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A Physician's Guide to Social Media


Here are a few dos and don'ts for physicians dipping their toes into the sometimes murky waters of social media.

Nearly everyone uses social media these days for a whole host of reasons. Yet, many doctors fear using it for professionally. Some cite liability issues. Others claim their privacy is at stake and don't want patients seeing into the window of their lives.

Despite these valid concerns, social media can be a very powerful platform for physicians when used appropriately.

What should be done and what avoided on social media?

• When creating your professional accounts, use your credentials so you are recognized as an expert. Also, use a professional profile picture. If you want others to recognize you as a doctor, don't use a picture of your car as your profile picture. People need to know who you are.

• Never give medical advice on social media. Sure, you will post items that have medical information but this is not the same as giving direct advice to a patient or person. Most patients understand the line that exists, but I have had a few message me on social media. My answer is that they need to reach out directly to their doctor over the phone or through secure e-mail.

• You can have more than one Facebook page. Your personal Facebook can be made private and only visible to those you chose. You can have a separate professional page where you share public information. It is much better to separate private and professional pages so the lines don't get blurred.

• Twitter is an excellent tool for making connections. You may be looking for hospital or media connections or something else entirely. It is very important that you follow people that can help you make these connections. It may not be very apparent in the beginning and that is why it makes sense to follow those people who are using it successfully, i.e. the influencers.

• Be social. You need to interact with others to build your platform. If you just post or tweet information you want others to see, people will stop paying attention to you. There is much give and take on these platforms. People tend to share your information much more easily if you have shared theirs before. But, be careful and share only what you support.

• Act the same way on social media as you would while at work. Even if you delete something, someone may have already taken a snapshot or downloaded it. Remember that what is posted on the internet, stays on the internet.  Disagreements with others are fine as long as you keep it professional. You have your own opinions and points of view and social media is a great way to get them out. But, if you waiver from appropriate behavior, people will only see that and not the opinion.

• Never share information that can identify a patient. Even if you use an anonymous presentation, if  a patient can still identify themselves, you can be liable for breeching their confidentiality.

• Ignore the trolls. When you have strong opinions, you will find others have strong counter opinions. Debate is fine but trolling happens when someone just attacks the person putting out the opinion. For example, I have been called incompetent and told my medical license should be taken away because I support the use of vaccines. I know (now) that no effort on my part will ever convince an anti-vaxxer to accept my opinion on the subject. They have an agenda. Better to ignore them.

• Advertising can be purchased on both Facebook and Twitter with targeted audiences. You can use it to grow your practice or your online platform.

• Linkedin is akin to having an online CV.

While it may be anxiety-provoking to jump into the social media sea, doctors are well-served to join the rest of the virtual world. We miss out on many opportunities by standing on the sidelines.

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