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Online Physician Reputation Management: An Interview With Kevin Pho

"Take charge of how you appear on Google. Proactively define yourself online. An online reputation will soon be just as important as a reputation in the community."
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Over the course of researching Too Big to Ignore: The Business Case for Big Data, I came across Kevin Pho, MD. Pho is a social media-savvy primary care physician and the founder of the medical blog (Klout named among the most influential social media voices in health care.)

Pho understands the power of data and how it can significantly improve patients' lives. Along with Susan Gay, Pho recently co-authored Establishing, Managing, and Protecting Your Online Reputation: A Social Media Guide for Physicians and Medical Practices, a book about physician online reputation management,
Dr. Pho recently answered a few questions about his book via email.

PS: Why is an online reputation important for doctors and medical practices?

More patients than ever are going online to research their doctor. According to a study from Pew Internet, 44 percent of patients online do so. And about one in five use physician rating sites. In my own practice, I estimate that about 10 to 15 percent of patients have found me through my online presence, whether it's my blog or my LinkedIn profile.

It's important for doctors to Google themselves at least once a week and see what comes up, because that's what patients are doing. Physicians don't want to be defined by a negative news story, or a bad review from an online physician rating site. That's why it's important that they take control of their online reputation before someone else does.

When you consider how transparency has disrupted other industries, like books, movies and hotels, it's only a matter of time before the same disruption happens in health care.

PS: How can doctors, who are already busy, use social media to establish their online reputation?

I certainly understand that doctors are busy. I'm a primary care physician myself, and I see about 20 patients daily. Not many have time for social media.

But consider how long it takes to complete a LinkedIn profile. About 30 minutes or so. Doctors can fill their profiles with professional information like items from their resume or information about their practice. But those 30 minutes are incredibly powerful. Studies show that a LinkedIn profile gets ranked high on a Google search. So when patients Google a physician's name, that profile will be ranked high, perhaps pushing down the effects of third party rating sites, or negative news articles.

Some doctors may choose to stop there, and that will already put them ahead of the curve. But for some, they may want to expand their social media activity onto Twitter or Facebook, and engage with patients. Doing so expands their so-called digital footprint and makes their online presence that much more visible.

PS: Although geared towards health providers, what can patients learn from this book?

Patients can learn about how physicians on the forefront of social media are using tools like Facebook, Twitter and blogs to better connect with patients and improve care. I included not only my stories from almost 10 years in the health care social media space, but also the experiences of dozens of physicians who share how social media has affected their practice.

Patients can also learn about the current data behind physician rating sites. Despite anxiety among physicians about online ratings, studies show that many of these sites are fragmented, and contain only a few ratings per physician. Online doctor rating sites shouldn't be the sole factor when choosing a doctor, but a piece of the puzzle.

Finally, I have included stories from leading patient advocates, including "e-patient" Dave deBronkart and Kerri Morrone Sparling, who share their experience on how a physician's online reputation affected their search for medical care.

PS: What is your takeaway message from the book?

Health providers need to be proactive about their online reputation. Passivity isn't an option. Whether doctors know it or not, they already have a presence online, likely from third-party rating sites. But this information can be inaccurate, or worse, contain negative patient reviews. Is that the first online impression that you want to give patients?

Take charge of how you appear on Google. Proactively define yourself online. An online reputation will soon be just as important as a reputation in the community.