Originally featured in Triangle Physician Magazine
Physicians are eager to embrace new advancements in medical technologies, but as a whole they tend to be late adopters when it comes to progressive communication tools such as social media. Although healthcare is innately social, policies like HIPAA have caused what we believe to be an unhealthy fear for physicians to interact with patients outside the confines of the office.
Whether you cite HIPAA, a lack of time, or a lack of computer skills as reasons for not pursuing social media, there’s a strong possibility you could be missing out on three major opportunities to use social media to your advantage.
Are Patients Really Using Social Media?
First, let’s take a look at the numbers which don’t lie when it comes to patient interaction online. According to a 2012 study by PricewaterhouseCoopers, a survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adults revealed:
· One third of consumers now use social media sites for health-related activities;
· 40% of consumers have sought out reviews of treatments, physicians, and other patient experiences;
· 45% of consumers say information from social media sources would affect their decisions;
· 73% would welcome social media-based tools like make an appointment, or ask a question
A separate survey by the National Research Corporation reported that over 40% of respondents rely on social networking for health information and nearly all of those people (94%) turn to Facebook. Additionally, they found that Americans using social media for healthcare are affluent, and on average, 41 years of age.
It’s clear that social media is not a fleeting trend and patients find it to be a valuable resource for healthcare information and interaction. So now the real question is “what’s the advantage for doctors?”
Three Advantages of Social Media for Doctors
1. Cost-Effective Marketing
While there are many advantages to social media, one of the major benefits is the ability to attract new patients. Social media acts like a megaphone, amplifying your message across various channels and potentially reaching those who may have no idea who you are. This is especially effective when it comes to patient testimonials and connecting with other referring doctors online. It’s a powerful branding tool in enhancing the reach of your reputation. Facebook now even offers analytics for your page so you can monitor the impact you’re having online and analyze what type of content resonates best with patients. This makes the ROI much more trackable.
2. Patient Centered Relationships
The reason patients are eager to connect with their doctors online isn’t so they can see where you went to dinner on Saturday night. They want to use social media as a tool to better manage their health. This is prompting health care organizations to rethink their social media strategy to not just focus on marketing but on an overall business strategy to improve outcomes and lower the cost of providing care.
The physician-patient relationship is a two way street and social media provides the opportunity for both to speak, listen, understand and learn from one another. Embrace the opportunity to educate and interact with your patients to help better manage their conditions and coordinate care. Just be careful to never give personal medical advice or reveal patients’ private health information online. Think of your online interactions as communicating with your patient population as a whole in order to avoid HIPAA concerns.
3. Competitive Edge
Social media is an extremely powerful platform that allows physicians to position themselves as an expert in their specialty (for example, maybe a doctor wants to position himself/herself as an expert in robotic surgery within the OB/GYN specialty). While their peers sit on the sidelines, doctors have an opportunity to take a leadership role and put themselves ahead of the competition. Now is the time to build up your social media network online and show your patients that you are not only a leader in your specialty but also in terms of the progressive way you interact with patients.
Although social media may not be an option for all practices, the advantages of participating are at least worth considering. Negative reviews will happen whether you like them or not. The good news is that social media at least gives you the opportunity to be part of the conversation and show off your customer service skills. If you decide to pursue social media, you need to ensure you have the time to interact consistently and if not, who you are going to trust to manage your page for you. Also consider putting social media policies in place so patients understand what type of behavior is acceptable on your page.