This Resident Roundup post comes from Daniel J. Cognetti, MD; Mikalyn T. DeFoor, MD; Alireza Nazemi, MD, MS; and Van Krueger, MD, MBA. Dr. Cognetti is an active duty general orthopaedic staff surgeon and Dr. DeFoor is an active duty PGY-4 resident at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. Dr. Nazemi is currently completing his fellowship in orthopaedic sports medicine at the Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, California. Dr. Krueger is completing his fellowship in orthopaedic sports medicine at the San Diego Arthroscopy and Sports Medicine Fellowship in San Diego, California.
Many early-career orthopaedic surgeons describe building their practices as being more difficult than residency, particularly for those entering private practice, those performing mostly elective procedures, and those who aren’t taking over another surgeon’s patient panel. When starting out, we are often told to focus on the 3 A’s: being available, affable, and able. However, the traditional model of availability (e.g., visiting primary care and physical therapy offices and posting print ads) has evolved in the digital age. Nowadays, an online presence has become a fundamental tool for building a robust referral base. In fact, creating an online presence—through social media, patient reviews, and personal websites—can help surgeons build their brand faster, eventually helping them reach a state where word of mouth and online reputation alone yield a self-sustaining referral pattern, which is colloquially termed “going nuclear.”
During the transition of graduating residency and establishing your own practice, several questions of being an early-career surgeon in this digital age may cross your mind. Should I have separate professional and personal social media accounts? What does a potential platform for a surgeon as a social medial influencer look like? How do I respond appropriately to negative patient comments posted online? How can I reach a broader patient population with educational content within my professional boundaries? What will my boss think about me posting media content of surgical cases? So maybe instead, you think, I’m going to stay “off the grid,” keep it strictly professional, and stay off all social media and online platforms. Keep reading to find out why you may be missing out. All of these questions, piled on top of figuring out your practice workflow and sharpening your surgical skills, while starting case collection for the ABOS Part II Oral Examination as an early-career surgeon, can be daunting. Thus, understanding how to develop your online reputation early has emerged as a key competitive advantage, because whether you’re online or not, your patients are.
Increasing online reviews through Google listings and social media pages is a very useful avenue for attracting new patients. In fact, three-quarters of patients are influenced by online ratings when selecting a physician1, and 91% favor one physician over another based on positive reviews2. Reviews offer social credibility, but to obtain reviews, surgeons must be proactive in soliciting them. They can be obtained by sending a link via email, posting a brief memo in the office waiting room, or including a feedback form in patients’ discharge summaries. Although some negative reviews are inevitable and may not even be related to clinical care (e.g., clinic wait times, unanswered office phone calls, and office staff demeanor), being proactive and addressing negative comments both publicly and privately can help alleviate the situation and repair any potential insult to one’s online reputation. Furthermore, by actively soliciting reviews, positive feedback will ultimately dilute negative comments over time.
One common occurrence on public review websites is incorrect or incomplete information about a physician’s practice. Addressing such discrepancies is imperative, as 50% of patients admit to avoiding a physician with incomplete online listings3.Surgeons should vigilantly manage their online search results and may even consider hiring a firm or enlisting their practices’ marketing department to develop strategies for search engine optimization.
A well-designed website also can notably influence patient perception. A polished website with up-to-date contact information signals a commitment to detail and excellence in care. This also translates to greater satisfaction for existing patients looking for clinic information and, potentially, a consistent source of new patient referrals. In addition, ensuring mobile device compatibility is essential, considering the 50% increase in mobile device usage for physician searches in recent years and the 92% rise in preference for mobile appointment scheduling3.
Finally, in the age of social media, there lies an opportunity for deeper patient-surgeon connections. Trust, a cornerstone of this relationship, flourishes alongside familiarity. Social media provides a window into a surgeon’s practice, ideas, and personality, offering a free opportunity for enhanced interpersonal connection. Strategies for social media involvement include posting patient success stories, delivering educational content, highlighting academic achievements and professional collaborations, and offering rehabilitation guidance.
For those venturing into social media in a professional capacity, maintaining a clear, consistent message is key. There are also several important “Dos and Don’ts.” Feel free to express individual interests and passions, as it shows humanity, but consider the limits of your own privacy and the privacy of others before sharing personal details. Make sure your practice’s marketing is consistent with your personal brand. Avoid contentious online exchanges and instead focus on positive, uplifting content. You can find more on social media best practices at the AAOS site. Finally, seek appropriate permissions and releases from patients who agree to participate in your social media outreach. There are a number of media consent form templates that can be found online, such as these templates on Jotform.com, which can be customized for your practice.
In the current era of information, surgeons must actively steward their online reputations. Building a strong brand involves soliciting and managing online reviews and establishing a distinctive online presence. These efforts not only expand a surgeon’s network and bring in new patients, but they can also be gratifying, enriching the connection between surgeon and patient.
Daniel J. Cognetti, MD
Mikalyn T. DeFoor, MD
Alireza Nazemi, MD, MS
Van Krueger, MD, MBA
- Binary Fountain. Binary Fountain Unveils Results of Third Annual “Healthcare Consumer Insight & Digital Engagement” Survey. 2019 Sept 4. https://www.prweb.com/releases/binary-fountain-unveils-results-of-third-annual-healthcare-consumer-insight-amp-digital-engagement-survey-830483600.html
- Software Advice. How Patients Use Online Reviews. 2020 Apr 3. https://www.softwareadvice.com/resources/how-patients-use-online-reviews
- Press Ganey. Customer experience trends in healthcare 2020. 2020 Jan 1. https://info.pressganey.com/e-books-research/customer-experience-trends-in-healthcare-2020.
Other recent Resident Roundup posts include: