Is Your Online Reputation as Good as You Think It Is?

Your 11-page (and growing) Curriculum Vitae (CV) represents years of hard work. As a doctor, you prize and protect what colleagues and co-workers think about your professional persona.

In our work with medical practices and hospitals across the nation, we universally find that physicians and surgeons are justifiably proud of their professional credentials, experience and reputation. The same idea also applies to hospitals and health systems.

But none of that exists in the minds of prospective patients. To the general public, your professional reputation isn’t at all what you think it is. Not even close. Outside of a relatively small circle of contacts, first contact and the patient experience never begins with your lengthy, academic CV.

The cold, hard truth is…your professional reputation begins with what Google says it is.

Today’s healthcare consumer—perhaps a would-be patient or caregiver—begins searching for medical information and providers online. Most likely it will be a Google search. And that means, what turns up among the top Google search results will be their first point of contact. It’s their “first impression” of you and possibly your marketing brand.

For many people, a Google search is where the patient experience begins. To a great extent Google search results determine if the prospect moves closer to you (they drill deeper and call) or they move on to someone else.

Clear your mind of everything you know about yourself (and your reputation) and take a fresh look at how the Internet user sees you. You can delegate this task to staff and that would provide a fresh and less biased perspective. But nobody knows you as well as you. So seeing the results of this exercise firsthand can be a sensitive and valuable eye-opener.

  1. Begin with Google, the commanding power player in online search. Then repeat the exercise with Bing and Ask. (Yahoo Search is powered by Bing and AOL.)
  2. Enter a variety of likely search terms about yourself. Think local and include variations on your name, profession, city and Zip Code. (Robert Smith MD; Dr. Bob Smith, Dr Smith Urologist; Smith Urology 12345).
  3. Look closely at the first five pages of search results. Consumers tend to think, “If it’s not on the first results page, it doesn’t exist.” But the top 10 “results” for one search term will differ from the results using another search term. Focus on the first page or two, but peel the onion a bit.
  4. The easy and obvious (but vital) listing corrections. Online “find a doctor” and similar directories are notorious for listing out-of-date addresses, phone numbers, etc. But bad as they are, major directory sites provide a means to submit listing corrections. Caution: directory fixes don’t happen quickly, so be persistent but with a little patience. Also remember, many directories pull their data from huge insurance listings, so routinely provide updates and corrections to all your payers. And finally…some online directories will try to sell an “upgraded” listing. If they had it wrong in the first place, it’s probably not a good investment.
  5. Check all the listings and link connections. Click through, from the search results to the connected online page, in order to understand how the search process and search term found you, your practice or the related page. Identify the “good ones,” the “not-so-good ones,” and the neutral (directory) listings.

What to do about “positive” search results or comments.

Hopefully you’ll discover search results that enhance your reputation and begin the patient experience with a grand first impression. But, in some instances, you may be able to do more than smile at your good fortune.

Can you leverage the good stuff?  If you can identify the source, extend a word of appreciation. Perhaps submit an online comment (if that’s an option), or send a brief note of thanks to the original source. If searches are pointing to something you authored for example, consider doing more of the same type. It may be useful and appropriate to create a link from your own website to the positive items.

What to do about the not-so-positive search results.

Online information—that which is discoverable by a Google search—can and should begin with what you create and post online. Your anchor material will typically be your own website that communicates your brand and your reputation, and sets the tone for the patient experience. In addition, you can create and maintain a secondary website (perhaps devoted to a special interest), a blog, a YouTube Channel and various other digital faces to the public.

Each of these tools needs to be of good quality and updated regularly. Fresh and interesting material will rank higher in search results. (On the downside, Google algorithms assume that stale content is a negative indicator.)

The best remedy, or combination of remedies for negative results, will depend on the how and where the unflattering bit got online in the first place. But when search results include unkind, undesirable or untrue information, there are three basic tactics that may be able to help defend your reputation.

Address the issue or fix the problem. A published complaint, for example, is a red flag that someone believes there is an issue. What’s worse, evidently the issue hasn’t been resolved. Respond promptly with concern and, to the extent possible, address the issue and/or fix the root problem. If possible, answer the negative online comment with quick action and provide a published solution (not a defensive argument). Yes, we know that not all complaints are realistic or can be fully resolved. At a minimum, however, you can signal awareness, understanding and concern.

Formally ask that something be corrected or removed. You can invite the publisher, site owner, Webmaster or business entity to delete a particular bit of information. Responsible website operators may have a channel to make an appeal. Deleted material will eventually disappear from search results. It’s good to ask, but they may also ignore or deny your request.

Load up with even more of the good stuff. Online comments—good or bad—tend to stay online, but older and less pertinent material settles lower among search results. Having your own robust and high quality Internet presence can outweigh a negative item. Publishing new and interesting content regularly—via an active presence on your website, blog, and the like—will tend to rank higher on the results page. (And the negative will tend to slip downward, appear among the later results, or drop from the results entirely.)

The patient experience—and the path to patient satisfaction—begins long before a prospective patient arrives for the first appointment. The first impression of you, the practice and the answer to their need is often formed in their online discovery of your reputation. What is Google search saying about you?

Stewart Gandolf, MBA

About Stewart Gandolf, MBA

Stewart Gandolf, MBA, is both the Publisher of PatientExperience.com and the Co-Founder of Healthcare Success Strategies. Stewart has written for dozens of leading healthcare publications and spoken at hundreds of venues on a variety of topics including marketing, reputation management and patient experience. Additionally, he has personally consulted for over 1,500 hospitals and practices. Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, Stewart worked for leading advertising agencies including J. Walter Thompson.

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