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Doctors beware: You are what you tweet

February 28, 2011

The rise of Electronic Health Records (EHRs) has shifted the focus of health from the doctor’s office to the internet, and the playing field for building and protecting a professional reputation has followed. Doctors who own a medical practice are business owners, and so have to be constantly mindful of advancing and protecting their brand – themselves.

Dr. Tobin Arthur, CEO and founder of iMedExchange, warns doctors that as more patients log on to get their health information, “your online reputation may become as or more important than your offline reputation.”

Just as restaurants, bars and retail stores are now subject to customer reviews online, so too are doctors. And as the American Medical Association points out, there’s little a doctor can do once a negative review has been posted on the internet, as the comments are often anonymous and protected under federal law.

However, communicating with patients, hearing their concerns and implementing their suggestions is a good defense against getting a negative review in the first place. Monitoring a practice’s online reputation by checking review sites such as Yelp and setting up email notifications can help a physician stay on top of his or her internet alter-ego, the association suggests.

Major corporations use social media to dominate web searches and control the conversation surrounding their brands, digital strategist Patrick Kerley recently wrote for Mashable.com. Though Kerley was advising how larger businesses can bounce back from legal crises, his message carries an important tip for smaller medical practices: Increasing a practice’s internet presence with social media can also boost patient recognition and draw more clients.

Using Facebook, Twitter and other social and professional media accounts opens up another line for doctors to communicate with their patients and business partners. However, a physician should keep posts and messages professional at all times. In the era of Google, there may be no such thing as a private life, as news reports show that more employers are using Facebook and other pages to screen their workers and job applicants. Do not think a patient won’t do the same when looking for a new healthcare provider.

Dedicated medical review sites such as HealthGrades and RateMDs allow physicians to update their profiles for free, but are gaining wide popularity among consumers, meaning both positive and negative comments reach a bigger audience, according to the Journal of Orthopedics.

The publication also recommends doctors protect their online reputations by enlisting staff to monitor web review sites, proactively listing themselves, promoting those listings to patients, and responding to negative online comments – and doing so frequently.

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