I was giving a talk at the Royal Society of Medicine last month about how good marketing is all about building relationships and giving good service to patients, which at the end of the day, is good medical practice. 

I was very interested to hear one of the talks which covered the issue of protecting your online reputation. 

It was very much based around a legal standpoint talking about how you can use PR and legal advice to help manage any publication of unfavourable stories about you.

The talk was really looking at newspapers and major publications and one of the surgeons in the audience made a point that he had had a bad review and had spent a lot of money on a lawyer only to be told that nothing could be done and the review was left to stand.

I think the problem is that when talks are given by lawyers and PR people, they think that managing your online reputation is about making sure that there are no bad articles written in the press about you.

…but for most normal surgeons and doctors they are less likely to be attacked by the national newspapers, but much more likely to receive a bad review from a patient.

Particularly in the online connected world that we now live in where everyone has a smartphone where they can tell the world about their experience as they walk out of the clinic. 

This is the thing that I think we should fear more than the Daily Mail or some other national newspaper, as this is the thing that is much more likely to affect us.

In fact, I wrote a blog about this in the past.

The fact of the matter is, that no matter how nice we are and how good a doctor we are, there will always be patients who for whatever reason, may not be completely happy with what we have done for them and these patients are completely at liberty to write a review saying that they are unhappy with us and the way that we have treated them.

If this happens, I do not necessarily think the right thing to do is to go to a lawyer to see if the review can be taken down, because after all, that is the point of reviews and it would be wrong to take down a review just because it says something negative.

Clearly if there is something false, fraudulent or defamatory, then you may well have grounds to have it removed, and quite rightly so.

But if they simply say they are unhappy with the outcome and they do not think you are a particularly good doctor, you cannot really do anything to remove that. 

My view is that it is far more important to make sure that you protect yourself against these events by encouraging patients at every stage to leave a review.

If you are a good doctor trying to build relationships and give good service to patients, you are likely to be able to build up some good reviews, so that if and when a bad review does come, it will be diluted.

Furthermore, I think it is important to respond to the review.

You may feel that you have already done that privately, but it is important to give a public face to your response.

I have a particular dislike for BT and I have had untold problems with them in my clinic, but I am still impressed by their Twitter account which is constantly scanning Twitter for any negative comments about them and they respond in a very nice way.

While it is frustrating for the the complainant because he or she just wants to vent their frustration, it does look good to the outside they are taking the time to respond and trying to engage with the complainant and I think we must do the same.

I think it can actually be quite damaging to seek legal help to take down a review if it is a genuine review from a patient and is factually correct.

At the end of the day if we are getting a lot of bad reviews then maybe patients should be swayed away from coming to see us because we are not doing a good job.

The problem that I see, is where doctors do not engage with the online world and do not try to get any positive reviews out there.

While they may have countless thank-you cards and notes from patients, it is the one unhappy patient who chooses to go on-line that will then come top of the searches and make that doctor look like a bad doctor.

I think we have no choice but to protect ourselves from the inevitable unhappy patients that we will have…

… by building up an army of happy patients who can put the negative review in context and help us to mitigate any harm that comes from it.

That is how to protect your online reputation…

…by first and foremost making sure that we are building relationships and giving good service to patients

…and then asking them to put something online to help inform other patients.

In this way we can build up our armoury so that we are not knocked down by the first arrow that is shot at us, because like it or not, we are easy targets and you more than likely will get a few pot shots over your career.

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