The 21st century has brought an additional layer of complexity to being a successful doctor: maintaining a pristine online reputation for both yourself and your practice. And while this activity may sound tedious, it’s critical to your success as a physician today.

One study from the American Life Project found that over half of Internet users aged 34 to 45 researched healthcare professionals online, proving the online review websites such as RateMDs.com and Yelp might be your first (and last) impression on potential patients. Discussing the importance of online reputation management, Tobin Arthur wrote the following on KevinMD.com back in 2012:

"Ignoring your online reputation now is akin to college kids posting pictures of themselves involved in all kinds of bungholery on Facebook, thinking that the professional world is far off in the distance. It’s your professional reputation. You worked hard to get where you are and you owe it to yourself to manage and protect it.”

Our team at Software Advice talks to physicians every day, so we know that doctors are already pressed for time as it is. The last thing any doctor needs is to stress about one bad review or debate on the best method of response. Here are some quick tips that cover the dos and don’ts that you should keep in mind:

  1. Avoid HIPAA violations by never discussing specifics of patients online. To avoid a major HIPAA violation, ensure that you neither confirm nor deny a patient as yours, and do not share anything specific about their record or treatment.
  2. Don’t email patients unless they’ve provided written consent. In many states, doctors require written proof to communicate via email with patients. Until you’ve received this, you should only call patients if you must discuss pertinent issues.
  3. Take a break when you know you’re upset. Once you’ve written a response, the Internet will catalog it--and try as you might, it could be hard to remove or rework your words. After finding a poor review, take a break. 24 hours may seem like a long time, but it will allow you to cool your head and decide how to best respond.
  4. Don’t point fingers. Getting into a “he said, she said” battle will likely only affirm to readers that you’re only trying to save-face after being caught. In addition, many review sites and search engines reward newer content, so a long and drawn-out Internet battle will be seen by many and could possibly turn away potential patients.
  5. Don’t fight over every complaint. Be sure you evaluate whether a review is poor or if it’s damning. You won’t be able to please everyone, and having a natural “review portfolio” will make your profile seem more credible to Internet users.
  6. Use poor reviews as feedback and areas for improvement. It’s common for poor reviews to involve a practice itself, rather than medical treatment. Use negative feedback and work with your office staff to make sure that the appropriate changes are made.
  7. Prove your commitment to improvement through your online messaging. While you can’t get into patient specifics online, you can address the issue. For example, you could update your website or review page information to note your commitment to improving upon the issues that reviewers have brought to your attention.
  8. Communicate directly with unhappy patients. If you can identify the patient that posted a poor review, just give them a call. It may help you keep the patient, and they’ll likely remove the negative review if you can also mend the relationship.
  9. Remove poor reviews if they’re untrue. If an individual posts libelous information about you online, it’s your right to have it removed. Contact the review website and ask what the process entails if you feel it will negatively impact your credibility.
  10. Ask your patients to post reviews. This might sound silly, but incorporate a way to ask patients to review your practice online. This will lead to happy patients posting about you, and will even balance out any poor reviews that may appear down the road.

Feel free to include any other tips in the comments below.