Staying connected

How DOs are clicking with social media

The benefits of social media are real: Physicians are using it to promote their practices, establish credibility and connect with patients.


Social media is undoubtedly changing the medical profession. Only a few years ago, sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter were the new kids on the block, but now they’re ubiquitous. As DOs are finding out, social media can be a double-edged sword. There’s much to gain from using it, but also much to lose. For DOs, the question isn’t whether you should use social media—the question is how.

The benefits of social media are real: Physicians are using it to promote their practices, establish credibility and connect with patients. A bigger presence in the community means more clients, more referrals and more opportunities to share expertise. Some 65% of physicians are using social media for professional purposes, a survey by QuantiaMD found.

“Having a page on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and being active on the Web has helped me tremendously,” says Daniel Lopez, DO, owner a private practice in New York City. “It helps me to build a presence around the community faster. I have had many opportunities opened up, such as being a guest on a radio show, by being active on social media.”

Physicians are especially using social media to network with other doctors, for both business and education. About 28% of doctors are frequenting physician-only professional networking communities such as Sermo, Medscape PhysicianConnect and Ozmosis, and 17% are using LinkedIn, according to QuantiaMD. They’re seeking out information on medical advancements, looking for opinions from thought leaders, asking for advice from fellow doctors and posting photos and videos of medical procedures.

“I really didn’t know what to expect from LinkedIn at first, but after just over a month of using it, I have already connected with some of the other physicians in the Maine area and gained a few referrals,” says Jason Sneed, DO, who is a family practice physician and neuromusculoskeletal medicine resident at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, Maine. “I’ve discussed ways to market my new practice and pitfalls to avoid with several other physicians and marketing professionals.”

Social media that connects physicians to patients could even be commonplace someday. HealthTap, for example, is a social media platform that has more than 6,000 registered physicians and 500 health care institutions answering questions posted by patients. (It also counts Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt among its investors.) Physicians can “agree” with other doctors’ answers to patient questions and raise their “trust score.” It also tracks the number of “people helped.” In all, physicians are using more than 4,200 social media sites, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers Health Research Institute.

Public relations

The most compelling reason for physicians to maintain online personas is to control their reputations, says Kevin Pho, MD, who writes on the topic at and speaks to physicians around the U.S. “With patients looking up doctors online, they’re going to come across review sites with who knows what on them,” he says. “By being proactive, physicians can take control of their online presence.”

While many physicians worry about the time they’ll have to invest into social media, doctors who do make use of the technology say they’re getting good return on their investment. Some physicians report that between one-third and half of their patients come from social media. Others attest that between $125,000 and $140,000 of their income is social media-derived.

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Beyond referrals, osteopathic physicians can use social media to cast themselves in a unique light. DOs can share the benefits of their osteopathic approach to medicine and teach patients about OMT, for example. “Social media is a fantastic way for DOs to differentiate themselves,” Dr. Pho says.

But social media can be dangerous. Information given to the World Wide Web can’t be taken back. Social media is rife with privacy issues, so DOs must consider the impact of every word they type. Leaking sensitive patient data, for example, could open a physician up to legal liabilities—some doctors have even been fined and fired. An off-hand tweet about one’s favorite wine or an endorsement of a politician could damage a physician’s image or offend patients.

That’s why many physicians shy away from connecting with patients on social media altogether. Privacy, liability and compensation are their key concerns, according to QuantiaMD. Physicians decline requests from patients to be “friends” on Facebook 75% of the time, the same survey found.

“I do not necessarily ask patients to join my social media sites,” says Dr. Lopez. “I stick to providing health information or information about the practice. People can interact but it’s not a format for me to make friends.”

Professing professionally

In November 2010, the American Medical Association adopted a social media policy that warns physicians to be professional and exercise extreme caution when dealing with sensitive patient data. It suggests that physicians consider separate personal and business accounts, and that they should be constantly monitored for accuracy and appropriateness.

But the guidelines may not be enough. Many medical schools don’t teach students about online professionalism or how health care and social media intersect. “I had absolutely no training in school on anything involving the Internet other than being told I had to check my school email daily,” says Dr. Sneed.

Some schools are beginning to warn medical students about social media’s potential to harm, though. “My guess is most of the DO schools do what the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine does, which is to scare the students out of posting on social media due to privacy regulations,” says AOA Immediate Past President Karen J. Nichols, DO, the school’s dean. “It’s covered in orientation and through various courses, not as a formal lecture on how to use it as much as a cautionary tale.”

Still, lots of DOs are using social media to connect with patients, albeit carefully. Rather than discussing health issues with individuals, they’re sharing medical breakthroughs and advice, running promotional contests and alerting patients to news about their practice, such as closings, holidays, hours and more. “If I were to have to close the office due to snow, I could post it on Twitter, then it would also instantly show up on my website, Facebook and LinkedIn,” says Dr. Lopez.

Physicians are using social media to help their patients find credible online health advice, too. Some 32% of consumers have used social media to find information about health care, such as connecting with health organizations and other people with shared health interests, filing complaints, and looking up informational videos on YouTube or other sites, the PricewaterhouseCoopers Health Research Institute reports. For patients under the age of 35, that figure jumps to 50%. Only 15% of those patients check the source of that information, though, the Pew Research Center reports.

“I think most doctors know that their patients go online all the time and try to diagnose themselves,” says Dr. Sneed. “My thought is you might as well advise them where to look, since they are going to look anyway. Not all medical advice is from a credible source.”


  1. Robert D. Hayes, D.O.

    LOVE your last sentence!!
    Wonder how I might locate Myron Howell D.O., who was in my class and recently seems to have left Nova? in Fla.

  2. Mohammed Alo, DO

    Great write up! Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine is offering a Social Media Course this summer for CME credit for all physicians. The Social Media lecture is a 3 hour lecture and should offer great insight. I will be giving that lecture on Friday July 27th, 2012. Sign up and register today at:
    See you there!

  3. William Faber DO

    I note early in the article you use the word “clients” referring to patients. I feel that you should stop using this misnomer as proffered by non-physician administrators. The word “patient” has specific secular meaning that refers to people seeing physicians. The word also has massive legal meaning some of which you address in the privacy laws. Also do people that have “clients” have unlimited liability as physicians do? If you side with the non-physican administrators please make it uniform and eliminate the words, physicians, surgeons, doctors , et cetera and only use the word “provider”. Correct usage of words is important in this very legal world.

  4. Bernard Schmitt DO

    I was surprised in recent years, by seeking information from patients which resulted in my profiles on LinkedIn or Twitter. I think I will build my presence, through interventions that I can do, the advice I can give the professional level. In terms of my personal views I expressed on the network but in a hidden identity.

  5. Travis Smith D.O.

    This is a great way to continue to build the osteopathic brand. I hope we continue to grow. I run a one of the only DO websites which update medical and health policy news. @politicsandmed on twitter

  6. Tiffany Sizemore-Ruiz, D.O.

    I agree, I believe social media is a great platform for educating patients as well as connecting with them. I personally have a blog, Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter account that I use for education and reference for not only my patients, but the general public as well. I think that social media is greatly underutilized when it comes to physicians and training programs.

    Also, Dr. Hayes (above), Dr. Howell unexpectedly passed away in October, 2011.


  7. Tayson DeLengocky

    I believe that social media is a very good way of promoting our profession.

    I launched a blog with the help of my IT friend about a year ago in order to fight against the unfounded media bias. provides a forum for discussion of issues in public health, medical education, eye care, society and international events. especially in the human rights issue.

    The followings are some stats of the site

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