Can a social media manager convince doctors to get online?

A social media manager is becoming an imperative position for hospitals.

Medical institutions are waking up to the fact that they need to engage their patients and physicians online. No where is there more fertile growth than in the various social media platforms that are prevalent today — like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

American Medical News recently profiled the phenomenon, highlighting the position of social media manager, which some institutions pay between $60,000 and $80,000 per year.

As it stands, many hospitals are tip-toeing into the world of social networks, guided by the able hands of select online mavens like the Mayo Clinic’s Lee Aase and Swedish Medical Center’s Dana Lewis. Convincing executives of the return on investment remains a challenge, however:

Part of the problem … is that there are little data to show hospital executives about the financial and quality-of-care effects of social media. However, one of Aase’s theses refers to social media’s relative small cost, given that programs generally are free: As investment approaches zero, return on investment approaches infinity.

At this point, Dana Lewis is talking to physicians at Swedish not so much about return on investment, but about tactics — how to use social media presence to your advantage while not putting yourself in legal and ethical jeopardy. “We have an Internet postings policy. We have guidelines whether you’re using social media at work, or personally. If you’re tweeting for a professional Swedish account, we have more hands-on coaching.”

Getting doctors to buy in requires several factors, outside of influence from an institution’s social media manager.

First, there needs to be physician leadership behind the push — rather than an outgrowth from the marketing department. The Mayo Clinic gets it right by having a MD-qualified medical advisor to their Center for Social Media.

And second, doctors need to see tangible benefits from their forays into Twitter and Facebook. They are time-pressed already, and they must see engaging colleagues and patients online as a value-added proposition, versus simply a chore. Seattle Children’s Hospital’s Wendy Sue Swanson is a good example of how a hospital is using physician-driven online visibility to improve patient care and enhance a doctor’s practice.

Hiring specialists is good first step to increase hospital’s online engagement. Getting doctors to buy in, however, is going to require a more physician-driven effort.

 is an internal medicine physician and on the Board of Contributors at USA Today.  He is founder and editor of, also on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

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  • Conrad from Avvo

    Kevin – I recently sat in on a meeting with Dana Lewis and one of the doctors she is working with. Prior to his joining Swedish, I had spent about 5 years casually trying to convince him to get involved with blogging and social media. Now, through Dana, he has training, technical support, clear objectives and an institutional endorsement to turn this from concept to reality. Additionally, (as you probably know), measurement of success online is very easy to implement and very tangible through available free tools. The physician led push you describe will come from those early adopting doctors once their colleagues witness the success in engaging with social media. Some hospitals, like Swedish will lead this as a top down initiative. Others will follow through the bottoms up success of individual doctors who chose to engage online.

  • Frank Higgins

    Having worked with Doctors for 2 years now on the subject of social media, I see 2 main hurdles;

    Doctors need guidance on what to do. They are being told they need to “do social media” but not told how to. Social media managers will have a lot of training to do.

    and the other hurdle is time, they don’t want to spend a lot of time on it.

    KevinMD is a rare example of a Doctor with enthusiasm to blog, and blog correctly, in my opinion

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