Is Social Media Becoming a Headache for Doctors?

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By Matt Coppola, Account Coordinator, R&J Public Relations

Every day, I feel like I hear something in the news about a hospital revolutionizing the way surgery is performed.  Yes, this is certainly important for gaining patient referrals, but now more than ever it seems that each and every physician is claiming to have the latest and greatest technology.  So how do patients confidently know which doctors to trust with their surgeries?

Further complicating the debate, social media has seemed to finally make its way into the healthcare industry, allowing for additional patient discussion of the best doctors, practices, and hospitals.  There are doctor ranking websites, Ask-a-Physician.coms, and social media forums created for discussing recent hospital experiences.  With so many different ways to “judge” a local doctor, and so many outlets to monitor and consider, how does one make sure their business reputation remains both positive and noticeable?

Healthcare companies are turning to industry experts to monitor and ensure that their names are on the top of Google’s most popular list.  The question is, why?  “Google Juice” is becoming a powerful tool for millions of Americans who search for physician rankings online, and it is extremely difficult and takes an unimaginable amount of time to rise to the top.  A practice that was once glorified for its good service and friendly staff is now judged by an online database, and thus determined to attract a thousand Facebook fans.

Do a thousand fans really mean that you’re the best practice or hospital in the area?  I’d argue no.  There are companies out there that buy (yes, I said it; they buy) friends, fans and followers simply to establish a suggestively appealing online presence.  Does this reflect the facility’s overall mission?  What will they do with an out-of-control online world that can generate a hundred bad reviews simply because one patient had nothing better to do but complain about the wait being too long in emergency room?

Public relations agencies around the country are working with doctors to ensure their brands are being controlled in cyberspace.  From blog postings to Facebook fan engagement, public relations agencies work tirelessly to communicate with physicians, nurses, managers, administrators, and patients – all of a hospital’s stakeholders – in order to properly and accurately promote the hospital’s mission and to raise awareness of the organizations capabilities and values.

Allowing the trusted engagement disciplines of public relations to control a healthcare company’s social media approach can not only help build a solid reputation with patients, but can also showcase and promote individual doctors and push them to the very top of essential search engines, including Google.

The sad truth is that if companies, especially those in the healthcare field, do not implement a strong, proactive and thoughtful social media strategy, they are leaving the brand of their company in the hands of their patients.  Having a public relations agency behind your social media will ensure that your message (and not that of some rogue poster) is distributed across the web with the quality information you want to share.

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