Minding your online reputation

It’s amazing the things you hear (and discuss) in a physician’s waiting room.

I was sitting in the waiting room of my general practitioner the other day when I overheard a conversation between two other patients who were waiting. One was telling the other about how confident they were in this doctor and how they wouldn’t use any other doctor notwithstanding the fact that his receptionist (who happens to be his wife) is an “abrasive and nasty prude.”

The other patient replied that the bad personality and manners of this receptionist is public knowledge all over the Internet and that a Google search for this physician retrieves multiple consumer reviews on independent healthcare websites extolling the doctor’s virtues while simultaneously excoriating his receptionist for her terrible bedside manner. Apparently, several online posters said they are no longer patients of the doctor because of his receptionist and expressed amazement that he would keep her as an employee given what a liability she is to him.

This overheard conversation deserves our attention and warrants further analysis. We can all agree that since the advent of the Internet, customers now wield more power than ever before to influence and direct traffic toward—or away from—any business.

Prior to the internet, if a customer had a bad experience with a purchase at a local brick-and-mortar establishment, there’s little chance they’d be able to inflict irreparable harm upon the establishment, even if they picketed in front of the store.

Conversely, in 2017, the World Wide Web is more like the Wild, Wild West. Even if a customer’s injustice is merely perceived, all that person needs to do is go online and post negative words about their experience on a heavily trafficked consumer website, and the rest is history.

That review will stick around in perpetuity like a bad scab that refuses to heal. It will pop up at the top of the search engines every time somebody googles that establishment. The deleterious impact and harmful consequences of such a review to the bottom line of a business is difficult to quantify because there’s no expiration date.

Healthcare providers are particularly vulnerable, because an angry patient isn’t quite the same as a disgruntled customer. He or she, isn’t simply dissatisfied with the return policy on the perfume they just purchased and their negative reviews can be particularly damaging.

Tips for minding your online reputation

When it comes to protecting an online reputation, healthcare providers are no different than purveyors of other goods and services. These three focus points apply equally across all industries and professions:

1. Be pro-active

Every healthcare provider needs to understand that a disgruntled patient or family member who feels like they’re being neglected in any way, is apt to go online and broadcast their frustrations to the world before they give the doctor an opportunity to make things right. Therefore, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Doctors need to put patients first, not only in terms of the quality of the healthcare provided to them, but also in terms of the overall quality of their experience with them, their practice and their employees. Do right by them and give them no cause to vent their frustrations online.

2. Social media monitoring

When it comes to the internet, physicians and other healthcare providers are no different than any other ‘seller’ and must make sure to monitor (or pay someone to monitor) their online reputation. Take seriously what your customers are saying about you online. You are not exempt from public praise or public scorn, and unhappy people are often quicker to vent online than happy people are to post their positive experiences. Listen to their concerns, take heed and fix what needs to be addressed.

3. Crisis management and addressing negativity

Ultimately, nobody is perfect 100 percent of the time. It is practically inevitable that at some point, you will be taken to task for something online. When that happens, don’t run or hide from it; embrace it as an opportunity for introspection and growth. Try to reach out to the family to placate and resolve and use the experience as a catalyst for change so you won’t be flamed again in the future.

In the final analysis, the internet is a double-edged sword and must be respected as such. With the right approach, healthcare providers will ensure that they don’t get stuck on the wrong side.

Judah Gutwein, LNHA, is founder and CEO of Sky Care Media, Clifton, New Jersey. He also has served the industry as a nursing home administrator and an admissions and marketing director.

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