When we think about social media, most of us think of Facebook or Twitter. And most often, we make individual choices about our level of participation.

However, a trend that practicing physicians need to be cognizant of is the increasing impact of physician ranking sites which provide basic information and allow the public to rate physicians in a public forum.

There’s something seemingly unfair in the fact that complex services like the provision of medical care can be critiqued in the same way we comment on the delivery of a $12 pizza. And so far, the use of online physician review sites is relatively modest. According to a Pew Internet & American Life Project study in 2013, only 17 percent of people have read online reviews about their health care provider, and, according to JAMA, just 5 percent have posted a review.

But that same study reveals that a greater number of people would be more likely to write a review if they did not fear possible retribution. One in three fears their identity being disclosed, and one in four fears retaliation from their provider.

Setting a New Standard

Additionally, current trends are laying the foundation for greater public acceptance and participation in the near future.

Websites like Healthgrades are vying to set the standard by highlighting the details of their methodology. Google Places presents rankings that identify the reviewer by validating against their Google ID. Those Google Places reviews can also present a physician photo at the top of every search result by the physician’s name. And recently, the University of Utah’s hospital became the first academic medical center to post nearly 100 percent of Press Ganey results from their patients directly on the online profiles of their faculty.

View a video from the University of Utah Hospital on patient satisfaction.

The University of Utah’s approach demonstrates its commitment to transparency and likely goes a long way to earning the public trust. And as a strategy, it does much more than that. By presenting the best data about their doctors in a location that they can control, they ensure that their website will compete for search engine rankings and social engagement by the public in ways that no third-party site can.

What Can You Do?

The challenge for physicians today is to ensure that your online reputation reflects your real-world reputation.

It’s unrealistic to think that you can control what’s being written about you, but you can inspire more positive content than you think. For many physicians, these online reviews—whether on our site or elsewhere—can create a tremendous opportunity to shine.

I’m happy to consult with our faculty and physicians across the system to provide guidance on managing your online reputation. I recently presented at the Johns Hopkins Medicine Community Division medical staff leadership retreat, where I gave tips to physicians on how they could individually approach this effort using limited resources.

What Can We Do Together?

Meanwhile, the Internet Strategy Team and colleagues throughout Marketing and Communications have been working diligently for more than a year to ensure that the faculty and physician directory presents the best and most comprehensive data available.

We’ve greatly expanded the directory to include videos, links to PubMed and SciVal, and friendly biographies, among the many new features. We have a dedicated team gathering data from across the organization and the Web, adding new information to at least fifty profiles every month.

The effort is paying off. We’ve found that the bios we have updated consistently outrank third-party review sites for the top rankings in Google and other search engines. In fact, in a benchmarking analysis of 150 keywords, we found that our pages appear among the first Google results on all but five terms.

In the meantime, we are exploring approaches to online reviews to determine what makes the most sense for Johns Hopkins Medicine and what resources would be required to achieve success. We’ve got opportunities that include sharing data with select review sites, adding tools in waiting rooms for patients or approaching the issue in a manner similar to the University of Utah, to name a few.

These efforts tie back to several of our strategic priorities. We’re giving our patients the best information to help them make decisions and connect with the right faculty for the right care. And the information helps to attract, engage, develop and retain the world's best people.

As we continue to explore options, we’d like to hear from you. Are you talking about this with your faculty members? If you are a faculty member, are you concerned about these online reviews? Are you piloting any techniques in your department? What do you think of Utah’s approach? Share your thoughts below or reach out to contact me any time.

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