Physicians have a harder time than other professionals in terms of maintaining a positive online identity.

More studies have shown that consumers are first researching online when seeking out a new health care provider. Physicians may suffer a number of consequences due to incorrect or incomplete information about them on any number of medical sites like Healthgrades or Vitals.com. Although a medical professional might have an extensive list of solid personal and professional relationships, the presence of unfavorable material could steadily decrease the number of referrals and recommendations.

Perform a Google search of your name or the name of your practice. Is the information correct? What would the user think after seeing the first few pages of Google results? Physicians are among the most visible people on the Internet – and this visibility will only increase with time. As a health care professional, whether you know it or not, you’re receiving mentions on several social media sites and doctor rating sites.

Physicians often assume a leadership role within the community, so a negative review could cause untold damage. Unless you are nearing retirement age, it’s time to pay extra attention to your online identity. This applies to all members of the health care community – primary care physicians, specialists, surgeons, pediatricians, nurses and more.

Often, physicians encounter numerous variations of their name (Dr. John Smith; Dr. Smith; John Smith, M.D., etc.), so cases of mistaken identity are quite common. For that reason alone, it’s important to practice effective online reputation management.

What is online reputation management? It’s the process of counteracting or repairing unsuitable material attached to your name or the name of your practice.

At 3Ci, we’ve found that Google is constantly updating its algorithms so that more relevant content is placed prominently on the first page of results. In these times, an online reputation management company like 3Ci can develop a strategy tailored to your specific needs.

For physicians, the key components of an online identity are Google search results, social media sites and medical rating sites. Covering all the bases will keep negative information ranked lower while allowing you to control what information is out there about you and your practice.

Create Social Media Accounts

More patients than ever before are performing research about physicians online, but physicians have almost STETHcomplete control of the story that they are building online.. The first step involves developing a social media presence that highlights you and your services. Establish accounts under your name on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Blogging offers physicians the opportunity to establish credibility while giving readers a sense of who they are and what values are most important in their practice. Purchase the domain of your name (or a version of your name) and create a website that features professional content.

On your blog, publish links to papers you’ve written or places where your work has appeared. Highlight collaborations with respected medical professionals both locally and nationally. Focus on professional endeavors such as teaching and speaking engagements, as well as charitable involvements and extracurricular activities. You spent years dedicating yourself to educational and professional advancement. Don’t compromise these efforts by just accepting that this position of authority has been used against you.

Keep these sites updated frequently so that patients feel comfortable with your ability to develop professional relationship with them.

Target Specific Medical Websites

As a health care professional, you will likely have patients who are willing to vouch for your excellent medical care. Ask that patients complete online surveys and post reviews about their positive experiences with you or your office. This stands in direct contrast to the advice of medical professional associations. If you are an active member of a medical trade association, you were likely advised to give patients documents that stated they were not allowing to post reviews about you or your practice online. But in the end, preventing patients from telling others about their positive experiences will ultimately hurt your practice.

John Swapceinski, co-founder of the website RateMDs.com, has been contacted by several doctors who asked him to delete negative online comments after patients signed a non-disclousure waiver. Each time he has refused.

Swapcienski said he’s planning to post a “Wall of Shame” listing names of doctors who use patient waivers.

Even if you are able to determine which patient posted the negative review and prove that he or she signed a non-disclosure document, most courts will side with the patient.

Prospective patients expect to see reviews online, and will be openly skeptical if a physician doesn’t have any feedback. The goal is to accentuate positive or neutral reviews while building up a positive online review profile. If you do get a negative review, positives will draw attention away from negative content.

Medical rating sites including Vitals, Rate MDs, Yelp, HealthGrades and Angie’s List are popular among Internet users who are seeking guidance from fellow community members. Unfortunately, most rating sites don’t require users to prove that they were actual patients in your office before posting a review.

When receiving negative feedback from a patient, physicians are strongly urged not to respond on comment threads and blog posts. Maintaining a high level of professionalism and tact will ensure that the problem does not escalate.

Diversify Your Online Efforts

The Internet, of course, is not regulated. Anyone is able to post a review that may or may not be accurate, even if he or she wasn’t a patient of yours. Your overall goal is to produce a well-rounded view of you and your practice that remains positive and upbeat.

Diversity is key in achieving effective reputation management. Don’t focus solely on one social media channel at the expense of all others. Use different techniques to moderate what information is most prominent on Google search results or social media sites.

Even if you are an established physician in your community, the Internet will be a powerful force in determining your success. Remember that you are not alone. If your reputation is compromised, others may suffer the consequences as well. The publication of negative review or poor rating online can affect friends, family members and other physicians in your practice.