Much has been written about "social media" and while it seems like a great way to promote, say, a retail business or charitable cause, is it a good tool for your practice?
Many practices avoid platforms like Facebook and Twitter for fear of infringing upon HIPAA laws and protected health information (PHI) regulations. Providers are concerned that patients will begin asking specific, clinical questions, or worse, post confidential information about themselves on a practice's Facebook page for all to see. What’s more, practices are concerned about how to manage a social media page — who will post content? Who will respond to patient inquiries? Who will monitor the page to make sure that sensitive information isn't posted, or remove it quickly when it does happen?
While these are all valid concerns, they don't have to prevent you from taking advantage of social media for your practice. Posting clear "rules" on your social media page and tweeting reminders about appropriate content from time to time is often all that is required to prevent the exchange of sensitive information. You can even prevent Facebook followers from posting anything at all. Applications like Hootsuite make it easy for you to, say, post a week's worth (or more) of content and schedule it to post to various platforms at the times and days that you specify. And it takes only a couple of minutes here and there throughout the day to check your Facebook page or Twitter feed for responses.
But why even bother with social media? One word: PRESENCE.
The single greatest advantage to having a Facebook page (or Twitter feed, or YouTube video) is being present where your patients (and potential patients) are. In fact, 33 percent of U.S. consumers are using these social media platforms to find medical information, research and share their symptoms, and offer opinions about doctors, treatments, drugs, and health plans, according to an April 2012 PwC Health Research Institute survey of more than 1,000 consumers. Of those in the 18 to 24-year old group, 90 percent polled said that they would trust medical information shared by others through these platforms. But social media is not just for young people. The average Facebook user is 38 years old and has 130 friends. So each engaged user has a large audience for practices to potentially tap into.
Being present on these platforms therefore means that you can communicate with a wider audience than just those patients who pass through your practice doors.
Consumers today rely on social media to inform them of where to find medical care, how that care is rated, and also provide an opportunity to learn more about a practice before committing to that care themselves. And patients sharing your posts with their friends offer a no-cost and yet highly trusted way to promote your practice. According to PwC, of those searching for information, 41 percent are using it to make decisions about which doctors or hospitals to use.
What else can a social media presence do for you? It can demonstrate your expertise in your field and show that you are engaged and willing to interact with patients, which is what most consumers of healthcare are looking for these days. In addition to wanting to learn about the medical care you have to offer, consumers also want to learn about your business. Social media allows a practice to show off its personality, which is a nice way to differentiate yourself from your competitors.
If you have a strong online presence, not only will you pop up in more places online, the character of your group will also be showcased and enable you to attract the kind of patients that are a good fit for your practice. And a good fit from the beginning means happier patients; and happy patients promote their doctors! Those who are sharing their health care issues through social media sites are more likely to share positive experiences than negative, and that can mean better quality ratings for you.
Need help getting started? Check out a video blog on the topic by physician and social media expert Russell Faust, MD, and he'll step you through it:
Susanne Madden, MBA, is founder and CEO of The Verden Group, a consulting and business intelligence firm that specializes in practice management, physician education, and healthcare policy. She is also COO, National Breastfeeding Center, and cofounder, Patient Centered Solutions. She can be reached at [email protected] or by visiting www.theverdengroup.com.