Is there a place for social media in medicine?

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Is there a place for social media in medicine?
Is there a place for social media in medicine?

Social media is a growing venue for mass communication among the general population. It allows us to share information at little to no cost and with easy accessibility to everyone. In today's world we have the ability to access information more easily than ever before from our smart phones, computers and even hand-held wireless tablets.

Facebook and Twitter are just two examples of the most widely used social media vendors today. Statistics show that one in seven people in the world have a Facebook account. These sites have millions of users and appeal to a wide demographic group, offering unlimited marketing opportunities. It may seem overwhelmingly obvious why the medical community should take advantage of social media, but these mediums have disadvantages, as well. It is important to understand both before creating a social networking account or blog for your business. Let's review the pros and cons.

Pros

  • Free marketing -- Social media makes it easy to share information about your practice and/or clinic, including office hours, contact information, pictures and staff biographies. You can also share useful articles and health tips. For example, with the flu season coming up, consider using social media to update patients on when the vaccine is available at your office/clinic, or post a blog on common flu symptoms and OTC treatments.
  • Fostering a sense of community -- Patients will love the ability to “like,” “follow” and feel like they are involved with your practice or healthcare facility. This enables greater patient interaction with the business and creates a sense of connection. 
  • Educating patients -- Health-care professionals have the ability to share valuable information, including preventative health tips. Make sure your social media posts are informative and educational, with the goal of establishing yourself as an expert in your field. Your followers will “like” your page or “retweet” your post if you are sharing new and valuable information. Studies have shown that the most successful social media plans are based on education. For instance, we have the ability to easily blog or “tweet” about upcoming recommendations on vitamin supplements, or recommend self-breast exams in support of Breast Cancer Awareness month.
  • Networking -- Using Facebook, Linked In and Twitter enables unlimited networking and establishes persistent name recognition. For example, having a Twitter account can allow other users within the Twitter community to “tweet” about you and create better awareness about your services and care.
  • Delivering customer service -- Social media and blogs offer new platforms for patients to ask questions and for you to reply. Patients who are ill or have questions about symptoms deserve a brief response with encouragement to come into your office for a proper evaluation.

Cons

  • Risk of reputation -- Patients have the ability to post information websites that may be hurtful to your practice or the health-care professionals who work there.  It is difficult to control what and who posts information to your accounts, and requires daily monitoring and maintenance. However, you have to carefully decide if you want interaction and comments on your Facebook or Blog pages.  Interaction increases visibility and draws attention to your pages, but you lose control of what is said. Facebook professional pages and most blog sites have settings that enable you to turn off comments.  Many medical offices choose this route.
  • Unwanted advertisements -- There are certain followers or groups that can create a mesh of cluttered feeds within your webpage, which can detour people.  Take time to filter who you “add as a friend” or “follower” to your page to limit unwanted ads.
  • Time consumption -- It can take a fair amount of time to maintain your online persona, and continually post the updates required once you create an account or blog. It is useful to designate one person within the office, who can consistently monitor and update your social media pages and blogs.
  • Privacy -- Anything you post is public.  This poses a potential risk, as everything can be accessible by any person via the Internet.  It is important to be aware of every piece of material that is posted under your personal or business name to prevent dissemination of any misleading or false information. Remember it is never appropriate to give out personal medical advice online.   

With the correct information and team approach, social media can be a beneficial avenue to help build your business, gain recognition and build patient relationships.  

Lauren Gorence, MPAP, PA-C, practices family medicine full time in Santa Monica, CA. She has also been a senior consultant and student affairs expert for Certified Physician Assistant Consulting since 2011.

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