A Proactive Approach to Online Reputation Management

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Neil Baum, MD, and Neeraj Kohli, MD, MBA


Neil Baum, MD, is Clinical Associate Professor of Urology, Tulane Medical School, New Orleans, LA, and author of Marketing Your Clinical Practice-Ethically, Effectively, and Economically, Jones Bartlett Publishers.

Neeraj Kohli, MD, MBA, is Director, Division of Urogynecology, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Assistant Professor, Department of Ob/Gyn, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA. 

What is a physician’s most precious possession? Some might answer that it is his or her patients. Others might respond that it is the training and education that the physician has obtained to practice his or her craft. But the real answer is that it is the physician’s reputation. Doctors live and die by their reputations. Reputations take years to build, but are so fragile that they can crumble quickly. It may take months or years to erect a building that a bulldozer can take down in a day. In this era of online communications and social media, our reputations can be threatened in a nanosecond. Using that building metaphor, it is like imploding a building with a stick of dynamite and leveling it to the ground in a pile of rubble in seconds.

It is likely that a patient, or even a fellow physician, can target your practice using the Internet and—especially with the ease of using social media—can wreak havoc on your reputation and on your practice. So, what can you do to protect yourself? As physicians we live and die by our reputations. We spend our whole professional lives creating and protecting our reputations. In the past, negative word of mouth was our main concern. It is a known marketing and public relations dictum that a satisfied patient/customer/client tells three to five people about a positive experience, whereas a patient with a negative experience with the doctor or the practice is likely to tell 10 to 20 others. The Internet and social media have changed that. Now, a person with a negative comment can make himself or herself “heard” in just moments and can get his or her negative thoughts out to thousands of viewers or readers in just minutes. What is a doctor to do when there are negative or defamatory comments made on the Internet?

This past February, I (NHB) electronically attended Dr. Kevin Pho’s keynote presentation on social media to the Texas Medical Association. A member of the audience asked, “What is a doctor to do when there are negative comments made on medical review sites?” Dr. Pho suggested that doctors make an effort to counterbalance the negative comments with positive comments. I have found a very effective method of generating positive comments that I use on my Website and also on medical review sites.

It is quite common for a patient to make a nice comment about my staff or about the care he or she received in my office when I am with the patient in the exam room. I ask the patient if I might include his or her comment on my Website as a testimonial. Nearly every patient concurs; I have a release form in the exam room on which I write exactly what the patient said and have him or her sign it, which gives me permission to use their comments on my Website.

This is an effective and ethical method of generating positive comments about you and your practice.