Those of you who check in here regularly or have heard me speak on online reputation management already know that I’m an advocate for working with the major physician directories and taking advantage of their high profile rather than hiding your head in the sand.  I’ve long appreciated the ability these sites offer to easily identify yourself as a physician or practice administrator and correct and customize your listings on Vitals and Healthgrades — which is not just beneficial but really crucial because these sites are so well-optimized on Google, it’s likely that some of your prospective patients and even current patients will end up landing there looking for contact information and other details.

I’ve never had trouble with claiming or managing listings on behalf of a client until this past fall, when I ran into some really frustrating difficulties that are still not resolved, despite numerous attempts to contact both sites’ customer service people through multiple channels.  I’ll describe what’s happening here both in the hope that practices can benefit from this as it unfolds, and in the hope that perhaps some individuals from these sites will see this posting and provide some assistance.

Starting with the most shocking problem: Healthgrades and the hospital listing hijack incident.

Last fall, I attempted to claim two additional listings for a private practice we work with that just added two new docs.  (I had previously claimed the physician owner.)   There were all sorts of unanticipated technical problems in the process — including the system failing to delete an obsolete address (2500 miles away!) for one of the doctors.  I was also unable to de-link myself from another practice I’m done working with, so that they could take control of their own listings; the problems seemed to be technically related.

I wrote in again and again — about ten times! — for help to support.  Generally, I got no answer.  On one occasion, I was told that they were having system problems that might take weeks to resolve, but that they would take care of all the changes for me if I would document everything that was needed.  I tried this.  No response as of yet; have written in multiple times for an update.

This is bad enough, but what happens next is the real shocker.  Naturally, I’ve been checking periodically to see if the changes I’ve requested have finally been made.  On my last visit, I noticed that not only have the changes I requested not been made, but the listings identities have been co-opted by the local hospital!  By this I mean that somehow, the hospital:

  • seized control of the listings for this PRIVATE practice
  • updated all the listings with THEIR referral phone number
  • multiple ad blocks prominently display “This profile brought to you by —————Hospital” and “ON STAFF at ———- HOSPITAL” — presenting the impression that the practice is hospital owned/employed
  • covered all the listings with a “———- HOSPITAL” branded background — further co-opting the physicians’ brand and own marketing efforts for the hospital’s benefit

Now, the hospital’s behavior here is really reprehensible — what kind of nerve does it take to literally divert another business’s traffic to yourself? — but, I am more appalled by the fact that Healthgrades is enabling this behavior.  As an administrator for individual practices, I’ve never been offered the option to have custom branding all over the page — this is clearly something the hospital ‘partnered’ with Healthgrades on.   Is that why there was no authentication on Healthgrades’ part to determine if the hospital even had the right to override my claim of the practices’ listings?  Where is the authentication process??

The situation with Vitals is almost as frustrating, although it appears somewhat more innocent.  I’ve written in, called, and my partner has called multiple times to fix a problem with a physician whose listing we attempted to add.  The listing appears to be in their database — searching ‘ourdoc Vitals.com’ on Google produces the listing we added — but, when you search on Vitals.com itself, she cannot be found.  After the first few emails I sent out to Vitals to be ignored, I received a triumphant notice from them about how they were now identifying and honoring “the ten best!” doctors in our market.  Since the doctor I’m working with can’t even get her listing to appear on their site, she’s automatically excluded — does this seem at all fair?

As someone who started in publishing and also has owned a directory, I have a lot of sensitivity to the publishing of “top” lists.  It’s something that requires a strong sense of responsibility to the community, to ensure that the results are fair.  I’m so far not convinced that Vitals understands or appreciates the harm the can be doing by suggesting that some physicians rate above their peers without putting in basic controls to ensure the results are fair and all physicians are included.

Any comments on this — from others having difficulty or, especially, from anyone at these two companies — would be most welcome.

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