Should Physicians Use Social Media?
Socrates said, “Regard your good name as the richest jewel you can possibly be possessed of…” and for healthcare professionals (HCPs), those words still resonate. Respect for your practice and good name may be why you have been cautious about social media. Social media for healthcare has risks, no doubt, but also offers opportunities too important to ignore.
Defining Social Media
Social media allows users to exchange information, create and share content, and socialize across borders and time zones. Social media for healthcare—reaching new patients, maintaining contact with current patients, and expanding the public awareness of your practice—is older than you might think.
Social media in the electronic age predates the Internet:
- Bulletin Board Systems, 1978
- Internet, 1983
- World Wide Web, 1989
- Friendster, 2002
- MySpace, 2003
- Facebook, 2004
- Twitter, 2006
- Tumblr, 2007
- Pinterest, 2010
- Google, 2011
With these social platforms, patients and medical practices can openly discuss general issues; however, social media mistakes can unintentionally damage a practice or cause problems for patients.
Risks of Social Media
A recent report in Pharmacy & Therapeutics outlined the risks to HCPs of using social media for healthcare communications. Researchers identified a few areas of concern:
- Damage to Professional Image—When a HCP posts unprofessional content on social media their reputations can be damaged. Things to avoid on social media: private photos; sarcastic, facetious or whimsical comments that can be misinterpreted; and demonstrations of unprofessional behavior such as alcohol, tobacco or drug use.
- Breach of Patient Privacy—Federal HIPAA and state privacy laws can exact a great price from a casual comment or inadvertent social posting. A HCP who does not strip identity from information shared on social media can be held liable under HIPAA and its modifier, Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) act.
- Licensing Issues—Since state medical boards ultimately dictate what is and is not appropriate behavior, HCPs risk credentials and licensure by straying far from traditional, professional conduct.
- Legal Issues—What is free speech? What is privacy? Repeatedly, courts have sided with patients who view the slightest unprofessional or revealing comment as grounds for lawsuits. Avoid using social media to discuss legal issues involving an HCP’s practice. Lastly, never provide medical advice online.
Benefits of Social Media for Healthcare Communication
When social media for healthcare is used under carefully followed guidelines, it can amplify a doctor’s message, support patients, and improve a practice’s community exposure. The tangible benefits of social media:
- Patient Interaction—Social media facilitates thoughtful discussions and serves as a place for questions to be answered in real time. Also, you can share and promote your medical blog topics on different social media platforms to help education potential patients.
- Practice Promotion—By keeping the practice’s name in the public sphere through online promotions, email campaigns and regular updates to social media platforms, social media for healthcare offers excellent exposure.
- Patient Education—For a doctor to overcome the pervasive “Dr. Google” effect, accurate information needs to be provided through social media for healthcare and medical entities. Promoting healthy decision-making in lifestyle, educating patients about being proactive and reviewing symptoms are all excellent ways for HCPs to reach potential patients. Teach others and share your knowledge.
- Professional Networking—Social media sites allow users to limit access and cater exclusively to HCPs. Free of patient intrusion, social media allows medical practitioners to exchange ideas and form new connections with colleagues.
Should you use social media for healthcare? Yes, if you follow organizational guidelines with every post, picture or comment. The benefits easily outweigh the risks. Read about the social media mistakes you should avoid here.
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