August 24, 2012
3 min read

Ophthalmologists need to be aware of and monitor online reputations

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For most ophthalmologists, patient word of mouth remains the major source of new patients. The concept that providing high-quality care in a patient-friendly environment will grow a practice is a classic teaching.

In my early years of practice, I was coached by a very successful ophthalmologist that the “three A’s” of building a large practice were, in order of importance, affability, availability and ability. With a smile, my mentor would remind me that being nice and available to patients was more important than one’s quality of training or innate clinical or surgical ability. As time has passed, these three A’s remain critical to success in growing a practice, but a fourth “A,” which I will generally categorize as advertising, has also become relevant. Under this category I include both internal and external marketing as well as one’s website and presence in social media.

It is nothing short of amazing to me the vast array of Web-based information available to not only educate patients about their disease state, but also to detail the training, skills and bedside manner of their potential physician. A quality website is almost a necessity today, and it is important for a large practice to employ search engine optimization so that the practice shows up on the first page when key terms such as cataract, LASIK, glaucoma and the like are entered by a patient for a geographic area. This is manageable for most practices. But now it is only the beginning of many patients’ Web-based research before they select a physician or surgeon.

For many years we have had Best Doctors in America and Best Doctors in a given city lists available, and many patients would search these quite imperfect references. Still, the names on these lists were usually reasonable and in most cases selected by a group of physician peers. While many high-quality doctors were missing from these lists, those referenced were in most cases respectable. But now we have entered an era in which one unhappy patient can declare cyber war on an individual doctor or practice.

Through sources such as Angie’s List, Yelp, Google+, Yahoo Local, Vitals, RateMDs, Avvo and social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, an individual patient can significantly impact the reputation of a doctor. Many of these lists rate doctors in categories from poor to excellent based on a few participating individuals’ comments. I have taken a peek at a few of these sites to check my own ratings with some fear and trepidation, and fortunately I have generally found myself in a satisfactory category. Still, for me and most of my colleagues, it is just too much to monitor these sites on a daily or even monthly basis.

For the larger practice, a consultant or full-time employee can be hired to help optimize a practice and its practitioners’ Web-based profile. For select ophthalmologists who love the Web and are happy to be blogging every night with current and potential patients, these trends create an opportunity. For most of us, the ever-increasing scrutiny by individual patients on top of those by third-party payers, government and in some cases even “mystery shoppers” looking for problems to whistle blow creates an increasingly hostile practice environment. This is not in my opinion a healthy trend, but sadly I see it as a trend in motion that is gaining momentum. It is not going to increase physician satisfaction with their careers, and I suspect many doctors will be wrongly damaged by the occasional outspoken unhappy patient. Still, it is a fact of life that we are all being evaluated every minute of every practice day.

I encourage every ophthalmologist to be aware of the increasing influence of the Web in rating doctors, and if one finds his or her reputation being damaged on any of these sites, it is important to know that there are organizations available to help. One can find help by looking up “doctor reputation management” on your favorite search engine or by contacting the American Academy of Ophthalmology or the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery for a referral to a reliable professional for assistance.