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Physician Reputations and Review Websites: Who Owns Your Name?

Physician Reputations and Review Websites: Who Owns Your Name?

There are no longer any doubts that patients Google their doctors. In the case of patients seeking fee-for-service options, the behavior of turning to “Dr. Google” occurs 100 percent of the time. What your patients find at that point is critical for your bottom line. The information below will help you understand why taking charge of physician online reputations has never been more important and why you should take action now.

The reason for taking action now is because there are now over 100 doctor review websites creating businesses structured around your name. Any doctor without a strong online presence by the end of 2011 is already affected. At this point, any doctor with a license already has a profile somewhere. This is especially true for group practices and hospital-employed doctors who almost never have any other public-facing profiles they own outside of what their employer publishes about them on the corporate website.

I recently published 12 case studies where I studied the impact of doctor review sites on a medical practice and hospitals. The implications for the hospital brand and their profitability were severe. In one example, a small ASC was outcompeting a local hospital purely on the fact that their doctors embraced patient reviews and the hospital was still afraid of even featuring the doctors on its own website.

Here are some of the most disturbing findings about what physician rating sites publish and why you should do something about it now:

1. Outdated reviews, some from four to five years ago

2. Outdated addresses and phone numbers. Why is that significant? When that phone number rings at your old practice, that’s where you’re losing your patients to. Again, for group practices and hospital-employed doctors, this is even more significant because some hospitals are monetizing on this while the actual place where they do work, is failing. Yes, that's right. When patients call a physician's old phone number the receptionist schedules those patients to see their doctors.

3. Old patient satisfaction scores marked as percentages. Most of the surveys were filled out years ago by one to four people. The two most important questions for you are: How many patients do you see during the year? Are between one and four reviews representative of that number?

4. Physician rating websites advertise on Google for your name. This is perhaps the most unethical practice. Here’s the hidden business structure:
• The company publishes advertisements for your name
• Public clicks on the advertisements to go to a website where either bad reviews are posted about you, or an empty profile exists
• Next to your name are doctors that purchased an advertisement on that website and are displayed front-and-center
• In effect, your name is directing your possible patients to other doctors
•Those listings offer patients ability to call for an appointment or schedule one via their platforms

So in addition to paying for a subscription, physicians advertising on these sites are paying for new patient leads. Furthermore, the company has to be “fair” to all subscribers so it will advertise for different doctors at different times so that patient volumes can be distributed more evenly or more patient leads can be given to subscribers who pay premium fees.
For doctors in New York state, the problem is even more significant. The New York Department of Health forbids doctors to publish patient testimonials, while these businesses can. When I spoke to our legal counsel, I found out that the regulation is so broad in its meaning that it prohibits the doctors to use patient reviews in any format. There is no such regulation for the ratings websites.

“Dr. Google” has become the most feared background check available to anyone with access to the Internet. Mobile phones made that access possible to virtually everyone. In effect, Google has become a reference check that establishes a level of trust for an appointment to be scheduled. What patients find is completely up to you. I hope this short expose proves of value for doctors still thinking whether they should invest in their online reputations.

Next week, I'll discuss what you can do to protect yourselves and some of the case studies in reputation management.

Simon Sikorski, MD is the CEO of Healthcare Marketing Center of Excellence. He is a regular speaker at physician conferences about reputation management, brand advertising, and ROI from internet strategies and social media. E-mail him here.

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