Physicians: Why Your Future Is Online (and How to Own It)

Kevin Pho for Health LeadersBack in the early 2000s, Google launched a short-lived project called Google Answers. Users could submit questions, and a team of researchers would post answers on a public forum. When I looked closely at these, I saw that some were health-related. Yet, disconcertingly, none of the researchers who’d generated responses were themselves involved in healthcare.

The experience opened my eyes to the need for doctors to have some kind of Web presence. Shortly thereafter, I applied for–and got–a job answering questions on Google Answers, and in 2004 I started my own blog. In my practice, I always ask patients how they found me, and today, hearing that they googled me is normal. Then, however, I remember being struck by the impact physicians could have online when a new patient told me she’d found me through a post I’d written about a drug recall. The effect I’d had in writing that piece was direct, broad, and actionable.

My own history as an engaged participant in the online world has convinced me that social media is the ideal way to connect with patients, and to provide them with relevant news and information. But I’m also aware of how risky and overwhelming getting involved in the digital world can at first feel. A few years ago, I walked into a conference where I was scheduled to speak about physicians and online reputation. Tellingly, one of the first things my hosts asked me was whether my talk was going to be about how to shut down online rating sites. My answer: An emphatic “no.”

I strongly believe that if physicians are scared of transparency or if they ignore it, they’re not going to thrive. With one in five patients now visiting rating sites, transparency is inevitable in healthcare. It’s natural for patients to want to go online and learn about a potential caregiver, and others peoples’ encounters with that individual are part of their knowledge bank.

It’s also understandable for physicians to want to know how they’re perceived online, and to want to learn how to have a positive, proactive presence. This is why, six weeks ago, I published a book on online reputation for doctors. In it, I talk about the history of social media and healthcare, and I also draw on my experiences and those of colleagues to offer timely advice. Here, to give you a (condensed) sense of the kind of information the book offers, I’ve taken four common digital tips, and added one extra, simple step to each:

Google yourself, and do it once a week: It’s important to have a clear understanding of what’s coming up when you search for your name. Often, it’s a rating site, or an article, and these are things that continue to evolve and proliferate. The Internet isn’t static information, it’s an ongoing conversation, and you want to stay on top of how you’re fitting into it.

For self-generated content, consider LinkedIn: Compared with Twitter and Facebook, LinkedIn now ranks highest on search engines. Further, because the environment is geared toward professionals and their work experiences, it’s a good space for those new to online reputation-building. Rather than think of original things to say, you can build your page off of information from your resume.

Put patient education on your social media agenda: Want to join the discussion but unsure of what to talk about? With so much false health information floating around online, there’s a need for voices that can dispel myths and clarify headlines. By going on Twitter and connecting with patients there, or creating your own blog content with patient education in mind, you’re attracting followers by providing a service, and building your own reputation in the process.

Leverage online reviews: Ratings sites rank prominently on Google searches, and studies show that the reviews themselves tend to be much more favorable than doctors fear. Linking or drawing attention to positive reviews on large, reputable sites isn’t just useful for patients, it also empowers you in the conversation.

Dr. Kevin Pho is a board-certified internal medicine physician and founder of He is co-author of the book, “Establishing, Managing, and Protecting Your Online Reputation: A Social Media Guide for Physicians and Medical Practices,” and his commentary regularly appears in USA Today, where he is a member of their editorial Board of Contributors, as well as CNN and the New York Times. Dr. Pho practices primary care in Nashua, NH. He received his medical degree and completed residency at Boston University School of Medicine, and is a member of the 2010 class of New Hampshire’s 40 Under Forty.

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  1. Great post. I am a starting healthcare provider and made my way through couple of directories and beside good things nothing else happened. I keep hearing about negative reviews and such but when you provide good services you should really do not care about bad reviews and just do your job. Thank you!

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