“Otolaryngologists get a large portion of their patient base through referrals,” said Glenn Lombardi, president of Officite, a Downers Grove, Ill.-based medical website and marketing firm. “The Internet is the first place a patient will go to learn something about that doctor and the practice, so doctors have to take control of their identity by managing their brand online.”
Explore This IssueApril 2011
The reputation of an otolaryngology practice is especially important thanks to recent changes in Google’s local searches. When potential patients search for an otolaryngologist in their neighborhood, only practices with a physical location in the same town will display in the search results, according to Lombardi. The address, phone number and reviews of the practice from around the web now appear adjacent to the search listing, placing greater emphasis on reputation management.
Some service providers also offer local search engine optimization, which helps practices to verify their local Google search listing and ensure their ranking at or near the top of a local search page.
“Your ranking in sites like Google and Yahoo is greatly influenced by the consistency of your information throughout the web,” Lombardi explained. “The more consistent your information, the more confident a search engine like Google is that it’s supplying accurate information, which is going to help you rank higher in a search.” Web optimization services aren’t necessarily expensive. Officite charges $495 annually for website monitoring and search optimization.
With the tremendous increase in physician review sites, managing and encouraging patient review is also increasingly important for otolaryngologists. Encourage patients who have shared good feedback in the practice to do the same online, Lombardi suggested. E-mail these patients with a link to the review site or provide review cards as they leave the office, inviting them to submit a positive comment.
You could also create a page on your website that includes positive patient testimonials and optimize it for search engine recognition, Johnson added. However, he advises clients to find a balance that works for their practices.
“Otolaryngology practices only have so much bandwidth,” he said. “Their job is to practice medicine. If they do good work, they shouldn’t have to worry too much about what’s flying around on the Internet.”
Practices also must determine how to maintain patient confidentiality and compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Last fall, the American Medical Association (AMA) adopted a policy on professionalism when using social media that stresses the use of privacy settings to safeguard personal information and content on social networking sites and internal monitoring to ensure that shared content is accurate and appropriate. The one-page policy is available on the AMA’s website at http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/meeting/professionalism-social-media.shtml.