5 ways to make social media work for doctors and their patients

There’s no question that social media is taking root in the healthcare field, and will only continue to grow in importance.  According to a recent Pew Internet survey, four out of five Internet users have searched for health information online, making health one of the most searched topics on the internet. While on the one hand, this is good news for doctors since patients are often using the information they get online to get better informed and prepared for their doctor visits, on the other hand it can lead to a glut of potential misinformation.  After all, anyone with Internet access can set up a health blog, no credentials required. That’s why it’s becoming increasingly important for doctors to get involved in the online discussion. Think you don’t have time, are you worried about privacy and regulatory issues, or you don’t know where to begin? Participating in a consumer-facing social media platform doesn’t have to be as complicated or time-consuming as you may think. These five simple suggestions will help you on the road toward social media success.

1. Mind your time.  One of the things I hear over and over from doctors is that they simply don’t have time to participate in social media.  Contrary to what you might think, engaging online doesn’t have to require a huge time commitment.  There are many forms of social media available to doctors today, and it doesn’t have to mean writing constant Facebook or Twitter posts or managing a blog that needs daily updates.  Instead, you can choose a less time-consuming format such as an online Q&A forum where the doctor-patients channel is already established.  Find a site that provides a platform that makes it easy for you to maintain an online profile and answer patient questions, as your schedule allows.

2. Transparency is king.  Let’s face it: A face-to-face doctor visit is never going to be replaced by websites or blogs. But the more information you can provide about yourself and your credentials, the more patients can trust the information they are getting online, and will use the information to be better informed and prepared when they do visit their doctor. Look for a social media platform that offers features such as a searchable online directory that provides clear and detailed profile information about medical providers in its directory, including licensing information and status (including board certification), disciplinary history, education, employer and contact information.  The last point is important, especially if you want to use social media to help grow your practice and generate new patients.

3. Size matters. Yes, when it comes to social media, finding a platform with a sizable installed user base of patients and doctors is important.  Not only does this help you reach patients more efficiently, but it also means that the platform has proven itself to be a safe and trustworthy place for patients and doctors to engage with one another.  While common sense dictates that you not engage in confidential doctor/patient conversations in a public forum, look for sites that have clear community guidelines for respectful and trusted online communications.  The internet has proven itself to be incredibly good at weeding out the bad and promoting the good. You’ll know a site can be trusted if it has a large community of people using the service.

4. Bring on the critics. People tend to trust their peers when searching online, which is why consumer reviews are becoming more and more popular for everything from restaurants and travel destinations, to yes, even doctors. Rather than shy away from sites that allow patients to write reviews, embrace them.  At Avvo, we’ve found that our users overwhelmingly want to share their positive experiences and provide constructive feedback that can be helpful to others.  By encouraging patient and peer reviews, you’re going one step further to build deeper trust with your patients.

5. Take two. Needless to say, it’s probably a good idea to keep your business and personal matters separate (after all, do you really want your patients to comment on your dog photos?).  While many of us have Facebook pages or Twitter accounts to stay in touch with friends and family, you probably don’t want your patients following you there too.  Instead, seek out a separate social media platform that is more appropriate for patient engagement, such as an online health-focused community.  This will make it easier for you to engage with patients, without having to explain that triple scoop ice-cream cone you indulged in over the weekend.

Mark Britton is the founder and CEO of Avvo, a free resource that rates and profiles 90% of all doctors and lawyers in the U.S.

Submit a guest post and be heard on social media’s leading physician voice.

View 7 Comments >