Thursday, November 11, 2010

Physicians: What the new AMA social media policy guidelines mean to you

Social media such as Facebook and Twitter bring many new opportunities for physicians to market themselves and communicate with peers. However, these media also bring challenges and raise important questions about how physicians should use the technology and protect themselves from trouble.

As a result, on 11/8/10 the American Medical Association (AMA) released new guidelines on professionalism in the use of social media by physicians. However, the guidelines may still leave confusion as to how to implement them.

We'll focus on the second guideline which we think leaves the most ambiguity:
(b) When using the Internet for social networking, physicians should use privacy settings to safeguard personal information and content to the extent possible, but should realize that privacy settings are not absolute and that once on the Internet, content is likely there permanently. Thus, physicians should routinely monitor their own Internet presence to ensure that the personal and professional information on their own sites and, to the extent possible, content posted about them by others, is accurate and appropriate.
Below we answer some of the questions we think are created by the new AMA social media guidelines.

What does it mean to routinely monitor one's Internet presence?
You may have heard the phrase, "google yourself." This is basically to what the guideline is referring. This activity is also commonly called "reputation management." It simply means to search the Internet to see what information has been posted about you, and more importantly, what your patients and colleagues are reading about you.

How does a physician manage his or her reputation?
Using the popular search engine Google (or any other search engine like Yahoo!, Bing, etc.) type your name into the search box and browse the resulting web pages.

You should also set up alerts so that you are emailed when new information is posted about you. Google Alerts is a great option and is easy to set up. This will save you time and it will enable you to respond quickly should the need arise.

What should (s)he look for?
Anything incorrect or potentially damaging to your reputation. Incorrect contact information. Negative comments. Look at all information as if you were a patient deciding whether they should hire you. If something makes you think twice, you better intervene. You might even go a step further and intervene if something does nothing to convince a patient to choose you. Perhaps you find an online profile with your basic contact information. The information is correct and it certainly isn't damaging. But then again, it doesn't do anything to compel a patient to call you. This is also an opportunity for you to manage your reputation. Investigate to see if there is anything you can do to enhance that profile or encourage patient reviews.

What should a physician do if (s)he finds something incorrect or damaging?
Contact the website or person posting the offending information directly and privately. Calmly and politely explain the situation, how it can or has affected you, then ask for a correction or removal of the information.

Your approach here is very important because websites are not obligated to honor your request. In fact, there have been several court cases that have ruled in favor of website administrators. Rude emails, screaming and threatening will not work in your favor. (On a side note, you'd be surprised how angry some physicians have been when they contact us about an incorrect phone number being posted -- when we're all to happy to make changes! We even provide an easy way to verify physician information, so there really isn't a reason to be upset. It is highly unprofessional and gives you a bad reputation!)

If you find negative or inaccurate comments about you and you cannot have them removed (which is likely), you still have power. In fact, we argue that you shouldn't remove negative comments and reviews! Instead, you should

1) Respond to comments in a way that gets the reviewer back on your side (this can be tricky so read a case study on this)

2) Ask your patients to submit reviews. This gives people a more accurate picture of your service and the negative comments actually validate the good ones. Besides, everybody understands that you just can't please everybody.

This sounds time consuming. Why should I bother?
Monitoring your online reputation shouldn't take too much time if you give the Internet a thorough once-over and then use Google Alerts going forward. Do additional in-depth searches periodically as you have time.

Intervening and responding to online comments can take more time, but it can return results several-fold. You should make some time to do this because it can affect your credibility and your business. At the very least, it could have prospective patients calling your old office and scheduling appointments with someone else. Engaging in the conversation about you online helps to spread word-of-mouth and build patient loyalty.

I have more questions!
If you have a question we didn't address, please ask in the comments below and we'll be happy to address them.

If you'd like to respond to reviews or comments posted about you on, please contact us about our reputation management services.

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