According to new data from the University of Southern California (USC) Annenberg’s Digital Future Report, the average American spends roughly 24 hours each week online. Given that 20 percent of a person’s waking life takes place on the internet, it’s not surprising that individuals often rely upon information available online when making important decisions – including which healthcare provider to trust.
The importance of a positive online presence cannot be understated for today’s physicians.
A 2012 survey from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) revealed that 59 percent of respondents agree that rating sites such as Yelp are important, 35 percent have selected a physician based on good ratings, and a staggering 90 percent believe reputation is one of the top factors to consider when selecting a new healthcare provider. For these reasons, the importance of a positive online presence cannot be understated for today’s physicians.
When physicians work to directly build and enhance their online presence, there are two key areas of focus: personal positioning and reputation management. By creating and maintaining a positive online presence, providers have the ability to influence the decision-making processes of potential patients, ultimately encouraging growth and success within the competitive healthcare industry. That is, if they know how to do it effectively.
Establishing an Online Presence
By creating their own online presence and staying engaged by publishing new content and sharing unique professional perspectives, physicians will have a part in writing their own stories, making it more likely for potential patients to encounter this carefully curated information first.
So, what might this look like?
Physicians can easily leverage common social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to build the foundation of a positive online reputation. It’s important to be very careful with the information included on these pages, and physicians should always maintain a high level of professionalism on all public profiles. Most importantly, providers should be careful to never disclose protected health information to the public, which could potentially put them at risk of HIPAA violation.
As an added bonus, these social media profiles can provide physicians access to an excellent platform to discover new learning and networking opportunities. When doctors discuss information online, their knowledge base collectively grows.
Responding to Reviews: Proceed With Caution!
The easiest way to get positive online reviews is to provide patients with a positive experience. That includes paying close attention not only to the medical services provided, but also front office interactions, billing procedures, and general bedside manner. Unfortunately, physicians cannot always control how their care is perceived, and unforeseen, unavoidable circumstances can leave both a bad taste in a patient’s mouth and a bad review online.
An excellent way to combat this negative press is to appropriately respond to criticism, both publicly and privately, in a way that is noncombative and respectful. If you try to fight fire with fire, you’re likely to get burned. When wrongfully criticized, it’s common for people to automatically become reactive and defensive but responding with grace and dignity goes a long way, and website visitors will take notice. When receiving criticism, responses should be kept short and apologetic, while simultaneously thanking the reviewer for their constructive criticism.
Libel & Defamation
When a physician feels as though he or she has been wrongfully accused of providing poor, neglectful, or even harmful care by an online reviewer, it’s possible that this post violates the laws of defamation and libel.
Defamation is a false statement of fact concerning the plaintiff published to third-party platform that causes injury. In most cases, it is very difficult to prove whether or not the stateful is wholly false or is simply an opinion.
For libel, to put it simply, a statement must be meaningfully and materially false. Minor inaccuracies do not fall under libel statutes, as there must be a significant difference between the meaning of what was said and the actual truth.
So in cases of defamation and/or libel, who’s to blame?
Websites that host reviews from visitors are in no way liable for defamatory or libelous statements published on their platform; rather, the posters themselves are responsible for their claims. Unfortunately, figuring out the exact person who posted the review is extremely difficult, and pursuing a lawsuit against their remarks can create a negative public reputation.
Should a physician feel that the statements warrant a lawsuit and the person can be identified within the parameters of HIPAA, his or her medical malpractice insurer may be able to help. At Medical Mutual, we provide members with broad regulatory protection coverage, reimbursing defense costs, fines, and penalties. We also provide network security and privacy coverage, including multimedia liability, security and privacy liability, and privacy regulatory defense and penalties.
4 Ways to Take Action – PSMR
The fundamental action items to keep in mind when focusing on online reputation creation and management can be summed up with a simple acronym. PSMR: Post, Solicit, Monitor, Respond.
- Post: Writing, posting, and sharing relevant educational information can help establish a physician’s expertise to the online community. In addition, by regularly publishing, physicians can dilute the presence of negative comments and reviews in searches.
- Solicit: Physicians should actively solicit feedbacks and reviews from patients to provide positive, accurate examples of care to online researchers. To do this, the providers must be sure to give patients detailed information, including URLs for important rating sites.
- Monitor: Physicians should set up Google alerts to be notified when something is posted that mentions their name.
- Respond: All practices should have a designated individual who will regularly review key sites to quickly respond to negative reviews and minimize the damage they may cause. When responding to feedback online, this person should always remember to listen, be empathetic, and be respectful. Remember: the internet is forever. Anything that is written online may be repeated or reposted elsewhere.
To learn more about this topic, Curi members are invited to view the CME-eligible webinar, “Preserving Your Reputation in an Online World,” led by communications attorney and member of Medical Mutual’s external counsel network Amanda Martin and Curi Chief Operating Officer David Sousa.
Our additional CME-eligible webinars are available here: https://www.medicalmutualgroup.com/rm-webinars.
Curi is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education to provide continuing medical education for physicians.
For more information about the accreditation of this program, please contact our CME Team at 800.662.7917 or at CMETeam@mmicnc.com.
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