7 Ways to Integrate Social Media into Your Practice

Social media isn't just a tool for doctors to share health information. It's also a tool to establish your practice as a credible source for health-related information.

While it's true many physicians keep up with technology trends, how many practices are actually using social media to improve their communications with patients or boost their bottom line? Here are some ways to get started:

1. Create Your Social Media Pages

First things first: Have you ever used a social media outlet for business purposes? For 83 percent of you who haven't (according to our 2011 annual technology survey), consider joining and launching a site for your practice on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Encourage your patients to "like" your practice's Facebook page, so that your postings show up in their news feeds, suggests Laurie Morgan, a healthcare consultant for Capko & Co.

2. Post Health-Related Updates

You might know it's time to get a flu shot or that your practice does genetic testing, but do your patients? Sending out snail mail leaflets is no longer the best way to get the word out. That's why Linda Rickey, administrator with North Fulton Pediatrics in Roswell, Ga., sends out a note on the Facebook news feed when the flu vaccine is available at her practice, along with seasonal health tips on things like allergies or bug bites in the spring.

3. Network Online

Looking for a physician to join your specialty practice? Many more people are meeting prospective employers and employees on career-focused social networking sites like LinkedIn. The best way to draw attention to your accolades and meet similar professionals is by joining a networking group run by an online media outlet - such as the Physicians Practice Group on LinkedIn, pardon the plug - so you can easily follow and engage in discussion with others in your profession, take polls, read materials pertinent to your career, and meet colleagues.

4. Connect with Video

Is your practice looking for a way to provide fresh, unique, and informative content to patients? If so, consider launching a YouTube video channel. Dean Berg, a digital media strategist with Anicca Media who consults with practices, suggests shooting and uploading educational videos on common procedures, such as insulin injections or ultrasounds. "Video is becoming a very strong, and preferred, medium by many patients," says Berg.

5. Start a Blog

In the last two years, dozens of primary care and family physicians launched blogs so they could speak up about the issues that concern them and their peers most (healthcare reform, malpractice lawsuits, etc.). A blog is a great way to speak directly to your patients and the community, and they can help establish you as a thought leader.

6. Join a Discussion

There are dozens of ways to handle tricky patients, form ACOs, and deal with a slacking staffer. Joining discussions on physician websites such as Sermo or in the comment thread on informational websites is a great way to get your voice heard and rally likeminded medical professionals to engage in divisive issues.

7. Post General Information

Social media isn't just a tool for doctors to share health information. It's also a tool to establish your practice as a credible source for health-related information. The most beloved LinkedIn and Facebook pages (and Twitter "tweets") are those featuring articles of interest from credible third parties. If you'd like to focus on your practice's happenings, Morgan suggests posting "Did you know?" updates (for example, "Did you know we now offer flu shots on a walk-in basis?" or "Did you know that ulcers are caused by bacteria and can be treated with antibiotics?").

Marisa Torrieri is an associate editor at Physicians Practice. She may be reached at marisa.torrieri@ubm.com.

This article originally appeared in the June 2011 issue of Physicians Practice.