Using social media to reach potential patients and connect with current patients can be an important step in growing your practice and establishing a brand. DOs who’ve learned to do so effectively have developed an awareness of what works for their practice and their goals.
Whether to tweet, share, like, follow or otherwise engage is part of the growing conversation on social media in the medical profession. More than half of millennials and more than four out of 10 adults are or would like to be friends with or follow their health care providers on social media, an AOA survey found last year.
To help DOs maneuver within the social media landscape, the AOA has developed suggestions for professional conduct on social media, which are shared below. The DO also spoke with two DOs who successfully use social media for different purposes.
‘Social media can benefit any physician’
Jonathan Bruner, DO, runs a private practice specializing in musculoskeletal medicine for women and children in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Dr. Bruner shares links to helpful health-related articles with his followers via Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. “Social media can benefit any physician. You don’t have to be out there every day,” he said.
To attract new patients, Dr. Bruner uses patient testimonials on his website. “Because of HIPAA, we cannot use patient photos, but patient reviews are highly effective,” he said.
Social media can also help physicians who aren’t currently in practice develop a brand and connect with an audience. Ron Holt, DO, a retired San Francisco-based psychiatrist, is the author of six books and creator of a video series that promotes LGBTQ advocacy and awareness. Dr. Holt has found success in sharing his advocacy efforts on social media.
“Interact with those who have a genuine interest in the same topics you do,” Dr. Holt said. “It’s not about the number of followers you have, but the quality of followers you have. It’s a slow and organic process.”
While using social media, setting limits is key to maintaining a professional presence, Dr. Bruner said, noting that he stays away from religion and personal details.
“I try to keep it very professional. I don’t promote too much engagement,” Dr. Bruner said. “It generates discussion but it gets tricky. I actually avoid it. When you get engagement, you lose your control and now you’ve got things on your page you can’t control.”
Dr. Holt steers clear of responding in-kind to anything negative. “I do not get into politics or religion on social media. I do not engage with comments that are negative or unfavorable,” he said. “We are all entitled to our opinions, and no one wins when you engage with negativity.”
As physicians, DOs also need to be mindful of the power of their words, especially on the internet, Dr. Holt noted.
“As a physician, I never give professional advice on social media or post anything that would resemble forming a physician-patient relationship,” he said.
AOA suggests doctors can stay professional on social media by:
Ensuring patient confidentiality
Patient privacy is of the utmost concern under ethical requirements and state and federal privacy laws, such as HIPAA. Never post identifiable patient information on social media platforms, even if you are posting anonymously.
Maintaining professional relationships
Consider creating separate accounts/pages/handles for professional and personal interactions. It’s okay to ignore personal requests from patients on accounts that are not used for professional purposes.
Citing your sources
Just as you would cite sources if writing a letter to a medical journal, be sure to note whether information you’re posting online is based upon scientific studies, expert consensus, professional experience or personal opinion, when possible. Clearly state if opinions are your own on forums that may include patients.
Thinking before you post
Strive for accuracy, and when in doubt, pause and think carefully before posting in a public forum. Each post shared on social media platforms has the potential to negatively impact not only one’s own reputation, but also the public’s perception of the osteopathic medical profession.
Checking account privacy settings
Use strict privacy settings to limit who can access your content and/or photos wherever possible. Privacy settings on social media sites often change, so be sure to confirm settings regularly.
Disclosing conflicts of interest
Any information or advice offered on a website or social media site should clearly state financial, professional or personal information that could impact any statements made. This includes discussions, reviews, retweets or other comments on products or services.
Providing advice with caution
Be cautious when providing medical advice online. You could be liable for advice given to patients with whom you haven’t conducted an appropriate in-person exam. It’s advisable to recommend that patients seek in-person patient care for any medical concerns.
If you disagree with others’ opinions, keep your response appropriate and polite by avoiding any negative statements about other medical professionals that could be construed as libelous. Also, use caution about statements made when responding to negative comments about you or your place of employment on social media.