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Managing Physicians' Medical Brand

      To the Editor:
      We read with interest the recent article in The Washington Post entitled “Doctors fire back at bad Yelp reviews - and reveal patients' information online.”

      Ornstein C. Doctors fire back at bad Yelp reviews - and reveal patients' information online. The Washington Post website. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2016/05/27/docs-fire-back-at-bad-yelp-reviews-and-reveal-patients-information-online/. Published May 27, 2016. Accessed October 27, 2016.

      The overarching theme of the story focused on how physicians have responded to negative online reviews by posting their patients' protected health information in their responses, conveying a theme of physicians vs patients that is a result of perceived negative patient experiences. Clearly, physicians sharing protected information in a public platform is an inappropriate response, and the unethical violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act regulations should never be condoned. However, in the current digital environment, how can physicians appropriately and professionally respond to unwelcomed and potentially unfair online evaluations?
      In a prior era, negative encounters may have been simply ignored as irrational patient commentary. However, the current social media environment allows individuals the opportunity to relate an experience in a public, transparent manner that can directly promote or punish physicians' medical practices. Mobile and digital platforms allow amplification of the patient voice. The sooner we within the medical profession recognize this evolution, the better we will be prepared to position our practices for success.
      Medical professionals can and should be active participants in digital media. A digital presence through social media and online platforms has the ability to influence physicians' referral patterns and grow practices.
      • Turnipseed W.D.
      The social media: its impact on a vascular surgery practice.
      It is also through an active presence in social media that medical professionals begin to take control of their online reputation or “brand.” In large medical organizations, this may mean defining key characteristics that resonate across the organization. In smaller organizations, it may simply mean defining the key attributes of single physicians. In either case, a positive social media presence quickly dilutes negative online comments and reviews.
      Professional social media sites like Doximity and LinkedIn allow medical professionals to connect with each other and to define areas of clinical focus, expertise, and training. Twitter (100 million daily logins, 1.3 billion registered users) and Facebook (1.7 billion monthly active users) offer a diverse portfolio of media to convey messages to health consumers. Each time a health care professional posts positive content through these social media outlets, they not only draw attention to their medical offerings and unique expertise, they also add another layer between themselves and negative reviews. Google searches rely on one's digital footprint to determine positioning in the list of search results. That is, the greater the number of social media posts, the more these positive impressions will rise to the surface of a health consumer search, displacing the rare negative comment to the bottom. It is through a consistent, positive digital presence that a physician's social media identity or brand is built and dilutes the occasional negative online comment.
      Building a positive digital brand can evolve from a number of different social media tactics. Providing a regular flow of content on a blog, Twitter account, or professional Facebook page will keep physicians in the minds of their patients and potential patients when they are in need of care.
      • Twiddy D.
      Social media: strategies for building greater connections with your patients.
      Educational content for patients can take many forms and can be disseminated broadly across platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and office/professional websites. The availability of this content can help prospective patients become more aware of the importance of their symptoms and decrease the call burden on office staff who previously needed to triage these phone calls.
      • Twiddy D.
      Social media: strategies for building greater connections with your patients.
      References or referrals to disease-specific social media groups can be an important source of support for patients. These types of efforts can enhance patients' experiences, keep physicians foremost in their patients' thoughts when health care is needed, and, in the end, elevate physicians' digital identity.
      Ultimately, a positive health consumer experience will define a given physician's practice. Given the rise of mobile digital interactions, health professionals must realize that their “patient experience” no longer begins when a patient walks through the front door of their facility. It begins at the point of first contact. For upwards of 90% of patients, that first contact occurs through a digital platform.

      Fox S, Duggan M. Health Online 2013. Pew Research Center website. http://www.pewinternet.org/2013/01/15/health-online-2013/. Published January 15, 2013. Accessed November 1, 2016.

      Our identities as medical professionals will increasingly be defined by who we are in the digital world. Taking control of our digital brand is the first step toward defining the true nature of our practices to all health consumers.

      References

      1. Ornstein C. Doctors fire back at bad Yelp reviews - and reveal patients' information online. The Washington Post website. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2016/05/27/docs-fire-back-at-bad-yelp-reviews-and-reveal-patients-information-online/. Published May 27, 2016. Accessed October 27, 2016.

        • Turnipseed W.D.
        The social media: its impact on a vascular surgery practice.
        Vasc Endovascular Surg. 2013; 47: 169-171
        • Twiddy D.
        Social media: strategies for building greater connections with your patients.
        Fam Pract Manag. 2014; 21: 7-12
      2. Fox S, Duggan M. Health Online 2013. Pew Research Center website. http://www.pewinternet.org/2013/01/15/health-online-2013/. Published January 15, 2013. Accessed November 1, 2016.