- Why should physicians bother with social media?
- How does social media work in healthcare? How should a doctor or healthcare organization get started?
- Can busy doctors use social media without investing lots of time and effort?
- What are best practices for doctors who want to build a successful online presence?
- Isn’t it risky for medical professionals to be active online? What if I do something wrong?
- What is a digital footprint? Can I really influence how my practice or professional brand shows up in search results?
- What do I do if patients contact me through social media?
These are among the most common questions doctors and other healthcare professionals have about using social media and having a visible presence online. I wrote The Social Prescription to answer them, and help other physicians engage confidently in the digital space.
Physician use of social media, blogs, and other digital platforms for professional purposes has been rapidly increasing in recent years, and shows no signs of slowing down. This is a good thing!
Although many healthcare professionals have reservations about getting active online, there are so many benefits for physicians, patients, and the healthcare community as a whole. These benefits far outweigh the risks, which are real, but which can be mitigated with a little common sense. It’s important to have a strong understanding about the following potentially sticky situations:
- A patient contacts you directly through social media or your website
- An individual who is not your patient asks for your medical advice via a blog comment or social media direct message
- A family member or friend asks for medical advice on a public social media feed
You’ll also want to be clear about the social media policies of any employer or affiliated organization with which you work. Of course, be mindful of HIPAA. Are you a social media ‘influencer’ or otherwise looking to monetize your website or social media channels? Be sure you follow FTC guidance on disclosure of sponsored content. Have clear disclaimers about what is intended as information or education rather than medical advice.
Each of these possible concerns have simple fixes and best practices. Once you learn them, you can get to the real business of connecting and building community online, as well as controlling your digital presentation of your professional persona. Believe it or not, social media can advance your career directly and indirectly. And, if you’re one of the many many physicians with a passion project or ‘side gig’ that you’d like to transform from a hobby to a real business that pays the bills…well, your website and social media skills can make that happen too!
But, what if you are perfectly content with your standard clinical or academic practice, with no desire to grow your practice, get promoted, or take on an entrepreneurial venture?
Should you be online? The short answer is YES.
As with all professional services and businesses, if you can’t be found online, you may as well not exist. And if what is found online isn’t favorable, your business or career will suffer. Medicine is no exception. If you haven’t started already, you’re leaving your reputation to chance. Your search results will consist of one or two links to your institution or practice website, but otherwise will be largely dominated by auto-populated, often outdated, physician rating websites or physician finder tools. Some may think that’s fine – neither beneficial nor harmful. I suppose that’s up to personal preference. In my view, a bunch of digital noise and useless information obscuring your professional activities and accomplishments is a big negative. And it leaves you vulnerable – get caught up in a single bad review or news headline, and that’s what will dominate what people see about you. (And yes – they are looking! Patients, potential employers, possible collaborators are all scoping you out online.)
The other major category of online activity is content creation. This is information intended for the public. Even if you don’t care about your own digital footprint or brand, you do care about patients. When we don’t fill the space – as we haven’t historically – someone else does! I know you think you’re too busy. That’s what we always say. Too busy taking care of patients. And I know you are. However, without clinician-authored content, the clinician’s voice will become less relevant over time, and the perceived value of our expertise will decline alongside. We owe it to our profession to be good citizens of our professional communities.
And if you don’t care about that, it’s still important time to get on board because patients want and need reliable information about their health. They are searching the internet already – that’s not going to stop. But what are they finding? Often, it is of suspect accuracy, and certainly not scholarly. We have an ethical imperative to be active online and provide that education that patients seek. It’s the right thing to do – helping as many people as we possibly can.
I hope you’re convinced that there is no online ‘opt out’. But social media isn’t just another thing you have to do. It has so many benefits for you and for the people you help – once you’re comfortable, you’ll want to use these tools.
It may be obvious by now that I believe in providing needed medical education to as many people as possible. Please read The Social Prescription and let me know how you use it (all of my contact info is in the book and online). If you think a colleague would benefit, please recommend it. This book is one of my personal efforts to help as many healthcare colleagues as I possibly can.