Given the ability of the web to both educate and slander, it is important to monitor opinions that are circulating on the web about a physician's professional reputation and performance. This point was emphasized in a recent note in The Health Care Blog (see: Keep tabs on your digital footprint). Below is an excerpt from it with boldface emphasis mine:
Is it "disordered" behavior to Google your doctor? An article in JAMA suggests that doctors should be on their guard. The Journal of the American Medical Association recently published an article about how doctors should be aware of how they are portrayed online and consider taking steps to manage their digital identities....And the advice given is also familiar: create your own Web page to be sure correct information is available about you and use appropriate privacy settings on social network sites....Since the Pew Internet Project's study, “Digital Footprints,” found that most people do not feel compelled to limit the amount of information found about them online and few closely monitor their digital identities, I can see why the authors want to raise the alarm with their peers.
Internet users are becoming more aware of their digital footprint; 47% have searched for information about themselves online, up from just 22% five years ago. However, few monitor their online presence with great regularity. Just 3% of self-searchers report that they make a regular habit of it and 74% have checked up on their digital footprints only once or twice.
So here is the good news. It's incredibly easy to monitor one's digital footprint on the web. All that you need to do is sign up for Google Alerts. If you are a gastroenterologist named Jack Sprat, you can then create an alert for yourself by entering the following search string that can be refined on the basis of how it performs: "Jack Sprat" OR "Jack Sprat M.D." gastroenterology OR gastroenterologist. If there are hits for this specific search term appearing anywhere on the web, you will be sent the link to the reference via email. For most physicians, there will probably be few if any hits. For those whose practice may engender strong emotions or opinions, the opposite may occur. If blog references occur that are positive, I would recommend that a brief note of thanks be sent to the blogger. If there are negative opinions, I would suggest that you keep your reactions very brief and measured, if you react at all.
As to maintaining a web page for one practice, I believe that this is an essential step regardless of the status of one's digital identity. It is reassuring for patients to see that their physician and his or her practice is represented in a professional manner on the web. Such a web site can also provide critical information about the practice such as the office hours and web-based services offered to patients.