Two-thirds of physicians use social media in their practice of medicine, a September study by QuantiaMD and the Care Continuum Alliance reported. Why? Marketing, brand awareness and business development.
Patients looking for a new doctor often look to the web to find practitioners in the city and specialty they need. So, participating in networks like LinkedIn and Facebook enhances a doctor’s visibility with potential patients.
Moreover, social media can help doctors provide better care, suggests one study discussed in peer-reviewed Chest Journal. It found that patients who hear from their doctor after their consultation are more likely to take their meds properly and follow the doctor’s advice. It also found that patient-doctor communication after the appointment improved patient satisfaction and retention.
Another use for social media? Education. As the New England Journal of Medicine reported, doctors often find themselves correcting patients who believe anything they read on the Internet. Physicians can use social media channels to combat quack claims.
One specialist with a strong Twitter and Facebook presence is Dr. Howard Luks. In a 2010 interview with ABC, he said the physician’s role is becoming that of a leader “helping the engaged and interested patient navigate the Internet.”
Ready to be social, then? Here’s the key: If you know your target audience and its habits, then you’ll be in a better position to reach them successfully.
Step 1: Make Sure Your Patients Actually Use Social Media
I spoke with a few doctor friends for this article. Those who treated older or impoverished populations who didn’t regularly access the Internet said social media was less relevant to them. But, they all hastened to add they were sure it could be useful for colleagues whose patients were active on social networks. For example, one suggested young mothers could benefit from a physician’s Twitter feed reminding them about health issues for their children in their first days.
Step 2: Figure Out What Your Patients Want to Learn
Many medical practices use social media to answer common patient questions on topics like flu shot availability or changes to insurance plan acceptance. You can also use Twitter and Facebook to share links to relevant news articles (e.g. “Great article in the Times on recovery from knee surgery”). Or, you can share a blog post you’ve written yourself. One simple way to know your audience’s interests and habits? A quick waiting room paper survey on what patients would like to hear from you, and where they get their health news from now.
Step 3: Choose Content That Appeals to Your Patients
When it comes to pointing your patients to outside information, think about your audience. For example, if you’re a pediatrician, preteen patients will probably appreciate links to YouTube videos where Justin Bieber talks about the importance of an active lifestyle. If you’re a physician serving largely college-aged patients, sharing the Bieber video would paint you as out-of-touch, though. To get your point across here, a better bet might be to link to an article in Marie Claire where Scarlett Johansson advocates regular STD testing.
Step 4: Create a Schedule and Publish Regularly
Start out that schedule with a date to set up a Facebook business page linking to your practice’s website. Then share one news story and one educational resource each week. To make your task easier, identify five news sources and three educational resources you trust. Once Facebook is under control, create a great LinkedIn profile. Surf around and find peers whose profiles you envy, then use their style and format for inspiration. Next, reach out to current and former colleagues to “connect” and get recommendations. Recommendations enhance your credibility, and will help you appear near the top in LinkedIn search results. To round out your social media presence, add a Twitter account. Find colleagues and news sources to “follow,” and start small, with the intention of creating a two-sided conversation.
Step 5: Monitor Your Online Rep and Manage It With Care
Unsubstantiated reviews on sites like Yelp can be confusing and misleading–so presenting your own online bio is critical. Another benefit of an online presence? Prospective patients looking at your practice’s Facebook page will be notified if any of their friends are already fans of your practice. After all, the whole reason advertisers drool over Facebook ads is that it’s proven that recommendations from peers carry significant weight when people are making decisions. Let your patients know when you go on Facebook and ask them to become fans of your practice. Avoid adding them as personal friends from your personal account, though, since that can violate patient-doctor ethical boundaries.
To take control of your social media presence, you needn’t be witty or a social butterfly. You just need to plan and research well, which most doctors can do naturally. The first three steps I lay out don’t involve the social networks yet–they involve understanding your target audience: current and future patients. Once you’ve verified your patients use social media, figure out what they’re interested in learning from you, and what kind of content you’ll use to provide appropriate information. Then, setting up your Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter profiles is straightforward.
Thanks for reading, and please feel free to share any comments on what you think I’ve missed. You can write in the space below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thumbnail image created by Jason Howie.