Have you ever run across a negative or even malicious comment about you or your practice on the web, in full view of the world? You’re certainly not alone.
Chances are it was on one of those doctor rating sites, whose supposedly "objective" evaluations are anything but fair or accurate. One curmudgeon, angry about something that usually has nothing to do with your clinical skills, can use his First Amendment–protected right to trash you unfairly, as thousands of satisfied patients remain silent.
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.
A better solution is to generate your own search results – positive ones – that will overwhelm any negative comments that search engines might find. Start with the social networking sites. However you feel about networking, there’s no getting around the fact 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.) Your community activities, charitable work, interesting hobbies – anything that casts you in a favorable light – need to be mentioned prominently in your network profiles.
You can also use Google’s profiling tool (google.com/profiles) to create a sterling bio, complete with links to URLs, photos, and anything else that shows you in the best possible light. And your Google profile will be at or near the top of any Google search.
Wikipedia articles 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 updated regularly. You can’t do that yourself, however; Wikipedia’s conflict-of-interest rules forbid writing or editing content about yourself. Someone with a "neutral point of view" will have to do it.
If you don’t yet have a website, now would be a good time. As I’ve discussed many times, 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 sabotaged their careers online.
That said; don’t be shy about creating content. Make your (noncontroversial) opinions known on Facebook and Twitter. If social networks are not your thing, add a blog to your website and write about what you know, and what interests you. If you have expertise in a particular field, write about that.
Incidentally, if the URL for your website is not your name, you should also register your name as a separate domain name, if only to be sure that a trickster – or someone with the same name and a bad reputation – doesn’t get it.
Set up an RSS news feed for yourself so you’ll know immediately anytime 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 so 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.
Unfair comments on doctor rating sites are unlikely to be removed unless they are blatantly libelous, but there is nothing wrong with encouraging happy patients to write favorable reviews. Turnabout is fair play.
Dr. Eastern practices dermatology and dermatologic surgery in Belleville, N.J. He holds teaching positions at several hospitals and has delivered more than 500 academic speaking presentations. He is the author of numerous articles and textbook chapters, and is a long-time monthly columnist for Skin & Allergy News.