Google+ for doctors, and why physicians should be careful

Google+ for doctors, and why physicians should be carefulGoogle has announced its social networking product, Google+.

I haven’t received an invite yet, so I don’t have first-hand experience with the service.  But reading the major tech blogs’ take from Engadget, TechCrunch and Mashable, you have a pretty good idea of what to expect.

What should doctors know about about Google+?

Obviously, this is Google’s last, best attempt to combat Facebook’s dominance.  It features the Google+ Stream, which is similar to a Facebook news feed, which in itself is similar to a Twitter feed.

Google+ Circles is the competitor to a Twitter list or Facebook group, and allows you to share and consume content with people with like-minded interests.

More interesting are the communication features that Google+ includes, called Google Hangouts.  This involves group video chatting (a Skype-like feature) as well as group texting (borrowing from Twitter).

So, how should physicians handle Google+?

Similar to the way doctors should use Facebook.  I’ve recommended in the past that physicians maintain two profiles, a personal one to share only with close family and friends, and a professional page that is open to the public.  As far as I can tell, Google+ offers no such personal-professional differentiation.  So if you join, it’s imperative that your pictures and personal content be well-vetted before you post.  Since this is a Google product, there’s a greater chance that what’s found on Google+ will be indexed in the search engine.

Google Circles has the potential to be that application to isolate your professional identity (you can selectively share content with different groups), and physicians need to be vigilant in using that feature.  For now, be careful about what you put on your Google Profile.

Whether Google+ succeeds is obviously up in the air.  But initial impressions look good, unlike Google’s failed social attempts with Google Wave and Google Buzz.  I appreciate the emphasis on privacy, which may be a feature that sets it apart from Facebook.

But a social network is only as strong as its audience, so Google+’s future will depend on whether it can draw users away from Facebook.

Especially for busy physicians, a minority of whom already have to log onto Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, will another network be too much?

The success of Google+ in medicine hinges on that question.

Update: I used Google+ today and had a good first impression.  Google Circles may be the reason why Google+ may be for right for doctors.

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

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  • Matthew Mintz

    I am intrigued by Google+ and similarly have not had a chance to play around with it or look closely at its security features. That said, Google Circles seems perfect for physicians because you can separate your personal from professional identity. Facebook has this ability too (creating groups and selectively limiting what group you post to), but it is not very intuitive. Thus, assuming Google Circles security features stand up (which I realize is a big assumption) and is easy to use, why would physicians who want to use Google+ need to have two profiles?

  • Jason Berek-Lewis

    Hi Kevin, Very interesting to read your take from a physician’s point of view. I like your take on Circles and how physicians could use them. I also agree there are a few innovations on Google+ that could help them to build some momentum, but taking on Facebook…. there’s a long way to go yet.

    Here are my thoughts on what Google+ means for patients and doctors: I’d appreciate your thoughts.

  • Paul Dorio

    Google+ and other “adjunct” social media sites may be best used as “pass-throughs,” similar to the way I use Facebook. Primarily, I send comments to Twitter which then auto-forwards said comments to Facebook, Buzz, Amplify, etc. I find Facebook to be a bit slow and not as useful for my purposes (rapid, informative back-and-forth communication and learning) as Twitter. Adding another social media site to already established giants as Facebook and Twitter may merely create a “third-party candidate” type of situation and dilute the ability of each of us to convey our messages/information.

  • Dave

    I’ll second the fact that Google plus does seem superior to facebook for professionals. It’s drop dead simple (literally you just click/drag/drop) to place people into groups and tailor access to said groupings.

    However, hopefully google will do more integration with this. How cool would it be to link google scholar to google+? A simple click and a patient could see what research (if any) a physician has done.

    Plus the group chat is huge. I assume this will also integrate with google voice, which will be nice.

    Facebook has become more and more of a mess, only good for wasting time, and I actually think google has an opportunity here to establish themselves.

  • Akshay Shah

    I’m not sure that it’s Google’s job (or Facebook’s, or Twitter’s) to support such a sharp division between physicians’ personal and professional personas. You recommend maintaining separate Facebook profiles, and the same logic applies to Google accounts – use for everything personal and for the practice. Surely this binary distinction is easier to manage than a highly granular, always-shifting firewall based on circles of friends. Every other working professional maintains separate work and personal email addresses – should physicians be any different?

  • Alice

    This can be added to the stupid question file….sometimes the level of paranoia doctors display seems to reach a level the average reader doesn’t quite grasp…so I will ask and state the obvious. Doctors are findable…no revelation in that…your certificate numbers are part of the state’s public database. I correspond with doctors…two sign off with addresses….some like Paul have blogs and attach their names, words, feelings to exactly who they are…it is admirable…although…one wonders why the accolades. The doctors with real blogs are more reachable, more personable….and the hard truth is they are more honest….not just ranting with no accountability.

    My personal friends who are doctors have Facebooks and their patients do not ask to join, or rarely ask. Why all this almost type of hysteria when few doctors are attacked or families harmed. I would imagine your neighbors and patients know where you live….unless you live in a cave. It reminds me of a website I used to work on in the Dark Ages, with a software engineer. He felt the contributors should upload pictures of themselves or their family…oh my….the women were livid…pedophiles were supposedly awaiting a picture of any of our children so they could get cheap thrills and take our children like some cyber Pied Piper.

    All doctors are findable in real life….so are most people…well actually all online posters…even with Tor there are stamps (isn’t it fascinating that people are ordering marijuana and psychedelics online….using a charge card…and thinking the Feds are not interested……like the black book Madam’s keep….we leave a cyber type of DNA wherever we travel).

    I realize doctors feel their private life is just that….but I do know sometimes patients wonder why they feel so vulnerable during visits then doctors go to such great lengths to make sure these same people, who often share personal details with you are blocked off. The doctors my daughter and I like best share about their children….joke with us…allow email….words can hardly express how healing it was to know they did not expect our trust without offering some our way. I do not want to “Friend” them on Facebook….I just want a warm relationship along with their expertise. My daughter needed to like and trust her main doctor….and he let down his professional guard in a way that allowed that. I am forever grateful.

    What seems so obvious to you makes a segment of patients feel like terrorists. Now who is paranoid:)

  • Stan

    I agree that Google+ circles will allow compartmentalization of your information exchange. People don’t know what circles that they’re being put in, and Google will use the Google+ categories to improve their search engine (think, what doctors share with other doctors in their circles, and what +1s can they add)

  • Stan

    I agree that Google+ circles will allow compartmentalization of your information exchange. People don’t know what circles that they’re being put in, and Google will use the Google+ categories to improve their search engine (think, what doctors share with other doctors in their circles, and what +1s can they add)

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