Managing Your Practice

Your online reputation


Have you ever run across an unfair or even malicious comment about you or your practice on one of those “doctor-rating” web sites? Some curmudgeon, angry about something totally irrelevant to your clinical skills, decided to publicly trash you; and the site, of course, made no effort to authenticate the writer or fact-check the complaint.

What to do? You could hire one of the many companies in the rapidly burgeoning field of online reputation management; but that can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars per month for monitoring and intervention, and there are no guarantees of success.

Dr. Joseph S. Eastern, a dermatologist in Belleville, N.J.

Dr. Joseph S. Eastern

A better long-range solution is to generate your own search results – positive ones – that will overwhelm any negative comments that search engines might find. The key to that is a well-designed and maintained web site. Even if you’re an IT wiz, a professionally designed site will be far more attractive and polished than anything you could build yourself. Furthermore, an experienced designer will employ search engine optimization (SEO), meaning that content will be created in a way that is readily visible to search engine users.

Leave design and SEO to the pros, but don’t delegate the content itself; as captain of the ship you are responsible for all the facts and opinions on your site. And remember that, once it’s online, it’s online forever; consider the ramifications of anything you post on any site – yours or others – before hitting the “send” button. “The most damaging item about you,” one consultant told me, “could well be something you posted yourself.” Just ask any of several prominent politicians who have famously sabotaged their own careers online.

That said, don’t be shy about creating content. Patients appreciate factual information, but they value your opinions too. Add a blog to your web site and write about subjects – medical and otherwise – that interest you. If you have expertise in a particular field, be sure to write about that.

Incidentally, if the URL for your web site is not your own name, you should register your name as a separate domain name – even if you never use it – to be sure that a trickster or troll, or someone with the same name but a bad reputation, doesn’t get it.

A web site is a powerful resource, but not the only one. Take advantage of Google’s free profiling tool at, where you can create a sterling bio, complete with links to URLs, photos, and anything else that shows you in the best possible light. Your Google profile will, of course, be at or near the top of any Google search.

Wikipedia articles also go to the top of most searches, so if you’re notable enough to merit mention in one – or to have one of your own – see that it is done and updated regularly. Remember that Wikipedia’s conflict of interest rules forbid adding or editing content about yourself, so someone with a theoretically “neutral point of view” will have to do it for you.

Other useful resources are the social networking sites. Whatever your opinion of online networks, the reality is that personal pages on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter rank very high on major search engines. (Some consultants say a favorable LinkedIn profile is particularly helpful because of that site’s reputation as a “professional” network.) Make your (noncontroversial) opinions known on these portals. Your community activities, charitable work, interesting hobbies – anything that casts you in a favorable light – also need to be mentioned prominently.

Set up an RSS news feed for yourself (directions to follow in the next two columns), so you’ll know immediately if your name pops up in news or gossip sites, or on blogs. If something untrue is posted about you, take action. Reputable news sites and blogs have their own reputations to protect and can usually be persuaded to correct anything that is demonstrably false. Try to get the error removed entirely or corrected within the original article. An erratum on the last page of the next edition will be ignored and will leave the false information online, intact.

Doctor-rating sites typically refuse to remove unfair comments unless they are blatantly libelous or a case of mistaken identity; but there is nothing wrong with encouraging happy patients to post favorable reviews on those sites. Sauce for the goose, and all that.

Dr. Eastern practices dermatology and dermatologic surgery in Belleville, N.J. He is the author of numerous articles and textbook chapters, and is a longtime monthly columnist for Dermatology News. Write to him at

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