August 23, 2012
12 min read

Ophthalmologists strive to optimize online presence, protect reputation

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As the Internet continues to revolutionize all facets of life and commerce, a strong Web presence is essential in the modern ophthalmology practice.

The demand for eye care is expected to skyrocket in the coming decades, and patients will be increasingly searching online for eye care practitioners. As a result, ophthalmologists need to maintain a strong Internet presence to remain competitive, according to consultant Paul M. Stubenbordt.

Physicians have various tools at their disposal to optimize their placement on search engine result pages and protect their online reputation from overtly negative or spurious patient reviews.

Andrew Doan, MD, PhD, sees the Internet as a virtual interface where patients get to know their ophthalmologist before meeting in person.

Image: Doan A


One primary driver of the Internet’s importance, especially to ophthalmologists, is the increasing number of older patients who are online, Stubenbordt said.

“A lot of recent studies show that it’s not just young people who use the Internet anymore,” Stubenbordt said. “More older patients are throwing out their

Yellow Books and looking at medical professionals online.”

According to the website Internet World Stats, Internet usage in the U.S. increased from 124 million users, or 44.1% of the population, in 2000 to about 239 million users, or 77.3% of the population, in 2010.

Furthermore, patients are becoming more educated about diseases, surgical procedures and physicians, according to Uday Devgan, MD, Section Editor.

Uday Devgan

Searches have gotten so specific that LASIK patients are now researching and comparing various lasers, Devgan said.

“That’s a huge step. Similarly, they can look up and know all about diabetic retinopathy and other diseases. They can learn a lot about their disease prior to coming in to see you,” Devgan said.

Social media

Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter are useful for building and maintaining a robust online presence, according to Andrew Doan, MD, PhD, an ophthalmologist and founder of Credential Protection, a physician review management website, and MedRounds, an ophthalmology review site. He likened Facebook to a video game in terms of interactivity and compelling engagement.

“There’s a virtual interface between you and the other person,” Doan said. “Patients, when they see a polished CV online and a nice photo, feel like they already know you.”

YouTube, a free video-based website, is a highly effective online marketing resource, Stubenbordt said.

“YouTube is incredible. We use it all the time,” he said, noting that a client attracted patients by having pterygium surgery videos and testimonials posted on YouTube and articles posted on other sites.

Social media and online content in general engender patient familiarity with physicians, before and even after their appointment, Doan said.

“I’ve had 80-year-old patients who come in with a manila folder full of my Internet sites and reviews, and they know exactly where I came from and what school I went to. They know my whole life history,” he said.

Devgan is not as enthusiastic about using social media as a marketing tool. He cited an article in the Atlantic Monthly about the frequency of Facebook users clicking on advertisements. The article reported that Facebook users clicked on one out of every 1,961 advertisements they saw on the site. Google users, on the other hand, clicked on one out of every 250 ads they saw on the site.

“A majority of Facebook users clicked on zero ads,” Devgan said. “Having a Facebook page for my office to try to promote my practice is not as effective as I want it to be. I don’t do all of that.”

Ophthalmologists are generally ambivalent about Twitter, but the site has some relevance to the specialty, Stubenbordt said.

Paul M. Stubenbordt

“Twitter is separate,” he said. “Twitter is not a great medium. Nobody really cares about Twitter for ophthalmology. But it’s still important because if [patients] find your Twitter page, then you do want some type of a presence on Twitter.”

Twitter and Facebook pages can be coordinated using online social media management tools such as HootSuite and TweetDeck, Stubenbordt said.

HootSuite is a service that helps users manage multiple social profiles, schedule messages and tweets, track brand mentions and analyze social media traffic, according to the company website.

TweetDeck is an application that lets users arrange feeds in customizable columns, prioritize feeds using filters, schedule tweets to serve an online audience, and monitor or manage unlimited Twitter accounts, according to the company website.

“When we do an update on Facebook, it automatically updates the exact same content on Twitter,” Stubenbordt said.


Ophthalmologists can use search engine optimization (SEO) to enhance their online presence and boost their bottom line.

SEO is a technique of getting the highest possible ranking for one’s name or website on Internet searches.

Google search engine results take into account whether content is dynamic or static. The more the content changes, the higher the ranking. Blogging is an appealing way to create constantly changing content, Stubenbordt said.

“If you update your blog once a week or even once a month, it tells Google that your content is changing,” Stubenbordt said. Furthermore, blogging generates keywords and links that are taken into account in the search engine algorithm.

Devgan stressed the importance of publishing in journals or the medical press. He pointed out that by publishing frequently in Ocular Surgery News and other publications, his name appears prominently in Google searches.

“The best thing a doctor can do is put information out there that’s actually clinically useful,” Devgan said.

Reputation management

Maintaining an online reputation is essential to the well-being of any practice, Stubenbordt said.

“One’s online reputation has never been more important. It’s permanent. You can never have it removed,” he said.

Every physician is vulnerable to negative online reviews, whether they are accurate or not, according to Michael Dobkowski, CEO of Glacial Multimedia, a website development and marketing firm.

“Any physician can have something bad written about them on the Web,” Dobkowski said. “It can be completely inaccurate. People can put up their own websites. You can literally be the first guy that ever did LASIK or the best guy at phacoemulsification and have a bad review. It’s not about the quality of the surgeon, per se.”

The Internet enables dissatisfied consumers to share their experiences at lightning speed, according to John B. Pinto, OSN Practice Management Section Editor.

“In the world that we’re leaning into, instead of a linear, logarithmic relationship, one person’s bad experience can blister throughout the electronic village,” he said.

Negative reviews beget negative opinions. Negative reviews have a significantly greater impact on physician choice than positive reviews, Doan said. He pointed to a MedRounds reader survey in which 34% of respondents agreed that negative reviews influence their decisions and 17% agreed that positive reviews affect their decisions.

“Online review sites are magnets for negative reviews because only patients who are angry or have an ax to grind go online and complain,” Doan said. “Current and potential future patients are biased by what they see online.”

Although reputation management uses SEO techniques, it involves content on multiple websites, such as review sites and ad hoc sites that are set up by disgruntled patients to disseminate negative reviews, not just a physician’s website, Dobkowski said.

“If I’m doing search engine optimization for a doctor or practice and they’re No. 1 for their name, I’ve achieved my goal on SEO,” he said. “Reputation management goes a lot further, because it basically involves other websites that are not easily controllable. … That’s when you really start to transition from SEO only to reputation management. It’s much easier to optimize a core website for a practice than it is to optimize 10 websites.”

Patients can post physician reviews on myriad websites, including Angie’s List, Yelp, Google+ (formerly Google Places), Yahoo Local, Vitals, RateMDs and Avvo.

Devgan said there are a variety of reviews available on Avvo.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “If you browse health advice and you go to that site … and look under ‘ophthalmology,’ even ‘LASIK,’ it’s amazing the number of questions that have been answered.”

One drawback of Yelp from the standpoint of reputation management is that it filters out and removes reviews by new and infrequent users.

“You can’t just have patients sign up and do a review because it will get filtered through Yelp’s filter,” Stubenbordt said.

Google+ is somewhat more flexible, for now. This allows Stubenbordt’s clients to write a review on the patient’s behalf while onsite at the practice, he said.

“There are a few practices out there that are getting 20 to 30 reviews a month this way,” Stubenbordt said.

Google Alerts, a free tool, lets the user know when someone has posted something about his or her practice online, Stubenbordt said.

“Anytime something is said about your practice, you’ll get an alert in your email about it and you can check out what somebody may have said,” Stubenbordt said. “You can also set up social media alerts. So, if somebody says something on your Facebook or Twitter account or on YouTube, you’ll get an alert about it.”

Enhanced online protection

Managing an online reputation is, to a large extent, about controlling where patients will click and research, Doan said. Also important is the need to have online verified reviews by actual patients who have been to the physician’s office, he said.

Doan and colleagues offer premium services, such as starred verified online reviews, to enhance a physician’s visibility and reputation. These reviews appear as starred items on search result queues.

“We start with search engine optimization and management of the doctor’s name. We want to make sure that when patients research their doctors, that the doctor’s name puts forth the best representation,” he said.

Dobkowski and his staff develop a custom plan that involves the client’s core website, a biographical site, a profile page on a major medical website and blogs on the core site.
“That custom plan usually involves creating a series of Web properties designed to push back the negative results,” he said.

Dobkowski emphasized the value of getting content onto profile pages in which one can control the content.

He said that he and his staff use optimization techniques and link-building to move good sites ahead of those that contain negative information about a client.

“That is what we are doing right now for reputation management,” he said. “It could be a review site. It could be a website that just posts the negative things about the surgeons. It doesn’t always come in the form of a review site.”

A physician should optimize his or her core website, buy all domain names related to his or her name, and build a biographical website, Dobkowski said.

“A lot of these doctors who have websites older than review websites have a major leg up. They have a significant age factor going over the reviewing or negative website. Age is a real big thing here when we’re talking about the future and protecting your reputation. So, you want to control your domain names as they relate to your particular name,” he said.

Face time vs. Facebook

Physicians need to be proactive in preserving their online reputation, Dobkowski said.

“Proactiveness is the key here,” Dobkowski said. “It’s going to cost you a lot more to react. If you’re proactive, you’re going to save yourself a lot of time and a lot of money.”

One way to be proactive is to spend one-on-one quality time with patients in the office, Stubenbordt said.

“Our most common complaint about ophthalmologists is that they didn’t spend enough time with the patient and didn’t explain things clearly to the patient. Then, the patient had something done that they didn’t want to have done,” Stubenbordt said. “Nobody is going to write a negative review or take any sort of action against anybody that they actually like. To get a patient to like you, you have to build a relationship with them. You have to bond with them. Although bonding is sometimes hard to do on a busy day, ophthalmologists can make sure they answer any questions the patient may have, without seemingly having one foot out the door.”

Pinto emphasized the value of direct personal feedback and prompt action when problems arise.

“If there’s a pattern of misconduct and poor patient service, you have to get after that at its core. It’s not just a matter of trying to mop it up with a reputation management firm, an attorney or your search engine optimization company, but getting at the underlying cause of that,” Pinto said.

Devgan also stressed the importance of getting patient feedback in the office. However, patients have a right to post complaints when they are warranted, he said.

“It’s great if you can kind of control what’s out there,” Devgan said. “But if someone has a legitimate complaint against you, I don’t see how you can block it. … You’re able to take hold of it to a small degree, but I think patients have a right to post what they’re going to post.” – by Matt Hasson

For more information:
  • Uday Devgan, MD, can be reached at Devgan Eye Surgery, 11600 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 200, Los Angeles, CA 90025; 310-388-3028; fax: 310-612-3993; email:  
  • Andrew Doan, MD, PhD, can be reached at Eye Associates of Southern California, 31515 Rancho Pueblo Road, Suite 103, Temecula, CA 92592-4837; 951-303-6111; email: or Credential Protection, 43980 Mahlon Vail Circle, Suite 2701, Temecula, CA 92592; 888-442-2089; fax: 888-280-3495; email:; website:  
  • Michael Dobkowski can be reached at Glacial Multimedia, 625 Main St., Westbrook, ME 04092; 207-878-5900; fax: 866-924-5782; email:  
  • John B. Pinto can be reached at 619-223-2233; email:
  • Paul M. Stubenbordt can be reached at Stubenbordt Consulting, 104 Houston St., Suite D, Roanoke, TX 76262; 682-831-0900; fax: 682-831-0903; email:  
  • Disclosures: Devgan has no relevant financial disclosures. Doan is founder of Credential Protection and MedRounds. Dobkowski is CEO of Glacial Multimedia. Pinto has no relevant financial disclosures. Stubenbordt is founder and CEO of Stubenbordt Consulting.



Is it advantageous for physicians to use social media to enhance their online presence and reputation?


Social media becoming outlet of choice

Ron W. Pelton

The short answer is probably “yes.” Social media is here to stay. We all know that we need a strong online presence because patients are turning more and more to the Internet, not only to find our website but also to evaluate our skills and find out what others are saying about us. When was the last time you looked in the Yellow Pages?

You can do nothing and simply hope that things unfold in your favor, or you can actively control the process. Having a strong Facebook and Twitter presence will most likely aid you in putting forth the type of online appearance that you want your practice to project. Exactly how social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter will be used by the medical community is still being worked out, but it is clear that they will play an important role in how the physician will actively manage his online reputation. One simply has to look to the London Olympics to see that online social media sites, especially Facebook and Twitter, are the communication outlets of choice of this generation — virtually every athlete was tweeting and Facebooking daily throughout the London games.

Ron W. Pelton, MD, PhD, FACS, is an oculoplastic surgeon practicing in Colorado Springs, Colo. Disclosure: Pelton is an investor in Credential Protection.



Physicians should not use social media to give medical advice

T. Hunter Newsom

When we use social media, we try not to sell so much because social media is based on having a friendship and a relationship with someone. Rather than marketing, we try to do announcements on something that is exciting: a new physician in our practice or some charity event that we use.

Patient testimonials are great. It is nice to have them make some sort of comment if you can.

The downside of Facebook, Twitter and some of the social media is that it does give people quick access to you. People will frequently ask medical questions, so you will start fielding those sorts of questions. You want to be cautious about giving out medical advice over the Internet or trying to set up what may be construed as a doctor-patient relationship over the Internet.

We send these patients a personalized email saying, “That question is a great question, but we really need to do a full evaluation of your eyes before we can give you specific advice.” We can lead them to information on laser cataract surgery, LASIK and other eye conditions on our website so they can become educated on these topics and our practice. But we do not want to give any medical advice, recommendations or an evaluation of some other physician’s examination and plan of action.

T. Hunter Newsom, MD, is founder of Newsom Eye and Laser Center, Tampa, Fla. Disclosure: Newsom has no relevant financial disclosures.