Online dentist-review sites can be a painful thorn in our sides, but they aren’t going away. Dentists will have to learn how to navigate the system. In his recent book, "Establishing, Managing, and Protecting Your Online Reputation: A Social Guide for Physicians and Medical Practices," Dr. Kevin Pho encourages medical professionals to use their social media sites to create a positive online reputation of their practices. Eighty percent of consumers head to the Internet for information about doctors.
The American Dental Association and other professional organizations should advocate for responsible activities. For example, sites could be asked not to publish ratings for physicians unless a minimum number is reached. Some physicians have required patients to fill out and sign a contract that promises not to post reviews on public forums. Most online reputation management experts advise against this tactic. It introduces an environment of distrust and aggression into the physician-patient relationship. These contracts typically don’t have legal standing.
An online reputation is incredibly fragile. In this era of social media and consumer-review sites, reputations can be threatened in just a minute or two. A patient or fellow physician can target your practice and cause trouble for your online reputation. What can physicians do when their names are attached to negative online reviews? Doctors must make a supreme effort to counterbalance this commentary with positive information. This is an ethical and effective method of encouraging positive comments about you and your practice. The relationship between patients and physicians has changed dramatically with the public’s newfound access to medical information online.
A 2012 QuantiaMD survey found that 87% of U.S. doctors use social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter for personal purposes, while 67% maintain a professional account. The presence of physicians online has made it possible for patients to contact them directly. One-third of American doctors have received a Facebook friend request from one of their patients, and 75% of these physicians declined the invitations, a wise decision.
On the other hand, dentists should sign up for social networking sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter under their professional names, and participate in online forums. In general, all health-care professionals must use caution when conversing with patients in any online setting. They should not respond to critical remarks unless it’s absolutely necessary. If a reply is appropriate, reach out to the patient offline.
A dentist’s reputation can be tarnished if an unsatisfied patient posts a critical comment on a review site. Many patients are interested in examining the backgrounds of their dentists and learning more about them. Social media has pumped up the importance of consumer-rating sites such as Vitals.com, HealthGrades, and Yelp. Anonymous comments are prominently featured on most of these physician-rating sites, with ranters and ravers granted a public forum to discuss their medical care. Physicians are unable to respond to patients because doing so would violate patient confidentiality agreements. Regularly reading these sites is important so that you can address any issues directly with a patient.
The modern-day health care system increasingly puts patients front and center, with the idea of patients as consumers becoming more widespread. Where do patients look for reviews of physicians online? Healthgrades is the most commonly used site, with 43% of review users heading there first. Yelp is next, with 34% of users placing it as their first option.
Although a wealth of information is shared on physician-rating sites, patients have many reasons for accessing this information. It remains unknown whether patients truly understand all the information provided to make informed decisions about their medical care. Dentists need to seize the opportunity to become an industry leader by participating in online dental communities. A dentist’s profile should include information such as background, education, awards, and recommendations.
A dentist’s online reputation management efforts should ensure that a patient’s Google search begins with his or her website, followed by social-networking sites. Performing this task will push the negative reviews down the list. The best way for an individual or business to clean up its online reputations is to perform good works that will draw the attention of the general public. If you want a positive reputation on the Internet, you need to build or rebuild a positive one offline first.
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Blake Jonathan Boldt is a content strategist for Reputation Advocate. He provides writing, editing, social media, and content strategy services for both domestic and international clients. His articles have been featured in numerous magazines, newspapers, and digital media outlets such as Search Engine Journal and Simply Hired.