Physicians and Social Media

physicians and social media, doctors and social media

Is social media a time suck or a useful way to attract new patients?  Physicians regularly debate this and in lieu of the HIPAA guidelines that went into full effect this week people are unsure about what’s safe to post and how to use social media effectively for business.

But a study conducted by the American Medical Association said that nearly 25% of patients report using social media to manage their health care.  That number seems to be growing as more patients use technology to discuss and manage their health care.

Here are some guidelines that require minimal time with maximal benefit.

Pick no more than two platforms.  Pick one or two social networks that appeal to you the most.  Generally, the ones that offer the best return are Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Spend a few minutes sprucing up your presence.  Upload an avatar picture, add a background image, make sure they reflect the image you project to your patients.  A headshot is always more appealing to the consumer than a logo.

Use social media for listening.  By following certain accounts you can keep a tab on things such as …

  • Community goings-on: stay in touch with what’s happening in your geographic area.
  • Research entities: tracking JAMA or NIH will keep you up to date with the latest news and research.
  • Local medical and business news: follow prominent doctors in your area and/or hospitals and medical practice to see what your peers are doing.
  • Track your reputation online:  More patients have access to rate-your-doctor sites and you should know what they’re saying about your practice.

Become a thought leader.  Share information with your audience that is useful to them.  One physician said, “I’ve had many new patients tell me they selected my practice because they saw our Facebook page and thought we seemed very “progressive.”’

Give your patients practice updates.  Letting them know the flu vaccines are in, who is on call for the weekend, or that office hours have changed.  It’s a way for you to share information with your patients that’s easy for them to check.

Develop a network of physicians. Discover colleagues inside and outside of your regional circles.  You could develop a referral network, share research and even connect socially “in real life” both in your community and at conferences.

Staying on the right side of HIPAA

If you do decide to bring your practice onto social media you’ll have to follow HIPAA guidelines.  Have an office policy about what is and isn’t ok to discuss online with all your employees.  This should include private messaging of patient care for any social networks. This will keep your employees educated and give you some legal cover in case an incident ever crops up.

As one doctor put it, “All of my employees are on Facebook.  As am I.  Not once ever do they or we discuss patients on Facebook.  Trust me, when they’re out of the office, the last thing they want to do is discuss patients … They all know that office stuff and patient information on social media is completely off limits.  It is definitely a HIPAA violation, and inappropriate sharing of that information is grounds for dismissal.”

Energize Physician Advocacy

We can change policies if we advocate as a group.  From controversial issues such as the ACA to supporting non-profit organizations like Floating Doctors, physicians as a group accomplish amazing feats when we band together in the social web to amplify our voices.  Participating privately on Sermo and in public social media isn’t just about connecting; together, we affect healthcare for millions of people and get back to the basics of global healthcare delivery.

The Industry Agrees

A research article published last August in the Journal of the American Medical Association acknowledges that many physicians are discouraged from being on social media because of potential HIPAA issues and also to avoid having patients contact them through a public venue.

The researchers suggested incorporating social media training into medical education and professionalism curricula, otherwise “the potential benefits of social media will remain unrealized.”

Perhaps we’ll see CES curricula developed over the next few years that will assist physicians to appropriately and effectively be online.

How Much Time Does It Take

As with everything, the more you put in, the more you get back.  At a minimum, try to get online weekly for 10 to 20 minutes.  Here are some guidelines:

  • Minimum:  Ten minutes once per week to check your streams and post something useful to your patients.
  • Even Better:  Ten minutes once a day to read through your streams, interact with colleagues, read the latest research and interact appropriately with patients.
  • Optimal:  As above but ten minutes twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon/evening.

Give it a solid 30 days before you start to see good results, it will be within two weeks if you try the optimal level.  Have you tried using social media for your practice?  What were some of the pitfalls?  Did you have any successes?

These insights regarding physicians and social media were culled from the answers marked most helpful across a series of posts inside Sermo as well as outside research and our own expertise.