While you’re busy caring for your patients, it’s easy to forget about the importance of online reputation management for doctors. Your patients are web-savvy medical consumers who are interested in your background and reading reviews about you. The smart medical consumer will conduct an online background check on you either before or after their first visit, so it is very important to have a positive online reputation.

Below are seven easy ways to manage your online reputation, as well as suggestions to help you engage with your patients and colleagues online while maintaining your privacy.

1.    Manage your personal online life. A recent QuantiaMD survey of 4,000 physicians found that 15% use Facebook for professional reasons, while 61% use it for fun. While doctors might be slow to social networking, more likely than not your patients (current and future) are already there. Don’t be afraid to use Facebook, but be sure to draw the line at who you will and will not friend. It’s usually a good idea to decline friend requests from patients; you don’t want to be inundated with status updates about swollen ankles from pregnant patients or be asked t to analyze the mental health of a patient with a drug problem, nor do you want patients to see your personal pictures from your friend’s bachelor party. See my recent post on how to better manage your online privacy on Facebook.

2.    But, don’t fear professional online interaction. Online engagement with your colleagues can be a great way to network outside of medical meetings, sharpen your skills by learning about tough cases from colleagues around the country, and earn valuable referrals. Effectively engaging in professional communities like Sermo.com and LinkedIn.com can help you create a strong online profile and boost your professional reputation.

3.    Engage in online patient communities. According to the QuantiaMD survey, only 3% of physicians are engaging in online patient communities. Some of the most popular online patient communities are: dailystrength.org, patientslikeme.com, acor.org, medhelp.org, and organizedwisdom.com. There’s an opportunity here to become a thought leader in the patient world. As a bonus, potential patients may actually seek you out because of your activity in an online community.

4.    Buy your own domain name. Think like Dr. Phil and own your personal brand. Owning a domain name with your first and last name and/or with an identifier like Dr or MD is a way to make you and your medical practice more accessible, especially if you are part of a larger group or hospital. With easily downloadable templates or an available high school student looking to make a few bucks, you don’t need to have any knowledge about building a website to start your own.

5.    Blog. Start a blog about your practice area and use it as a place to discuss new research and highlight professional accomplishments. You can download WordPress or Blogger software for free and start a blog on your site or a shared hosting site in minutes. Always include a prominent disclaimer to direct readers to refer to their own doctors for a diagnosis and course of treatment.

6.    Online ratings matter. Put your finger on the pulse of your patients’ thoughts about their care experience with you and your staff by monitoring patient rating websites such as RateMDs.com and HealthGrades.com.  This can be a reality check-up for many doctors and an opportunity to respond by taking proactive steps to improve the patient experience by reducing waiting times and better handle servicing of billing and insurance claims. Encourage your patients to rate you on these sites from their home computers. If there are negative reviews of you on these sites, you often have the power to respond to them. Hiring an online reputation management firm can help you respond more effectively.

7.    Hire the best online reputation management company. An online reputation management company will elevate positive content and minimize the impact of negative content. Beware of firms that guarantee they will completely remove a negative post.  Search engine algorithms change frequently, however, I’ve found that certain advanced online and search marketing techniques have proven very successful in helping doctors fight online defamation.  Select a US-based online reputation management firm and make sure your services agreement includes strict confidentiality provisions. Also, laws surrounding physician marketing vary greatly. Some states even prohibit client testimonials in healthcare marketing, you will want to make sure web postings include any required disclosures.

How are you managing your online reputation? We would love to hear your personal stories about it in the comments below.