What ‘Online Branding’ Means for Retina Specialists (And All Physicians)

Image: stockbakery/Shutterstock

Last month at the 36th Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Society of Retina Specialists, our group gave the inaugural “Online Content and Social Media Course for Retinal Specialists” instructional course.

The primary points of the endeavor were to clarify what online branding is, why it is important to physicians, and how physicians can use online content both for education and to control their own digital destiny.

Recent studies have illustrated that patients more and more often are looking to the internet and social media to evaluate and choose their physicians. While there is evidence that there may be some correlation between patient health grades and quality medical care, at least at the institutional level, the ultimate reality is that these grades do matter, regardless about how we as physicians feel about this brave new world of online ratings.

What can doctors do to control their online brand?

The old saying used to be ‘the first impression is the last impression’ and that is never more true than it is today. How our colleagues, allied health professionals, and patients view us is largely dictated by our electronic persona—that is, what the internet tells the world about us.

A patient in a doctor’s waiting room, for example, will often Google the doctor and the office. Usually, the first hits picked up by Google are the ones the search engine deems the most ‘relevant’ and we as consumers perceive these results in that way. So if a patient encounters a poorly designed website or, even worse, a negative review, the whole physician-patient experience has been changed permanently. The doctor is now fighting an uphill battle to win back trust and confidence, and every perceived negative is magnified.

It’s similar to one of us walking into a restaurant with poor Yelp reviews: having read the negative press, we subconsciously now have a worse experience than we would have had otherwise.

Losing trust is a bad start for any physician, but for retinal specialists, who often must commit patients to long, repetitive, necessary treatments such as intravitreal injections, losing trust means we have lost the plot completely.

So, what can physicians do? First, understand that you have a brand (as my co-panelist, Dr. David Almeida, succinctly stated). Be aware of what the internet is telling the world about you and control that message.

Start with a Google search of your name and all associated images. Your social media accounts such as Facebook should be closely scrubbed to ensure privacy or remove any media, such as photographs, that do not match the professional image you would like to project. If you have negative reviews, read them. If you can identify the unhappy party, then reach out and post publicly that you are reaching out. Negative reviews generally cannot be removed by a physician, unfortunately, but there are strategies to combat these reviews that we will approach now.

Next, control your brand and the message you send to the world by utilizing websites and social media. Make sure your practice has a modern website without broken links and with up-to-date information about you (and partners, if applicable).

Consider investing in online scheduling; patients will appreciate the modern feel it adds to the traditionally antiquated medical encounter.

If you have LinkedIn and/or Doximity accounts, blow the dust off of them and update them at least every six months.

Dr. Sunir Garg and Dr. Ajay Kuriyan of our panel said it is possible to increase positive ‘hits’ on search engines by contributing to your field, whether it is through publishing in peer-reviewed journals, doing write-ups for medical magazines or online websites, releasing new educational media such as podcasts or videos, or doing interviews. Drive the hits up on these endeavors by creating a social media account and sharing your work with the world.

Dr. Almeida specifically recommended Twitter as a good start for most physicians since it is publicly consumable, short, easy and mobile-friendly.

Finally, deal with negative reviews by focusing on the positive. That means either having your staff ask or personally request patients with good experiences to post positive reviews online. Not only will positive reviews increase your average ‘rating’, but they will push older, negative reviews further down the page. While our panel left it up to individual physicians which ratings site to focus on, I’ll say that one good idea was to pick whichever one is highest on Google searches and pour all of your eggs in that basket.

As final caution, remember the following pointers when entering the digital world:

  • There is no anonymity, so be mindful of what you post and write online.
  • The internet is written in permanent marker; think twice before posting anything potentially controversial or excessively negative.
  • Start with baby steps. It is a marathon and not a race.

The reward of better physician-patient encounters and preparation for a whole generation of social media consuming millennial patients is well worth it.

Dr. Jay Sridhar is an assistant professor of ophthalmology at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami, FL, where he also works as a vitreoretinal surgeon. He runs a podcast for retinal specialists at retinapodcast.com and can be reached at @retinapodcast.

Dr. Charles Wykoff also contributed to this course.

More from Op-Med