I have spent some time recently looking at the online presence of BAAPS and BAPRAS members (Plastic Surgery Associations in the UK).
I have looked at members websites and done google searches of them.
The results are quite varied.
Not every consultant had a website and fewer still had other information available about them such as Facebook pages, Twitter accounts or LinkedIn profiles.
There were very few who had any significant online reviews from third party sites such as Google+, RealSelf, Doctoralia or I Want Great Care.
This may be because you don’t have the time or inclination to set up an account or it may be because you are worried about putting yourself out there because of the potential for bad reviews from unhappy patients.
I think we are all slightly paranoid about getting bad reviews (I know I am) but I do not think that the way to combat this is to avoid having an online profile in the hope that no one will able to post anything negative about us.
If someone is upset enough with us, they will find somewhere online to voice their opinion.
In fact, they are much more likely to post something if they are unhappy with us than they are if they are happy with the service we have provided.
You have probably experienced this yourself.
Have you ever been motivated to write a review or a comment about a product or service that you have used?
If so, I suspect it is the poor service or defective product that you were more motivated to write about than the great hotel stay or reliable hoover that you bought.
You do not have to look to far to find situations where a surgeon has got a disgruntled patient who has taken to the internet to vent their anger and this is the first thing that comes up in a Google search of their name.
Whether you like it or not, our patients will ‘Google’ us when they come to see us.
You have to be realistic – everybody will ‘Google’ it when they want to know more about something.
And everybody loves reading reviews from other consumers.
We do not trust adverts or corporate websites.
But we do trust our fellow consumers.
Just look at TripAdvisor, Amazon, Argos, B&Q, Joules (I could go on) to see how important consumer reviews are.
Trust me – it is not easy to get reviews (this is the topic for another discussion).
But it is not that hard, especially if you actually put some effort in to it and try to solicit reviews from your happy patients (which I hope that you have many of).
I think that it is essential that you have a healthy online presence.
This means that you need a website as an absolute basic minimum, but you should also consider a Facebook page and a Twitter account. You should also consider Google+ and Instagram.
You need to start building up an online profile that you can control.
You need to engage with patients and cultivate a ‘tribe’.
Do not think that by having this access, it will make you vulnerable to negative comments.
You are vulnerable already!
If you can start to build up a following and start asking for reviews – then if (perish the thought), you do get a negative review, it will be seen in the context of other positive reviews.
Some people like to see an occasional negative review, especially if you are able to respond to it and show that you care, because it lends credibility to all of your other positive reviews.
If you have places that people are able to leave reviews about you (Google+, Facebook, RealSelf), then you are much more likely to be able to pick up on the review early so that you can react and minimise the damage as early as possible.
If you do not have an online presence, then the review could be written anywhere on the internet and it may be some time before you even realise it is there, which could be very damaging.
We are all worried about bad reviews, but you are not going to stop them by putting your head in the sand.
I hope that the majority of your patients will be happy with what you have done for them and the unhappy patients will be few and far between.
However, as I have said, the unhappy patients are likely to post a disproportionate amount of negativity about you and so you need to have cultivated the positive reviews in advance.
Once you have developed a ‘tribe’ and identified those patients who are very happy with you and are happy to tell the word (the mavens), then you can actually use them to help with the damage limitation if you do get a negative post.
I believe that you should respond to any negative posts with an explanation and apology if appropriate, but even better than that would be for one of your happy patients to respond and put in a good word for you.
Remember that the world is watching these conversations, so you need to be aware of how things appear to the observer.