YOUR REPUTATION: HOW TO USE IT TO YOUR ADVANTAGE

Reputation Management is the attempt to influence and shape how your practice is perceived by all interested parties, including your patients, their families, the general public, your employees, potential patients and vendors.

The past few years have seen a sea change in the ways that a company’s reputation is shaped and how quickly it can change. The onset of social media has had a major impact on how people view, and you maintain, the reputation of your practice. It wasn’t that long ago that when a patient had an experience (whether good or bad) with a medical practice, he or she would share it with friends and family. If the experience was an especially bad one (like something which prompts a malpractice suit) a person might contact a lawyer or even a reporter –which would then lead to the general public finding out, as well.

Of course, these days a person can post a review of your practice online, and it becomes part of your practice’s reputation – for the entire world to see – within mere seconds. Even if a comment is a total lie, it’s out there, like it or not. If it’s a negative review and you are made aware of it, your practice has two options. You can choose to ignore it (which is probably not a good idea) or your can take a proactive stance to try to combat the negative comments.

If you choose the second approach, you can choose a designated individual (either an in-house person or an outside entity) who is known as a “Reputation Manager” to regularly monitor social media on your behalf and act to refute any negative comments. This person can post positive pieces in sufficient numbers to make the negative commentary display less prominently in search results or on social media sites. He/she could also join online conversations. For example, the Reputation Manager can respond to negative posts about your practice with comments that they have had only good experiences to report.

Your practice can and should take positive advantage of social media. The first step in reputation management is to monitor references to your practice and its individual doctors. To do this, have your designated Reputation Manager sift through social media on a regular and consistent basis, looking for any references to your practice. This can be done most effectively through social media monitoring, using tools such as Google Analytics and similar processes. They will help give you a “snapshot” of current public opinion of your practice. Armed with this information, you can address any problematic issues which have been revealed. Reputation Management campaigns can also be conducted to increase the visibility of positive opinions or to decrease the visibility of any negative comments.

There are several things which can happen which could damage the reputation of your practice. They can include (but are certainly not limited to) the following items:

– You are sued for malpractice by a patient.

– An employee, such as a member of your front office staff, does something which upsets a patient or a patient’s family member.

– A patient passes away and your practice is blamed for the death (whether or not it’s a legitimate charge, it can still do irreparable damage to your practice).

– You receive a professional sanction.

– An employee or patient files a sexual harassment or other type of lawsuit.

– A doctor or other employee gets in trouble with the law, such as being charged with a DUI.

Always remember, the actions of each member of your staff reflect – either in a positive or negative way – on your practice.

There are numerous ways your practice can utilize Reputation Management in a proactive manner, helping to engender a positive reputation. Here are just a few suggestions (again, this is by no means a complete listing):

– Educate the entire staff of your practice about how to deal with patients in a manner which will enhance your reputation.

– Along those lines, remind every member of your staff of the old adage that “The customer is always right” – of course, in this case, the customer is your patient.

– Remind your entire staff about the importance of treating each patient the way he/she would like to be treated.

One effective way to cultivate a good reputation for your practice is to become known for associations with activities/causes/initiatives which will produce positive “buzz.” A few examples:

– Submit an op/ed piece to your local paper or a website on a health-related topic.

– Submit pieces to print or online medical journals and make sure to publicize the fact that you wrote them.

– Sponsor a “fun run” with proceeds going toward a good cause, such as breast cancer awareness.

– Donate money to a worthwhile local non-profit, such as a food bank or a women’s shelter.

No matter what you choose to do, make sure you let the public know what you’re up to. You can do this by developing and distributing news releases touting what you’ve already done, along with upcoming events.

You should also embrace social media:

If your practice doesn’t have one yet, build a website.
Set up a Facebook page for your practice, and encourage your patients to “friend” and follow you.

Use Twitter to communicate with your patients and the public at large, providing them with useful information.

You should be on LinkedIn – it’s a great way to stay connected and network with other physicians and members of the medical community.

The bottom line is a pretty simple one: The only truly effective way to create a positive reputation for your practice, one which will endure, is through appropriate behavior. A positive reputation isn’t given automatically – it’s earned, one interaction at a time.

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Ron Merrit’s background and experience includes television broadcast production, on-air talent, advertising sales, business marketing and strategic public relations. Ron spent a total of 23 years on television before retiring from broadcasting, and opened PRfect Media in 1994. His keen insight into the workings of journalism and protecting reputations through strategic crisis communications strategies has combined to protect long-term care facilities throughout the United States from media attacks. PRfect Media customizes marketing programs for census development and brand management for long-term care facilities for more than a decade.

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