Social Media in Healthcare: The First Steps

July 14, 2011

The ultimate benefit of your participation on social networks will be better connection with your patients, resulting in better care overall. Along the way, you will be seen as a trusted source of healthcare information, a “go-to” resource.

The benefits of participating on social networks are (in no particular order):

• Connecting with peers
• Connecting academia to the real world
• Engaging patients / keeping the connection going beyond the clinic
• Accessing a larger community
• Sharing your experiences
• Demonstrating your expertise
• Participating in the transformation of medicine

The ultimate benefit of your participation on social networks will be better connection with your patients, resulting in better care overall. Along the way, you will be seen as a trusted source of healthcare information, a “go-to” resource. That will elevate your perceived authority, your expertise.

The digital world has evolved into one, huge, digital word-of-mouth. Participating on social networks will complement your existing marketing plan. We will cover how you can “market” your practice in this new digital world without seeming like Vinnie, the used car salesman (no, I really have nothing against used-car sales people - personally, I never buy a new car).

If you are a physician who has already actively established an online brand, you are in the minority. Despite being surrounded by high-tech every day in our professional worlds, we physicians are notoriously late-adopters of technology in our own lives.

Why don’t physicians participate on social networks?

We perceive social media as risky. We are afraid.

A recent article published by Physicians Practice outlines steps that you can take to minimize the risk of participating on social media.

So, now that you know how to minimize the liability, how can you get started on social media?

There are three easy steps to take before diving in:

First, establish an e-mail account that is separate from your work and hospital e-mail address, and also separate from your personal e-mail address. Simply set up an e-mail account at Yahoo or Google or another free service. You will use this e-mail account to set up various online profiles.

Next, set up “profiles” that describe you and your practice on Google.com (I'll address this in a future post) and About.me - these will act as signposts that patients will find when they search your name online.

Finally, get a professional photograph - a “head shot”- that can be uploaded to these profile sites. Use a professional photographer, not something taken at your last birthday party where you had to crop out your brother in-law. Use the same photograph for all of your online profiles for consistency. Smile.

You are now ready to begin establishing your online presence. Of course, you already have an online “presence” - an online search of your name will confirm that fact. What we will do next is begin to actively develop that online reputation.

Tune back in here soon when we will start by opening at least one online social media account. It’s easy, and I will help you move through it quickly and painlessly.

In the meantime, try to get some sense of where the majority of your patients spend time online. With over half of American households using Facebook, chances are that is where your patients spend their social media time online, but note that Google+ is growing rapidly. Ask around at your clinic.

That’s it for now.

Your participation on social networks will help establish your “brand” in the digital world. Your online reputation will determine whether someone selects your practice for their next clinic visit. We will review straightforward, step-by-step methods for building your digital brand.

Along the way, we will focus not only on the how-to for getting connected, but also on how to minimize your liability: how to remain HIPAA-compliant while participating on social networks; how to connect with patients on Facebook while maintaining an appropriate professional separation; how to optimize your participation while staying out of trouble.

In our next several articles we will continue these steps. In addition, we will review:
• A formal analysis of the return on investment from participating in social media;
• How to “brand” your practice: developing your online reputation;
• How to have online “Friends” and remain HIPAA –compliant;
• How to gauge whether you are succeeding in your online efforts;
• How to build and connect with your online patient community;And many other practical topics for physicians entering the digital world.

Russell Faust, PhD, MD, FAAP, ABIHM is the chief medical officer for Anicca Media, LLC - a digital media agency helping physician practices and hospitals to connect with their online patient communities, and pharmaceutical and medical device companies to connect with physicians. He is advisor for several tech- and biotech-startups. Faust is a pediatric ENT surgical specialist with a passion for using social media to optimize patient care, and he is an author on how physicians can enter the digital world to build their practices and improve healthcare.