Branding and marketing are as crucial to the highly personal, service-based healthcare sector as they are to any other industry. Regardless of a physician’s specialty, a branding strategy allows him or her to maintain a considerable amount of control over how patients perceive and interact with the practice.
In the digital age, the most important place that a professional within the healthcare community must focus his or her branding efforts is online. To do so effectively, there are three important aspects of healthcare branding to consider: the value that online branding holds for the modern practice, how healthcare professionals should approach brand-building in the digital space, and the most effective ways to reinforce the online reputation that one cultivates, in-person.
Why an online brand is important for healthcare providers
It sets you apart from the competition
In every discipline, trained healthcare professionals are automatically recognized as experts by the people who come to them for treatment. While this is undeniably beneficial, it also poses a problem if you want to differentiate yourself from other doctors who share your specialty. A prospective patient is likely to consider that your abilities and those of your competition are of an overall equal level, making it difficult to set your skills apart to draw in clients. Branding is the best tool you have to distinguish yourself from other doctors and show your patients why you are better suited to meet their needs.
It establishes clear, consistent expectations for patients
When a patient chooses you as a provider, they are not just concerned about the quality of your services—they are also concerned about how their overall experience with your practice will make them feel. Developing a well-defined brand that extends beyond your online persona and into the workplace culture of your practice helps set patient expectations before their first visit. When you follow through in-office with the promises you make via branding, patients feel that their expectations have been met, which lays the foundation for a positive, trustworthy reputation.
It builds loyalty
Repeated patient satisfaction breeds feelings of loyalty and brings long term stability to your practice. According to this research conducted by Gallup, the five aspects of a healthcare practice that predict a high degree of patient loyalty are satisfaction, reputation, effective problem resolution, staff follow-through, and staff that treat patients with respect and dignity. Branding is the first step you can take toward establishing a healthcare business capable of offering its clientele each of these things.
How to build your professional brand online
Evaluate your current online brand
Begin building your brand by researching where your brand currently stands. Run your name through search engines and identify any potential content that might be damaging your reputation and driving business away, and pay special attention to your patient reviews. According to this 2017 consumer review survey from Bright Local, 85 percent of consumers are likely to trust online reviews equally as much as personal recommendations, so what your patients say about you on the internet matters.
Many healthcare professionals are surprised by what’s being said about them online, whether it’s positive or negative, and want to weigh in. However, it’s important to keep patient confidentiality foremost in your mind when looking through your search results. There are moments where you’ll have to accept that you can’t tell your side of the story.
Showcase your professional philosophy online
An essential part of building a distinct brand that will set you apart from your competition is effectively showcasing your professional philosophy online. To do this, you must evaluate what your values are as a doctor as well as the approach you prefer to take to provide patients with the best possible care. For example, do you treat patients narrowly, targeting the symptoms, or do you look at their whole lifestyle to determine what the problem might be? Are there particular methods you prefer when treating a chronic illness, and why do you prefer them? What role do you see yourself playing in a patient’s health? Are you a scold? A friend? A coach?
Once you’ve determined your professional philosophy and values, let them inform your online reputation management strategy. Consider your existing social media profiles, web pages, and blog sites and look for opportunities to display your chosen brand in subtle yet effective ways. Make sure to use some portion of your websites and profiles to clearly outline and explain your professional approach, as well as emphasizing the “why” behind your philosophy as a doctor. Further demonstrate your commitment to your philosophy through the generation of relevant content, as well as linking readers to well-written pieces on reputable websites that you consider to be in line with your approach to healthcare.
Proactively monitor and maintain your online reputation
No matter how dedicated and careful you are in your work, there are bound to be instances where your brand is set back by negative feedback from a patient. It’s a reality of modern medicine that even the best doctors may have to face malpractice suits. These suits can take on a life of their own far from the courtroom, often playing out publicly in the form of angry reviews that can taint your brand and do significant damage to your overall online reputation.
When dealing with a disgruntled patient, doctors have to respect doctor-patient confidentiality, but unfortunately the patient is under no such obligations. Patients can choose to disclose their own history and easily advertise their side of a story, but healthcare providers have to be cautious in these situations to avoid damaging their reputations further or even winding up in court again. That can make it difficult to respond to former patients airing grievances or to smear campaigns undertaken against you, especially if the person in question is angry less over their treatment and more over the fact they didn’t win their malpractice lawsuit. This is one of the most common difficulties for doctors who are trying to build a personal brand.
The best way to deal with patient complaints while still protecting patient confidentiality is through an active and well-informed online strategy, consisting of routinely maintained social media profiles and the development of relevant web content, such as blogs on topics related to your area of practice. In the event that you lack the time or resources to take on a major task like this while running a healthcare practice, firms like ReputationDefender provide services that take control of your branding and internet presence for you.
What to avoid when building your brand online
Don’t waste your efforts by developing something generic
Building a strong online brand is a crucial part of being a successful healthcare professional in the digital age, but the process of creating and maintaining your image online is one that requires both time and dedicated effort. As a doctor, you’re likely to be in short supply of time, and therefore the work you do to promote your online brand must not be wasted on creating a generic web presence that fails to differentiate you from others who share your specialty.
There are different ways to approach displaying the unique aspects of your practice to patients online, and the method you choose will depend on your personal preferences. Some ways to distinguish your practice online include choosing a bold, somewhat provocative brand that challenges the norms of your industry, or taking a community-centered approach by advertising your partnerships with local nonprofit organizations online. Additionally, developing a schedule for posting branded content on all of your social media profiles can help you stand out from the competition, as it regularly exposes your patients to your professional philosophy and sets the stage for a sense of community among those who come to you for help with their health issues.
Whichever approach you take to developing an online brand, commit fully to advertising what makes yourself and your practice unique and create a meaningful online presence that will not become lost among that of your competition.
Use caution when responding to patient reviews
Unfortunately, an important yet delicate part of maintaining your brand online is responding to patient reviews—some of which may be unflattering. Even the most technically proficient physicians are bound to incur their share of negative online reviews, but what separates the doctors who remain successful in spite of these reviews from those who develop a wholly negative online brand is the way in which you respond to them.
The first thing to remember is that you should never ignore negative reviews or attempt to delete them. Try to respond to them promptly in a way that seeks to make poor experiences into positive ones. Equally important is to never respond to a review in a way that violates HIPPA laws, even if it means that you are prevented from divulging your side of the story. Never take reviews personally or let anger into your response. Instead, thank posters for their feedback and remain empathetic to their experiences, and suggest a follow-up with disgruntled patients through a private, offline medium.
Another valuable way to maintain a positive online brand is by actively asking for feedback from patients after their appointments. Research published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) noted that a majority of online patient reviews are more likely to be positive than negative. Asking for reviews is a great way to help build a more comprehensive, positive picture of your practice online, which can benefit your brand.
Always keep your online and in-person brand consistent with one another
Reinforce your online brand by keeping your patients’ in-office experiences consistent with the persona and professional environment that you advertise on the internet. Your online brand helps patients develop an idea of what they can expect from your office before they ever visit it, and it’s important to deliver on that promise. For example, if you market your office as friendly and fun online, the actions of your office staff as well as your own bedside manner should reflect these same values. If your brand is more stately, sleek, and matter-of-fact, the same principles should be incorporated into your online marketing choices as well as the behavior of your employees and yourself. Whichever brand you develop for your practice online, remaining consistent across all mediums is key to its success.