Thursday, July 23, 2009

Are you monitoring your reputation online?

Unless you have a superabundant stream of disinterested patients channeled to your surgery via some magic BigCompany process your reputation is important to you. Your reputation is your personal brand equity that brings people to your door and the basis on which people refer to you (or not).

So what have people being saying about you?

Well do a Google search on your name (between inverted commas eg "Dr John Smith") and find out! Or you can consult one of the proliferating doctor rating websites that provide a whole range of tools to provide ratings and commentary about your Doc: RateMDs, DrScore, or the Australian centric Word of Mouth on the Net.

Most comments, the good and the bad, do not find their way back to your burning ears. However, with the Internet, they are indelibly recorded for time immemorial. If they are glowing endorsements and you have let yourself slip recently it is likely to work in your favour; however if they are bad or inaccurate you are likely to gain unfair currency.

What's driving the trend?

The whole phenomena has grown as general usage of the internet amongst the population has grown, and the number of sites that provide user ratings has increased as it is one of the newer ways people try to differentiate between a whole range of information provided online, and people seem to be less inhibited about putting sometimes embarrassing, derogatory, scandalous or even defamatory material online.

Users also like to feel they are part of a community and are more likely to purchase if they can see that other users have had a good experience.

The good, the bad and the ugly

Most of the time you would have to pay someone or introduce some process to get the kind of feedback you see commonly posted on these fora. So, in that sense it is free feedback from your patients.

However, anyone can usually post a comment, even if they aren't a patient (some comments I'm sure are left by a well meaning relative or worse the doctor themselves). There is no guarantee for end users that the commentary was accurate or representative of the service provided.

Inevitably a small proportion of patients will have a bad experience and if they are the ones who feel strongly enough to post online you are in for some trouble. Sometimes it is even possible to identify the patient concerned from the comments they provide. Which always leaves open the option of taking the issue further with them directly; or finally addressing their grievance and asking them to then update or remove their entry.


Ultimately, like most feedback, you should give it due consideration with an open mind. However, if believe the information is wrong or worse you can take it further with either the website owner or should that not be feasible, you might consider asking your more representative patients to read it and contribute their own opinions to provide some balance.

If the sample size of online comments is sufficiently large then I think over time the value of these sites will diminish as most doctors will tend to gravitate towards a mean (hopefully a high standard!) with a few outliers slightly more positive and more negative than them. At the moment most of these sites have comments from a vocal few so there is the greatest potential for a patient to be misled by a deliberate strategy aimed at increasing or decreasing a practitioner's ranking.

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