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Tech savvy physician C. Noel Henley tells readers why they shouldn't dismiss social media; instead they should explore how others are using it to connect with patients.
Are you suspicious of all the social media hype? You should be. There's a ton of it out there - most of it shouted at physicians by marketers and social media consultants. A healthy skepticism will guard your marketing budget, but sticking your head in the sand is a colossal mistake.
I got my first patient from Facebook three years ago. She was living in Panama, had ties to my area, and found the Facebook page I set up for my practice. She saw me for a second opinion in the office and had a good experience.
Would she have found me otherwise? Probably. But she was on Facebook, and my presence there made things easier for her.
Social media is simply a modern form of word of mouth advertising. Patients have been talking to their friends about their doctors since the beginning. Online social media is just a technology-driven extension of that phenomenon.
The most important question to ask before using social media in your practice is: "What benefits will I get from this that I can track?" Carefully consider the answers you get: more patients, more revenue, better exposure, more media coverage, etc., are all potential and real answers.
Many of my subscribers ask me, "What's the easiest way to get started?" Sign up for accounts with all the major social media outlets: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, etc.
Start by searching. Listen to what others are saying, what videos they are making. Look for physicians and other healthcare providers online who are doing what you want to do. Follow doctors on Twitter. Find YouTube channels with videos relevant to your practice. Find similar colleagues on LinkedIn. Start bookmarking, following, and "liking."
There's no pressure. Just begin to be aware of how physicians are connecting, sharing, and improving their practices using social media. To stay current, you need to be where patients are online. You want to be easy to find and easy to connect with. Both current and potential patients are on social media - baby boomers are looking at pictures of their grandchildren on Facebook and teenagers are essentially being raised on Twitter. It's becoming easier for physicians to be right there with them, at low cost, low energy, and low risk.
Don't believe the dire warnings that you've missed the social media boat. Very few doctors have a professional presence on social media. That means if you beat your competitors to it, you'll be miles ahead of them before they realize it.
Even if you just put some social media sharing buttons on your existing website, you are connecting your practice to the "social Web." For instance, my most popular page on my practice website has been shared or "liked" on Facebook by 27 readers as of this writing.
The bottom line? Don't dismiss social media, but start exploring for yourself how other physicians are using social media judiciously to connect with and educate patients.
C. Noel Henley, MD is an Arkansas-based orthopedic surgeon and founder of ReachPatients.com, providing marketing and practice promotion guidance for physicians. Do you think social media is a boon or burden for private practices? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Unless you say otherwise, we'll assume that we're free to publish your comments in upcoming issues of Physicians Practice, in print and online. Have a "Bigger Picture" opinion of your own? Send it along via e-mail and we'll consider it for a future issue.
This article originally appeared in the April 2013 issue of Physicians Practice.