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Social Media in the Medical Practice


Social media in the medical industry is becoming a part of everyday life for many physicians.  Although the health industry has been reluctant to adapt, in the past few years it has started to expand.  More than 90% of doctors use at least one social network, including 65% who use those sites for professional purposes.  Social media is a way of connecting and sharing information with your patients for little to no expense.  It is a wave that will eventually engulf every clinic whether it is embraced or ignored.

Social media has a number of benefits. The top use of social media for physicians includes sharing experiences and advice with their peers and developing referral networks. It can also be a great informative tool for patients.  66% of Americans search the web for illnesses or related diseases.  If patients are going to the internet for medical information, why not try to persuade them to come to your site for that information.  This can easily be accomplished by writing blogs and answering generic questions asked by your patients. The key element is to post pertinent information specific to the physician’s patient base or to a specific type of patient the physician is trying to recruit.

It is also a good way to send out information to a large number of patients in a matter of seconds.  Twitter is great for this type of communication.  Perhaps there is a personal emergency and the physician will be out for a few days, or a medical fair is scheduled and the clinic would like to get information out to its patients.  With the proper use of twitter, patients can instantly see messages sent by the physician from anywhere.  Twitter has an added benefit since it is more acceptable in the workplace than other media types.  Because of the impact of productivity, many businesses and clinics are starting to ban Facebook and other similar media outlets.

Social media can be used both for informational purposes and a place where the patients can socialize.  OBGYNs, embracing social media, often have patients post pictures of their children.  This frequently leads to positive comments which in turn are associated with the practice, increasing its marketability.  This type of marketing encourages word of mouth which is the most powerful type of marketing available.  The uses for social media are limitless.

However many physicians jump in and create a Facebook or a Myspace account and have little success, or end up creating more problems than they solve by introducing social media in their practice.  One of the biggest challenges is that most doctors are willing to spend money, but not time on social media. This can work if implemented properly.  Most social media is best implemented by having an authentic voice associated with it.  Paying someone to be an authentic voice is quite a challenge. Therefore, for a clinical practice to do well with social media, the physician and staff must carve out time to engage with it.

When implementing a social media strategy, a few important rules to ensure positive feedback and protection are as follows:

  • Develop a strategy and decide what information you want to portray, how often to update it, and what you would like to get out of social media marketing.
  • Determine how much time you and your staff are willing to be involved and update your site frequent enough to keep patients interested.  However, do not post too often because this can have an adverse affect and cause people to lose interest.
  • Setup protocols to ensure negative activity does not occur.  In most of the media outlets, you have the capability to delete any negative remarks, or approve any remarks before they are made public.  This should be a daily maintenance and to ensure your site remains professional and positive.
  • Be wary of HIPPA violations and do not answer specific questions, only general ones.  Do not post any information that is specific to a patient or that can identify who that patient is in any way.   This is a fear shared by many physicians.
  • Before posting anything, have an approval process that will require at least two people to proof read the post before submitting it.  This is a key process to ensure no HIPPA violations occur and to keep the postings professional with no misspelled words or grammar.

Social media is not for every physician, but with a proper strategy, a well thought out plan, time and dedication; it can impact a medical clinic in a positive way through multiple avenues. Be cautious when deciding to use social media and determine if you and your staff are willing to spend the time needed.  Know what you expect to get out of it and follow the guidelines set forth above and you will have a much better chance of benefiting positively through social media.