AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 29, Number 1, 2020


Prevent Online Disasters

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Is this the image you want patients, colleagues or employers to see of you? In this age of social media as a primary source of information, communication and marketing, it is essential to be tech savvy and capitalize on opportunities. However, it is also crucial to remember that the cyber world never forgets. Everything you say and do in the virtual world can have an impact on your reputation in the real world.

The AMA Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs has weighed in on professionalism and social media use:

The Internet has created the ability for medical students and physicians to communicate and share information quickly and to reach millions of people easily.  Participating in social networking and other similar Internet opportunities can support physicians’ personal expression, enable individual physicians to have a professional presence online, foster collegiality and camaraderie within the profession, provide opportunity to widely disseminate public health messages and other health communication.  Social networks, blogs, and other forms of communication online also create new challenges to the patient-physician relationship.

Their salient recommendations include:

  • Maintain patient confidentiality
  • Be cognizant of personal privacy settings and be aware of the longevity of items posted online
  • Maintain appropriate boundaries online with patients to preserve the physician-patient relationship
  • Consider separation of personal and professional content
  • Physicians have a responsibility to bring inappropriately posted content of colleagues to their attention
  • Recognize that inappropriate online material can impact a colleague’s career, as well as one’s own

Robert Wachter, MD, Chair of Medicine, UCSF has stated that:

… whether we like it or not, our online reputation is becoming the main prism through which we will be known – to colleagues, to friends, to patients, to prospective employers … With this realization comes the recognition that we can no longer afford to be passive observers of our online persona.

Read More

One Neurosurgeon’s Twitter
Innovation in Medicine and Social Media: An Interview with KevinMD
Beyond the Surgeons’ Lounge: Leveraging Twitter for Networking and Career Advancement

Rest assured, patients are talking. In the digital age, negative online content has far reaching legs and a devastating impact. Patients are using the web to discuss your reputation. A single, negative blog post can spark a reputation crisis. It is important to listen, identify and engage your online influencers. We need to keep up with the technology that patients areusing, but also insure compliance with confidentiality.  More than 80 percent of patients go online to read physician reviews and 56 percent trust what they read! In addition, 90 percent of executive recruiters conduct online research of potential candidates prior to interviewing them. Who you are online is what you are to most consumers and other physicians. To complicate things further, patients are also using hospital and health systems ratings as a key factor in choosing their healthcare interventions (see table 1 below). Specific data, such as infection rates, complications, and comparative costs are increasingly easy for the public to access (see US News, Hospital Compare, Consumer Reports, Joint Commission).  

These are steps you can take to help protect your online reputation:


Google yourself on a regular basis.

     a. You can set up a Google alert to make this easy.

     b. Make sure you look beyond the first few pages.


Challenge and correct wrong information when you encounter it.


Create a LinkedIn profile.


Understand the difference between professional and personal sites (see table 2 below) and keep these distinct as much as possible.


Use patient sites (such as support groups, disease specific sites, etc) carefully and professionally to disseminate information and innovation, promote your practice and obtain referrals.


Create quality online content for yourself (practice, department, hospital, group).

More than anything, protecting your online reputation involves understanding your vulnerability, acknowledging the durability of online content and being proactive about your online presence. This requires constant vigilance. Start small and grow slowly. It takes time and resources – both scarce commodities for most neurosurgeons.

Top Physician Rating Sites
Yelp Google my Business Facebook
WebMD HealthGrades RateMDs
Vitals ZocDoc CareDash
Angie’s List Top Doctors  

Table 1

Professional Personal
LinkedIn Facebook YouTube
Doximity Twitter Flickr
Sermo Instagram Pinterest
Quantia MD Snapchat Tumblr
  Google Plus  

Table 2



American Medical Association. (2010). Reference Committee on Amendments to Constitution and Bylaws(Rep.)


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