ex-partner, ex-employee, or even a competitor can utilize these venues, too.)
Let’s focus on the worst of the three, imagine that there is one negative patient’s review of your work: it is actually truthful and made by your actual patient. Very few people will consider the fact that you treat thousands of patients a year; that you practice medicine for over 20 years without one disciplinary action or a malpractice suit against you; all they’ll see will be the one negative review which will shape their opinion of you and keep them from becoming your patients.
Now, some physicians prefer the world from before Internet was invented. Even though most medical practices utilize electronic billing and the Internet today; a fair number of physicians - unbelievable as it is - still doesn’t have Websites and / or any presence Online to speak of. These physicians’ way of dealing with negative patients’ reviews Online is to ignore them. That’s a bad idea. Negative patients’ reviews encourage more negative reviews. You can ignore them, your patients and prospective patients won’t. Eventually, your practice will come to a halt and you’ll find yourself wondering how your life’s work became distorted. (I have recently had a client who wouldn’t be “bothered” until he couldn’t handle the financial impact of the bad reviews he’s received over a period of several years. Undoing years of damage to a physician’s reputation Online is extremely difficult and in some instances, impossible.)
Physicians in sync with the times have Websites. Some of them are even active Online. Still, other than contemplating a lawsuit against the “offender”, precious few are pro-active when it comes to handling poor reviews of their work Online. The vast majority is in denial.
I’m not recommending that every patient’s compliment be publicly acknowledged. But when it comes to negative reviews passivity is the doctor’s worst enemy. Lack of response from the “accused” is commonly interpreted as an admission of guilt.
What should you do?
First, you have to have your Online reputation monitored so you’re aware of what it is, at all times.
Second, you can’t ignore ANY (not even one!) bad reviews. Hire a professional and have him / her respond on your behalf. (Yes, I’m aware, of course, of HIPAA’s guidelines, but they leave room for a physician’s response.) A negative review treated appropriately looses its impact and your response will attract supporters from among your satisfied patients.
Third, ensure that you have more of an Online presence than a mere Website provides. Internet offers the opportunity for a dialog. Take part. Be represented in digital media and / or social networks. (No, you don’t have to do the actual work, but you have to develop an Internet presence that contributes to your professional reputation and authority. The image of you as a physician that you build Online won’t be easily tarnished.)
I know, many of you are saying by now that you can’t possibly find the time. That’s true; I don’t suggest that you ought to be doing the work yourself. But I strongly advise you to enlist the help of an expert. Physician’s image management Online is not a technical issue. (Don’t rely on your Webmaster!) You’ll need someone who is as fluent in the matters of the Internet as in publicity and public relations. Remember that the way your patients’ reviews are addressed will speak volumes about your approach to patients. Sure, as a human being you’d like to strangle the patient who spoke badly about your performance as a physician, but you can’t afford to forget that as a physician it’s your duty to maintain your composure and treat patients (Online or of) with care and compassion.
How to find professional support in maintaining your reputation on the Internet? Try Google and search for “physicians reputation repair” or “physicians advocate Online”. (You’ll need a company and professionals dedicated specifically to physicians’ issues; the well-regarded Reputation Defender focuses on children, families and business; you’ll need an organization that focuses on physicians, only.)
People will always have opinions and yes, they’re entitled to them. Since negative patients’ reviews Online are so personal and humiliating to physicians, many are forgetting that they too have the right and opportunity to be represented Online. Don’t view negative patients’ reviews as a verdict against you. It is your responsibility to create a counterbalance to them. With professional help, you are in a position to protect and even restore your professional reputation and diminish the impact of negative patients’ reviews Online.
Negative patients’ reviews are NOT the problem. Physicians’ poor Internet presence and lack of responses to patients’ reviews are. You maintain your authority in the office while treating patients; today’s day you absolutely HAVE TO do the same Online.
Jeremy Kesh is Physicians Advocate Online and physicians’ Websites developer. He runs http://www.PhysiciansAdvocateOnline.com and