Doctors are no longer the gatekeepers to medical information. The internet has ushered in an era of unlimited access to health information. All it requires is a simple Google search of the name of a disease or medication to see an endless list of images, videos, message boards, websites, and blogs. Competing with the likes of WebMD and Wikipedia may seem like a daunting task for any physician, but there is a simple way to join the online conversation. Engage in social media.
Physicians are starting to realize the impact social media can have on patient education and communication with peers. There are unlimited possibilities for engaging others when using social media. Doctors are sharing information via Twitter, teaching patients about new treatments on Facebook, and offering educational videos on YouTube. It is time to take advantage of the educational and growth possibilities social media has to offer. Pay attention to the following do’s and don’ts when establishing a presence on the internet.
Do understand the importance of privacy and protected information.
The most significant concern for any provider using social media is respecting patient privacy. All HIPAA rules are applicable to social media. Never discuss a case that is specific to one patient and never use any identifying information.
Don’t commit to social media you don’t have the time for or interest in.
Having a blog is a commitment. It takes several hours a week (if not a day) to write, promote, and maintain. Facebook may be a better option if time is an issue. If an ongoing exchange or conversation is preferred, Twitter is a great option. Explore all the options and choose the platform(s) that work best for you.
Don’t limit social media to Facebook only.
Even though Facebook seems to have cornered the market, there are multiple platforms that serve vastly different purposes. Doctors that have an instructional component to their patient education, such as an optometrist who teaches contact lens insertion or a physical therapist that teaches specific stretches, find sharing videos on YouTube to be an excellent resource. Pinterest is effective for physicians who are sharing materials that have a visual element, such as diabetic recipes, heart-healthy exercises, or best products for allergy sufferers. However, beware of attempting to keep up with too many accounts.
Do share information that is interesting and educational.
Avoid the urge to share items that appeal only to other doctors or healthcare providers. While social media is a very good way to connect with others in the medical community, it is also important to provide information that is accessible to patients and potential patients. Look for articles, tips, statistics, links, and tools that engage the audience.
Don’t engage with patients in direct conversations
If a patient attempts to use social media for a specific conversation, direct them to contact the office via phone or email. A public forum is not the place to advise patients. If they are resistant or persistent remind them that protecting all aspects of their health information is of utmost importance and that the best way to do that is through a private discussion.
In June 2011 The American Medical Association (AMA) released guidelines for healthcare providers using social media. The report stresses the importance of privacy and addresses ethical and professional issues. It emphasizes the importance of maintaining the appropriate boundaries, including separating personal and professional profiles on social media. Physicians are encouraged to inform a colleague that has inappropriate content posted to remove it and/or report them to the proper authorities. The report also reminds providers that any information posted on the internet is public and can affect their career, public image, trust of patients and peers, and the image of the medical community as a whole.
Studies show that 80% of adult internet users have looked online for health information. Social media is an excellent way to meet patients, potential patients, and peers in a space that they are already occupying. Maintaining a presence on various social media platforms allows doctors to have a voice outside of the office. As long as the physician uses social media in a way that is consistent with the ethical and professional ideals of the medical community, it is an invaluable way to enhance relationships with both patients and peers.
A Tweet a Day Keeps the Doctors Away. (n.d.) Allied Health World. Retrieved March 26, 2013, from https://www.alliedhealthworld.com/visuals/tweet-day-keeps-doctors-away.html
Cooper CP, Gelb CA, Rim SH, Hawkins NA, Rodriguez JL, Polonec L. Physicians who use social media and other Internet-based communication technologies. (2012) Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association. Retrieved March 26, 2013, from https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/dcpc/research/articles/socialmedia.htm
Fox, Susannah. The Social Life of Health Information, 2011. (May 12, 2011). Pew Internet. Retrieved on March 26, 2013, from https://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/Social-Life-of-Health-Info/Summary-of-Findings.aspx
Opinion 9.124 – Professionalism in the Use of Social Media. (November 2011) American Medical Association. Retrieved March 26, 2013, from https://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/physician-resources/medical-ethics/code-medical-ethics/opinion9124.page
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