Articles and Case Studies

Online Reputation Management

10 Sep 2013

Hands typing on laptop with blank screen

The use of social media and online information has now become an integral part of health care. Dr Sara Bird discusses strategies on how to manage and monitor your online persona as a medical practitioner, with a view to minimising risk and maintaining your professional reputation.

What are patients doing online?

Patients use social media to:

  • access health information and healthcare providers
  • discuss and/or monitor their health and that of others
  • evaluate healthcare practitioners and providers.

 

While it is estimated that less than one in five patients have consulted a website which reviews and rates medical practitioners/healthcare providers, the use of these sites is increasing. In 2011 the UK Health Minister commented:

I wouldn’t think of going on holiday without cross referencing two guide books and using TripAdvisor. We need to do something similar for the modern generation of health care.

Patient satisfaction metrics are now part of the UK revalidation process. There is an opportunity for the medical profession in Australia to drive and manage the process of rating and reviewing healthcare practitioners and providers.

It is worth noting that the vast majority of online ratings are favourable and, in one recent study, 88% of online reviews of doctors were positive.1 Specific strategies on how to deal with a negative online review are discussed in our Online Professionalism pull-out feature.

How are doctors using social media?

Many doctors now have their own practice website which provides information about their practice and also general health information. Personal websites tend to rate high in search engine results and, in particular, websites that facilitate sharing of information will boost search engine optimisation.

The use of other social media networking sites can also be an important part of managing your professional reputation. These include:

  • LinkedIn® – includes an online resume and focuses on professional networking.
  • Facebook – a professional Facebook page can contain information about your practice and be linked to your practice website. Settings can be adjusted so that only the page administrator is allowed to post content. It is important for medical practitioners to separate their personal and professional Facebook sites.
  • YouTube –a video streaming service which can include interviews with practitioners and patient information videos.
  • Blogs – website entries which are generally displayed in reverse chronological order and enable practitioners to share topical and/or evidence based health information with patients, colleagues and the community.

What are the risks?

The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency’s draft social media policy states that practitioners should only post information that does not breach their professional obligations, such as the Code of Conduct and Guidelines for advertising of regulated health services 2, by:

  • not breaching confidentiality and privacy obligations (such as discussing patients or posting pictures of procedures, case studies, patients or sensitive material which may enable patients to be identified and/or without having obtained consent in appropriate situations)
  • presenting information in an unbiased, evidence informed context and not making unsubstantiated claims.

Section 133 of the National Law provides:

A person must not advertise a regulated health service, or a business that provides a regulated health service, in a way that:

a) is, or is likely to be false, misleading or deceptive; or
b) offers a gift, discount or other inducement to attract a person to use the service or the business, unless the advertisement also states the terms and conditions of the offer; or
c) uses testimonials or purported testimonials about the service or business; or
d) creates an unreasonable expectation of beneficial treatment; or
e) directly or indirectly encourages the indiscriminate or unnecessary use of regulated health services.

Tips on managing your online reputation3

  • Ensure your presence is consistent across all social media applications – e.g. use exactly the same name and photograph.
  • Titles and key words/tags are important to optimise search engine results.
  • Content should be of high quality, up to date and include references for further reading.
  • Post or update often as this will improve search engine results.
  • Incorporate images and/or videos into your social media communications.
  • Include links to all your social media sites to make it easy for people to share information about you.
  • Ensure you comply with the Medical Board of Australia guidelines, including the Social media policy and Guidelines for advertising of regulated health services.
  • Track website activity e.g. by using Google Analytics.
Further reading

Pho K, Gay S. Establishing, Managing, and Protecting Your Online Reputation: A Social Media Guide for Physicians and Medical Practices. Greenbranch Publishing, Phoenix, 2013.


1 Lagu T, Hannon NS, Rothberg MB et al. Patients’ Evaluations of Health Care Providers in the Era of Social Networking: An Analysis of Physician-Rating Websites. J Gen Intern Med 2010; 25(9):942-6.
2 Medical Board of Australia Codes, Guidelines and Policies Available at: medicalboard.gov.au/Codes-Guidelines-Policies.aspx
3 Pho K, Gay S. Establishing, Managing, and Protecting Your Online Reputation: A Social Media Guide for Physicians and Medical Practices. Greenbranch Publishing, Phoenix, 2013.

 
Anaesthesia, Dermatology, Emergency Medicine, General Practice, Intensive Care Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Ophthalmology, Pathology, Practice Manager Or Owner, Psychiatry, Radiology, Sports Medicine, Surgery
 

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