The average length of a medical appointment in the United States is 18 minutes, according to an article published in Arthritis Today. During that same time frame, a hungry teen could walk into a Kentucky Fried Chicken and walk out with a freshly cooked bucket of wings.
In other words, it's not a long period of time.
And yet, there's a lot that could go wrong during an average medical appointment. You could miss a subtle sign of a disease, and that might place a person on a collision course with poor health. You could run behind schedule and perform an exam that's rushed and half-hearted. Or you could deal with a communication problem involving terminology or approach.
All of these situations are common, and often, they end with little more than irritation. But sometimes, misunderstandings and mistakes that happen in an 18-minute appointment can result in reputation damage you'll struggle to overcome.
The Social and the Medical
When you clap eyes on your patients for the first time, you might be on the lookout for signs of disorder and disease, and you might be relying on your education to help you to make a good decision about what tests you should run and what treatments you should suggest.
But, that patient sitting on the exam table has probably done a significant amount of research online concerning symptoms and therapies. For example, the Pew Research Center suggests that about 72 percent of those who use the internet do so in order to research health information. They're looking up their symptoms to see if they're serious, and they're reading up on the therapies that might help.
When you're done with your exam and you open your mouth to speak, that patient might be all too ready to launch into a discussion of this online research, and unfortunately, a lot of it is likely to be wrong.
For example, according to research conducted by Digital Trends, of those sites that choose to discuss sleep safety in babies, fewer than half provide accurate information. I've also stumbled across websites that suggest that AIDS can be transmitted through a handshake and that flu-related symptoms can appear in people who leave the house with wet hair during cold mornings.
Patients might believe the words they've read, and when you provide your opinion, you might be met with stony silence or grim stares. Why? Because your consumers might think that you don't respect their knowledge and their experience. A study quoted by Heart Sisters suggests that two-thirds of patients report feeling "disrespected" by their physicians. You might feel as though you're being helpful; they might think you're ignoring their expertise.
If you anger these patients during their appointments, they might be willing to take to the airwaves to discuss their concerns. You might not see the attack as it unfolds, but it is all too real and the damage could be catastrophic.
Easy Background Checks
While your patients might know a lot about their medical conditions when they walk through your door, they might also know a lot about you, including your:
- Educational background
- Political party affiliation
- Marital status
- Favorite restaurant
- Twitter handle
- Dog's name
A quick social media search can give them all of this information, and research from MedCrunch suggests that some 87 percent of doctors age 26 to 55 use social media. If you fit into this group, your online presence could provide potential patients with a lot of information about what makes you tick. But clients who search like this might stumble across nasty comments from prior patients, and they might be ever-so-slightly hostile and alert before the exam even begins, due to the things they've read.
More disturbingly, there might be an entire group of patients out there who never get the opportunity to meet you at all, because a previous patient has published a snarky review about you on Angie's List, HealthGrades or RateMDs.
These sites claim to provide unbiased opinions about people who work in all sorts of industries, and they're almost universally popular. (For example, NPR recently published a piece with this headline: "Online doctor ratings about as useful as those for restaurants." People love these sites.)
But while people love to read the data they find on sites like this, the sample size is quite small. As this article from the New York Times points out, most sites contain very few doctors, and even fewer specialists. In addition, these sites also have few active participants. One nasty review on this site, if you're only the professional in your area listed, could work a lot like a "do not disturb" sign on the front door of your business.
People might just stop coming in, and you may never know why it happened.
What to Do
I've written multiple articles on this blog about anonymous reviews (including this one about a recent Yelp court case that might fill your heart with joy). In general, these sites are protected by laws in the United States that will prevent you from mounting an effective lawsuit. If you're hoping to head to the courts to keep your name gleaming and bright, I'm sad to say that the approach might not work very well.
But, you can build a firewall around your reputation through judicious use of social media. You can set up a Twitter account and share articles about your industry. You can write blog posts about your research contributions at work. You can share photos of interesting medical diagrams on Pintrest. In short, you can fill the internet with bits of data about your work.
Now, this approach can seem a little risky, particularly for those medical professionals who aren't so professional in their off hours. But, these guidelines can help you to make good decisions about what you do and don't do online. If you follow these rules to the letter, you're likely to do good and not harm.
And if an attack is already underway and you're seeing your good name slide down the drain, please call us. We have a number of solutions made just for doctors, and we’d love to tell you about them.