How physicians can develop a stellar online presence

By Joe Hannan | Fact-checked by Barbara Bekiesz
Published June 24, 2022

Key Takeaways

  • An online presence is loosely defined as all of the information on the internet that represents you and your practice. It can include reviews, websites, and social media.

  • A strong online presence is essential for modern physicians. Research shows patients use this information to make informed decisions about their care.

  • At a minimum, physicians should monitor their patient reviews and make sure all information is accurate on Google Business, in payer directories, and on your or your employer’s website.

Interested in seeing a steady influx of new patients? Your clinical acumen, bedside manner, and front-office experience are undeniably integral to achieving this goal. But so is your online presence.

Online presence is an amorphous term that encompasses everything online representing you and your work. Data indicate that patients are increasingly using this information to select providers.

Focusing on a few strategic platforms and priorities can help physicians build their online reputations. Let’s explore them.

Reputation management

Reputation management—the process of tracking and responding to online reviews—is one of the most critical things a physician can do to build and/or protect their online reputation. Research indicates patients read these reviews intently—and care about what they say.

Reputation, an online reputation management company, surveyed about 1,200 adults between the ages of 27 and 64 to understand what influenced their provider choices.[] The results should be eye-opening for all physicians:

  • 72% of respondents said they read online reviews and ratings to inform choices about facilities and physicians.

  • 72% said they want providers to have at least a four out of a five-star rating.

  • 55% of Millennials have used reviews to choose between one doctor or location and another.

  • 50% of those surveyed said they read 10 or more reviews, and 23% said they read 20 or more, before making a selection.

As these findings suggest, negative reviews are a problem. Doctors can respond to diminish their effects, as long as they respond in a HIPAA-compliant manner.

In fact, it’s good form to respond to all reviews, according to Ajay Prasad, CEO of GMR Web Team, a healthcare digital marketing agency. In a 2021 Forbes Article, Prasad wrote that unacknowledged reviews tend to appear more credible.[]

“They can create the wrong impression that things are probably that bad at your practice and you’re unable to do anything about it. But when you respond, you convey the positive message that the patient experience matters to you, and that you’re willing to address all concerns,” Prasad wrote.

If you receive a false review, many sites also offer the option of requesting removal, although removal isn’t guaranteed.

Having no reviews at all can also hurt. Ask satisfied patients to review you on whichever platform needs the most attention. Burying one negative review in a collection of legitimate positive reviews is an effective countermeasure.

With so many review platforms proliferating on the web, where should a doctor devote their attention?

Reputation emphasizes Google Business, noting that 65% of conversions occur through Google. A conversion is a marketing term denoting when a consumer makes a desired decision, like choosing your practice.

Google Business also displays your Google reviews, highlighting how critical this gateway to care can be.

Other platforms worth monitoring include:

Of course, many patients are still using more traditional means to select their providers.

Payer directories

According to the US Census Bureau’s 2020 Health Insurance Coverage report, about 91% of Americans had health insurance for all or part of 2020, with 66.5% of Americans holding private coverage and 34.8% having public coverage.[]

While exact numbers are hard to come by, it’s a relatively safe assumption that for a certain percentage of that 91% of Americans, insurance coverage is a determining factor in their choice of providers. They’d rather not foot the bill entirely—or pay more than they have to for an out-of-network doctor.

That’s why it’s absolutely critical that your information is accurate in all participating payer directories. An incorrect telephone number, website, or address could keep patients away.

Correct payer directory information is especially important if you see a large amount of Medicare and Medicaid patients.

Google Business and internal web pages

Google, particularly Google Business, has a growing role in the healthcare system. According to the Reputation report, Google’s the go-to service for finding a doctor or hospital—more popular than institutional websites, sites like WebMD or Healthgrades, and even social media.

That makes having a complete and accurate Google Business page essential for any business-minded physician. Google Business pages are important for the same reasons as payer directories. Inaccurate or incomplete information on a Google Business page could cause prospective patients to go elsewhere.

Be sure that your page includes your contact information, office hours and address, and up-to-date photos of your building’s exterior. If your practice is particularly inviting, a few interior photos can’t hurt.

To manage your Google Business page, you need to claim it first. Here’s how.

Good news for employed physicians: Chances are your employer has a marketing department, especially if you work for a hospital or healthcare network. It’s likely that they manage their Google Business pages centrally for all providers. If you notice any issue with yours, contact them first to see if it falls under their purview.

All of the details in this section also apply to any of your employer’s web pages. Make sure all information is complete and accurate—and request an update if it isn’t.

And while you’re at it, ask if your employer can add quotes from positive patient reviews to your web page. Social proof is a powerful driver of consumer decisions.

Social media

Social media is available to all physicians, regardless of whether they’re self-employed or work for a hospital or healthcare network.

Just note that if you are an employed physician, your employer may have policies covering what you can and can’t do on social media. Check with your HR and/or marketing department before launching any work-specific efforts.

Regardless of your chosen platform, successful social media use for physicians adheres to three principles: right cadence, right platform, and right messaging.

Right cadence is self-explanatory. You will need to post an appropriate amount of content daily, weekly, or monthly to achieve your desired goals.

Right platform is a bit more complex and it varies depending on your goals. For example, let’s say you’re an LA-based plastic surgeon. Your clientele will most likely be Millennials and older, and the nature of your work is visual.

Therefore, Instagram is probably where you’ll get the most ROI. TikTok, while visual, tends to skew younger, and might not be fruitful marketing territory for a plastic surgeon.

If you’re an epidemiologist who does extensive research, you might get more traction posting your work and thoughts to Twitter. And if you’re a community-based family medicine practitioner, geographic targeting on Facebook and Instagram may generate the most referrals.

Finally, there’s right messaging.

You don’t want to sound like a broken record, but what you post should connect to a central theme.

For example, Benjamin Morrell, MD, is all about mental health, Deanna J. Attai, MD, is a hub of oncology’s online community, and Hafiza Khan, MD, is committed to being an education resource for other cardiologists. Follow their lead on cadence, platform, and messaging.

What this means for you

Doctors can develop an online presence that educates and attracts patients to their practices. Most employed physicians don’t have to do this work alone. Contact your employer’s marketing department to see what they can do for you. But stay vigilant; incorrect information and false or negative reviews could prove to be costly.

Related: These 6 social media tips can help boost your career
Share with emailShare to FacebookShare to LinkedInShare to Twitter