Online physician rankings — popularity contest or useful tool?

Posted on January 5, 2011


When's the last time you went online as a potential new patient and researched what information is readily available with just a few keystrokes?

If it's been a while - possibly never? - then it's time to do so. With public rankings and reviews so prevalent, the first step to helping your physicians create and maintain a positive image is to find out what information exists.

Let's say someone was just referred to a cardiologist.  You can bet that she - and even more likely her adult children living halfway across the U.S. - will at a minimum run the new physician's name through Google.  Likewise when someone moves to a new city or has an insurance change that requires picking a primary care physician.

What if they find this?

"Dr. XXXX should retire. She orders way too many tests and can't explain why. I would not recommend her to my worst enemy!"

"Dr. YYYY misdiagnosed my mother's symptoms. Unfortunately she can't complain about him because she's dead. Don't repeat her mistake!"

"Dr. ZZZZ might be a good doctor but I couldn't understand a thing she said.  Her motormouth didn't slow down once - must have had a quota to keep up with."

Wouldn't it be better to discover this instead?

"Dr. AAAAA is a great doctor.  I felt like she really wanted to help me.  She listened carefully, asked me to clarify a few things and then assessed what was going on.  I was feeling better in just a few hours - don't hesitate to make her your doctor!"

"Dr. BBBB saved my dad's life.  He kept looking for answers when other doctors had given up.  He even has his nurse check in with dad every month to see how he's feeling.  It's a relief knowing he's in good hands."

"Dr. CCCC has to be one of the best pediatricians in the area.  He has cared for my twin boys since they were born.  He takes away their fears and truly cares about their health and well-being."

Keep in mind that some will see the rankings as nothing more than popularity contests that lack the credibility necessary to be truly useful.  But others will use this research to help them make a decision.

Clearly those of you with a small medical staff have a huge advantage since you can regularly monitor what's being said.  Those with hundreds of physicians shouldn't use that as an excuse, instead make it a challenge to complete the research over time.

What should you do with the information you gather?  Stay tuned - I'll discuss that next week.

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Protecting your providers’ online reputation

Posted on January 18, 2011


In my last posting, I suggested that you monitor your medical staff's online reputation - and promised to share what to do if you found something negative.

One of the problems you'll face is determining the credibility of the negative postings.  A practice administrator might be able to help confirm or deny the allegations, but more likely won't due to patient confidentiality. Instead of spending too much time being judge and jury, remind yourself that it doesn't matter:  If you found the information, anyone else can, too. Each individual viewer must decide independently whether to believe what is posted.

As a general rule, you'll want to populate the internet with as many positive posts as possible about the provider to move the negative information lower in search results. That isn't anything you can - or should - do all by yourself.

The first thing you need to do is share your findings with the providers and outline the steps he or she can take to build up a defense to as little as one harmful review. Here are a few tips:

1)      Remind the providers not to kill the messenger.  Odds are he or she hasn't seen this negative information. Some of the postings will be hurtful and make them defensive. It might take some time for them to realize that you're being helpful, but eventually they will appreciate that you shared your findings.

2)      Discourage direct confrontations. While the provider might know the source of the negative info - or at least believe they do - it will be difficult to convince the patient to remove it. In fact, in most cases confronting the patient will only add fuel to the very fire you're trying to put out.

3)      Manage expectations.  The providers will immediately want you to get the information removed. Some sites will agree to delete blatantly untrue statements or factual errors. If you're so lucky, make sure it's corrected in the context of the original posting and not just as a separate correction.  The reality is don't count on such recourse.  Instead, explain to the providers that a better defense is encouraging loyal patients to share positive experiences online.

Some organizations are asking patients to agree not to post anything about their experience - whether it's positive or negative.  As a patient, I would wonder what the provider is trying to hide.  Instead of taking this step, fix the few problem areas within the organization and be proud of the good experiences most patients encounter.

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