When it comes to doctors and social media, hospitals fail miserably

When it comes to doctors and social media, hospitals fail miserablyWhen it comes to medicine and social media, much of the attention is negative.

Doctors losing their hospital privileges because of Facebook.

Or other health care workers taking pictures of patients and posting them on the web.

It’s no wonder that many hospitals are taking a heavy handed approach when it comes to their doctors and social media.

Consider this story, Doctors warned not to use social media with patients:

Stanford University School of Medicine student Matt Goldstein, who graduates in June and has accepted a position at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, says the hospital specifically stated in a letter to him that it would like him to refrain from using social media with patients. Goldstein also says the letter he got told him he should change his privacy settings on Facebook, if he used it at all, to optimize privacy.

“The letter said the patient may try to ‘friend’ you, but we suggest you don’t accept,” said Goldstein. The letter also suggested he “review photos” he might have posted online anywhere in the interests of establishing an online identity as a medical professional.

First of all, let me say that this is perfectly legitimate advice.

Doctors shouldn’t friend patients on Facebook.

They should review their privacy settings and as well as the public status of their photos.

But after reading this article, doctors may come away with the message that they shouldn’t use social media to interact with patients at all.  And that may be enough to prevent them from ever dipping their toes into the social media waters.

And that’s wrong.

Did the Brigham let Dr. Goldstein know that it is appropriate to make a separate Facebook page, where he can interact with patients as a whole, perhaps by sharing articles or health information from reputable medical websites?

Did they provide the appropriate online professionalism resources to guide their incoming class of residents on how to navigate social media?  Or teach them how a Facebook page or LinkedIn profile can proactively define their online presence?

I can’t say for sure, but it seems they’re taking the approach that many hospitals take: Doctors are better off staying away from social media when it comes to connecting with patients.  And that’s a losing strategy.

Nuance is needed when it comes to the medical profession and social media. Just telling doctors to “stay away from patients on social media” is a lazy approach, and both doctors and patients will be worse off for it.

When it comes to doctors and social media, hospitals fail miserablyKevin Pho is co-author of Establishing, Managing, and Protecting Your Online Reputation: A Social Media Guide for Physicians and Medical Practices. He is founder and editor of KevinMD.com, also on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

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  • Sophie Zhou

    Plenty of famous people use social media, but they set a boundary between what is private and what is shared. Doctors could do the same – one account for patients and one account for family. Nuance is definitely the key.

    - alittlehappi.blogspot.com

  • TPacileo

    I agree with this advice -  Physicians and Nurses should be involved with social media, however many hospitals still do not have social media policies in place, so there is no clear cut direction on what they can and cannot do on social media.  They also should be taught how to adjust their privacy settings and if they should have a Fan page vs a personal profile based on the hospital’s social media policy.  Additionally they should know the legal and regulatory issues regarding HIPAA, etc.

    Based on the latest studies on social media and healthcare, hospitals that do not move forward in this area will not be in the group of survivors in 5-10 years.  Patients don’t trust traditional media, they want more time with their doctors and progressives CEO’s now recognize the importance of having a social media and online presence.

  • erintolbert

    Physicians need to utilize social media and other technologies to interface with patients more frequently.  Patients are accustomed to getting information about people and businesses with which they interact through social media, why not their doctors?  Most businesses use services like Twitter and Facebook to increase their customer base- why aren’t physicians using it to increase their patient base?  Social media is commonplace in our society and physicians who capitalize on this opportunity will certainly be more successful than those who do not.