By Dr. Kevin R. Campbell, MD, FACC
Traditionally, a physician’s reputation was best established and passed along by word of mouth. Discussions among friends or at church, sporting events or civic groups often provided the information necessary for potential patients to choose a healthcare provider. Today, most patients and consumers of healthcare get information about medical conditions and physicians online. Some studies have shown that nearly 80% of today’s consumers go online first when evaluating a medical provider. Information, whether accurate or not, is consumed and perpetuated at a light-speed pace and it is often difficult to keep up with your own digital presence. Physicians must actively manage their online reputations or suffer the consequences of an unfair and unfounded digital reputation. In my world, online reputation is critical. Cyberspace is where my patients and customers are, where they go first and where I need to be.
In healthcare, websites are available for patients to post comments and often complaints about a medical provider or service. These sites are rarely monitored and misinformation is often perpetuated. Much of what is posted on the Internet is permanent, feeds upon itself, and has no relationship to reality. In consumer studies, it has been shown that oftentimes three to five people will post positive remarks about a product or service whereas ten to twenty will post a negative one. The anonymity that the Internet affords can promote the posting of negative comments whether they are true or not.
Social media can help physicians increase referrals, grow a patient base and help create a positive reputation. Social media and the Internet can help physicians improve care, providing a low cost platform where we are able to quickly disseminate all kinds of information to a large number of patients (and potential patients).
Outcomes may be improved by writing informational pieces about how patients can effectively participate in their own care and co-manage certain disease processes. We may be able to set realistic expectations for patients before they come to the office by publishing a “digital guidebook” that describes office operations and procedures and exactly what to expect during a visit. However, social media can just as easily be used by unhappy patients, former employees and competitors in a negative way that may sully and in some cases completely ruin a reputation. This is where managing an online reputation is critically important. Managed correctly, a physician’s online reputation can pay off big in the long run.
Medicine and the delivery of care is rapidly changing. The Internet has provided both patients and physicians with instantaneous information, feedback and opportunity. As physicians, we must embrace the fact that our patients and our potential customers use the Internet for screening and evaluation of providers as well as to gain information about their particular medical problems. It is essential that today’s physician develop his or her own digital/online reputation now. Put your best cyber-foot forward. It is a top priority for me—my digital footprint has opened many doors and provided many new opportunities to educate and serve patients both at home and across the world.