By Michael J. Sacopulos, JD

Eight online reputation resolutions you can stick to in 2013

Did you know that your online reputation is in the hands of a just a few people?

One of every 20 patients posts an online review of their physician, but nearly half of all patients use the Internet to learn about their prospective physicians, according to a survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

What are they writing and reading about you?

Sacopuolus-2013Make 2013 the year you find out and get a handle on your online reputation. We are all more likely to keep resolutions that are not overwhelming. This eight-step plan is packed with simple resolutions that are easy to stick to and guaranteed to improve your online rep.

For starters, do a simple Internet search to see what comes up when you enter your name or the name of your practice. Type your name, in quotes, in the popular search engines such as Google and Yahoo!.

1 Find out where you stand with a simple Internet search.

Flip through the first five pages. Hopefully, you will find nothing negative, but you may. It can happen. It takes just a few minutes for a disgruntled patient, former employee, competitor, or ex-spouse to post wicked, nasty comments about you all over the Internet. Practical and legal constraints make it difficult to deal with such malicious postings.

If a posting is anonymous, a significant amount of effort will be needed to learn the true identity of the poster. From a legal perspective, federal laws such as the Communication Decency Act and HIPAA limit the range of options a physician has when addressing an online problem. For example, HIPAA restricts a physician from disclosing medical facts and treatment relating to a patient who has posted a negative comment online. As much as a physician may want to say, “Mrs Jones’ comments arise more from her psychosis than from my surgery of her breast implants,” he or she is constrained by HIPAA and can’t (even if it is true!).

It is easy to fire away with a quick stroke of the keyboard. Don’t. Take a deep breath. Nothing good ever comes from a war of words on the Web.

2 Contact the dissatisfied patient once and ask them to call the office.

3 Look for the “Terms and Conditions” section of the Web site where the comments are posted. If the comments violate the site’s terms and conditions, e-mail the Web site and ask that the
comments be removed.

Do not post fake reviews about yourself, and don’t ask your staff to pretend to be happy patients, either. Although rating sites might appear to be anonymous, there is very little to nothing anonymous on the Internet. IP addresses are captured and can be investigated. There have been numerous suits where federal subpoenas have been issued to secure IP addresses to link a poster’s identity to their comments. Many medical boards would consider the posting of fake reviews, falsely promoting your general reputation, to be actionable.

4 Do not post or facilitate fake reviews.

You are not powerless. You can and should encourage satisfied patients to write reviews. The more you can populate the Web with positive reviews about yourself, the further the negative reviews will slide down the search ladder. Take advantage of the time your patients spend in the waiting room by giving them access to the Web via a tablet. Ask them to post a review while they are waiting to be seen for a follow-up visit. (Don’t leave them waiting too long, as the review may reflect it.)

There are also certain professional organizations that will assist your patients in getting the word out about you and your practice.

5 Find creative ways to get satisfied patients to postpositive online reviews.

Once you have put out any fires, stay informed by setting a “Google Alert” for free. You will get a notice every time a new article with your name appears.

6 Set a Google alert for your name and your practice name.

The next step is to purchase your name or practice’s domain name. You don’t want a disgruntled patient or a competitor to own a domain name based off of yours. This allows a Web site to be created that could harm your practice.

7 Spend a small amount (usually less than $20 a year) to secure a domain name from a site such as

It is also important to have a basic social media policy for your employees. These policies set appropriate guidelines for online behavior of staff members. A staff member could get in an argument with you and fire away their feelings online. If the online rant creates enough attention, it will gain strength in the search engines. A policy will protect you when the time comes to discipline or terminate the employee.

8 Establish a social media policy for your employees.

Making and sticking with these eight resolutions will allow you to finally take back control of your online reputation. Happy New Year!

Michael J. Sacopulos, JD, is the CEO of Medical Risk Institute (MRI) and serves as General Counsel for Medical Justice Services. Additionally, he is the Legal Analyst for several national publications, including Plastic Surgery Practice. He may be reached via [email protected].