Protecting Your Online Reputation: An Interview With Dr. Kevin Pho, Part II: Online Ratings & Reviews

Main Image

Read Part I: The Value of Your Online Reputation 

How do you feel about third party online physician review sites?

The question physicians should ask in relation to these sites is 'whose interests do they have at heart?' When you go to a Healthgrades profile for a specific physician, you'll find that they're full of advertisements, as well as potential inaccuracies. You can pay for an ad free version, but why would you do that when you have free tools like LinkedIn or a Google profile available?

While third party sites are an acceptable way to claim one's online reputation, I'd much rather have full control by having my profile on a social media site.

What's the relative worth of a negative review on an online rating site versus a positive review?

I think a negative review is something many physicians are afraid of. In fact, when you mention online rating sites, the number one complaint among doctors is that they don't want to be defined by a disgruntled patient or employee. They're tremendously fearful of negative publicity on the web. Fortunately, there are a few things physicians can do about it.

First is that physicians should read these reviews and see if there's anything they can correct. A negative review may not have anything to do with patient care. It could be something completely correctible, like 'there's not enough parking at the clinic,' or 'the magazines aren't up to date', or 'the front office staff isn't friendly.' These are things that are easy to change, and having that kind of patient feedback can improve a practice.

Second, rather than focusing specifically on negative reviews, physicians should take the reviews as a whole and realize that many patients do like what the doctors are doing. There have been studies looking at these online sites and they've found that the majority of online physician reviews are positive. Roughly 90% of online reviews are positive, better than most doctors would think.

But a lot of these sites just don't have enough ratings to make an accurate assumption. A study conducted earlier this year found that, on average, doctors have just one-to-two ratings on these sites, which makes it difficult to get an accurate reading on a physician as a whole. I recommend doctors to ask patients to rate them online as a whole. Chances are most of those ratings will be better than they think.

My final recommendation is to create content of your own to push down the relevance of these physician rating sites. If you're active on various social media platforms you can build out your digital footprint. The more platforms you control on your own, the further down rating sites will be pushed down in the search results. Maybe even onto the second page, making them less important and less visible to patients.


What general advice would you give physicians on how to deal with a negative review?

The first would be to simply listen to the patient because many of these reviews contain legitimate points on how a practice can be improved. I read many of them, and sometimes the impression I get is that the patient is frustrated.

For example, there are some reviews that say doctors don't give back raw data from their lab tests or that doctors spend too much time looking at their computers in the exam room. I read these reviews, and I take them seriously. I now make sure patients get a copy of the raw data from a lab test and I don't even bring a laptop in the room with me anymore. I want to look at patients when I'm talking to them.

These changes in my practice have come as a direct result of reading through scores of negative patient reviews about other doctors on the web.

The second point is not to engage them one-on-one online. Physicians should take that conversation offline. I was talking to a professor of law, an expert on patient privacy and he said that it's not a violation of patient privacy to provide a standardized message asking the commenter to call the office to address their concern. Something like 'we value your input, but please call the office if you'd like to further discuss this.' Physicians can do this without confirming or denying that a complaint is their particular patient.

I think this kind of action shows that a physician is listening and taking complaints seriously. The greater point is that any sort of "he said/she said" discussion should be avoided in a public online forum.

The third point is: don't sue! I know plenty of doctors who want to take negative reviews or sites into the courtroom, but I'm aware of very few lawsuits that are successful when it comes to online physician ratings and negative reviews. In fact, much of the publicity that could result from these lawsuits will also show up online on a Google search and could make a bad online situation even worse.


Most online reviews of doctors are positive. But we do know that just like in the Presidential primaries where only the most motivated people will vote, if every patient who had an experience with a doctor posted we'd probably see 98% positive ratings. Yet people with negative experiences are more likely to go online and write a review. How can doctors get more of the generally satisfied, Average Joe patients to take an activist moment and post something on those sites?

The best thing I'd recommend is to specifically ask patients for their review. I talked to Neil Baum, a Urologist in New Orleans and he literally hands out cards to each patient after he sees them and asks them to write a review on his review site of choice. I think that's a great idea. Doctors shouldn't just cherry pick good reviews or ask patients to write good things; they should just ask all their patients, whether it's through a handout or a card, with explicit directions, to post what they think.

If the studies are correct, the majority of them will be positive and better than a lot of doctors would expect. It would also make these sites more useful, because as a whole the online ratings scene is pretty fragmented and really not very useful to most patients. Most sites only have 2-3 reviews, and this doesn't make these sites very useful. If they ask more patents to rate them, not only will it make their online profile more positive, it'll make these sites ultimately more useful for patients.


How about third-party online reputation management companies?

I don't think there's anything wrong with them. They employ the same tactics that I describe in my book. The concepts of creating positive content like a social media profiles to push down other third party sites or negative reviews. They do a lot of things that doctors may not have time for... but to circle back to my first point is that it really doesn't take much time to manage an online profile so I think doctors should learn to do it themselves. Still, if for some reason they don't, or they're not comfortable doing it certainly going to a reputation management company is an acceptable option.


What's the one, overarching piece of advice are you offering to your colleagues in your book?

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "Do one thing everyday that scares you." For many physicians, the prospect of being visible online is frightening. Doctors cannot be scared of the Web. If they don't proactively define themselves online, someone else will. An online reputation is just as important as a reputation in the community.

Read Part I:  The Value of Your Online Reputation

Dr. Pho's book can be purchased at POR readers save 20% by using code: POR2013