Why your medical practice should adopt social media

Twitter? I don’t have time for that, besides, my life is boring; nobody wants to hear about my boring life.” This is a common response when I talk to people about social media.

One of the reasons I think many have a hard time persuading docs to adopt social media, is because docs don’t understand what they can do with social media or how they can use it for their practice. For the most part, people consider Twitter and Facebook a time waster. A place where one writes what they had for dinner or post pictures of how cute little Timmy looks in his swim trunks. And the truth is, there is a lot of that. But there is also another side that can be much more meaningful and useful.

For starters, social media democratizes information. Moreover, it gives the ability to go beyond our small offices and influence communities while at the same time gives us the opportunity to learn, grow, adapt and find new ways to overcome many of the challenges we face.

For those that don’t quite understand this new medium, I’ve written seven ideas that may help you understand why it might be good for your practice to adopt social media.

Social media gives pediatricians a voice

Back in the day, the only way to express one’s views in the media was to write an Op Ed piece, submit it to an editor at a newspaper and hope that it got picked up. Nowadays, anybody that is online has a voice thanks to social media and tools like blogging.

Blogging, Twitter and Facebook, give pediatricians a platform to express their views about healthcare reform, Medicaid, medical malpractice or anything else that matters to them. Moreover, it allows pediatricians to educate their patients and the pediatric community at large.

How many times has a parent walked in with papers printed from the Internet taken from questionable sources? What if pediatricians from around the web were the resources that parents walk in with?

Social media allows pediatricians to be curators of the web

The web now puts nearly infinite amount of information at the finger tips of our parents/patients. This can be good and bad. However, pediatrician are specialist that are educated in a very specific discipline thus making them highly trusted sources of information. This puts them in an excellent position to curate, manage, filter and organize the information that is on the web.

The truth is, there is a lot of bad information out there regarding pediatric health issues. And as long as that information remains unchecked, parents will assimilate it and credit it as factual. But by embracing the web as pediatric curators, pediatricians have the potential to procure the best healthcare related information on the web and share it with their network.

Social media grows pediatrician’s reach

One of the most powerful things about the web is that content can go viral. Here is how. Let’s say your practice’s Facebook page has 100 fans; and each of those fans have 100 friends; and each of those friends also each have 100 friends. Do you see how this works?

Even if your immediate circle is relatively small, your message can spread like a virus if it resonates with your community. If the content is good and resonates with parents, it will spread thanks to social media.

Now, imagine if we as pediatricians banned together and started promoting a message in unison and linking to each other? Like for example, when it is appropriate to introduce solids, or how Tylenol should be given, why vaccines are important and why a pediatrician can’t prescribe Medicine over the phone.

Social media brings news to you

With social media, you don’t go find the news, the news finds you. It is hard to explain this phenomenon, but theoretically, when you follow people that have the same interest you do –for example, healthcare reform, or healthcare law, or EMR related news – what they find and post will almost certainly interest you too.

Just like a pediatrician curates the information on web for patients and their parents, thus making the pediatrician a trusted source of online information, one’s social media network can do the same for the pediatrician and those that work for them.

Why is having the news come to you important?

How many times has a patient come in and asked, doc, I heard on Oprah today that eating parsley 3 times a day cures naval cancer. And you have no idea what she is talking about. Then, 2 days later, the AAP comes out with a statement that says, eating parsley may cure cancer of the earlobe, and sometimes cancer of the naval.

Let’s face it, most often than not, we hear things from our patients first before we hear anything from the AAP. Having a pulse on healthcare related news via social networks enables pediatrician to be better prepared to address issues in their clinic in real time.

Social media promotes your content

Nowadays, everybody has the ability to write anything and get it published online. However, there is still one problem, how do you get people to read it? The answer is with social media. Using Twitter, and Facebook, is a great way to let others know what you’ve created.

In a medical practice, this can be powerful. For example, let’s say one wants to lend your professional perspective on the recent broadcast on PBS regarding vaccine and autism to your patients.  With a blog and a practice Facebook page, you can have hundreds of people read your perspective with little effort .

Or let’s say that you don’t have the time o create content, but you found an eloquent piece that says exactly what you’d like to tell your patients because it falls in perfect alignment with what you would have said had you had the time to write it. Easy! You link it to your blog or put the link on Facebook.

Builds a stronger community

Like minded people tend to form tribes online. Breastfeeding moms like to talk to other breastfeeding moms. Homeschooled parents like to talk to other homeschooled parents. Social media allows a practice to give parents a platform to communicate, share and have dialogue with each other. Being the person that facilitates the platform has a lot of value. It solidifies ones position as a trusted source of information. Moreover it allows a practice to cultivate stronger relationship within communities. People appreciate that.

Social media can influence search

This is probably one of the most powerful reasons of all. Let me explain. Before Wakefield was exposed as a fraud, the antivax crowd dominated search results. The reason they dominated search results is that the antivax crowd had a much larger online presence. They wrote blogs, commented on Huffington Post stories written by Jenny McCarthy and immediately ascended over anything that remotely suggested vaccines were safe for children.

If pediatricians would take the time to create content, link to scientific data, give their perspective, and post it all online, when someone would search on a topic relating to pediatrics, they’d get balanced results.

As a fellow blogger often says, the AAP has 60,000 members. If each would write a blog post a month concerning pediatrics, pediatrician would dominate search results. I think he is right!

What are your thoughts on social media? Do you see value in using it? What other reasons do you think it would make sense for medical practices to adopt these web 2.0 tools?

Brandon Betancourt manages a pediatric practice and blogs at Pediatric Inc.

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