Social media is gaining acceptance in the medical community as a means of interacting with patients and with each other. However, there are some pitfalls to becoming a digital doc. Physicians and healthcare organizations are increasingly using social media platforms to provide healthcare consumers with credible, evidence-based health information, but there are some challenges, especially when it comes to ethical issues and the protection of patient information. Patients have access to information when, where and how they want, but physicians must be careful to use social media tools appropriately. Nonetheless, it is possible to leverage this emerging communication technology effectively at a medical practice to reinforce advice, target new patients, and establish a network of communication for a transparent exchange of information.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has indicated that social media has immense potential on account of its ability to instantly connect millions of people and:
- Disseminate safety information in a timely manner with a measurable impact on human health.
- Target specific audiences with information tailored to their needs.
- Expand access to healthcare information to a more diverse, currently underserved audience.
- Personalize and reinforce health messages.
- Communicate interactively and improve public engagement in healthcare.
- Inform people to make healthier choices and safer decisions.
For physicians and medical practices using these channels, the three Ps of social media communication – personalization, presentation, and participation – can be highly effective.
The Internet has brought health information to everyone’s desktop. Consumers are increasingly literate and capable of making better-informed decisions then they were two or three decades ago. As a physician or medical practice using social media channels, you should tailor your content to address the needs of your targeted audience. Your communication should inform consumers of science-based facts, influence them to make healthier decisions, and motivate them to improve their quality of life. Informal layman language is advisable in all social media posts to appeal to a variety of readers. The focus should be on timely and unbiased information that is scientifically accurate.
Plain text can quickly get boring. The real power of social media lies in engaging users with information presented in multiple formats (e.g., photos, videos, graphics, newsletters, e-books). If you want consumers coming back to you for more, remember variety gives life its flavor. Delivering creative content and thinking outside the box is essential in retaining your audience and attracting a new one. Address the needs of your patients with a multimedia experience that sets you apart from the competition. Differentiating yourself from the pack is the real challenge of social media presentation.
Social media is not a one-way street. Interaction with patients is vital, and this can take the form of partnering with the public in meaningful ways. Social media can be incredibly useful in emergency response situations or during major epidemics. To harness the full power of the medium, engage with campaigns that are currently in the public eye and participate in health promotions and media efforts. The arenas where healthcare providers and institutions can effectively use social media are numerous – online communication during a crisis or epidemic, implementation of wellness and preventive health programs, employee recruitment, information sharing among peers, and volunteer recruitment for clinical trials and research. In addition, just like any other industry, your practice can use social media for online marketing and public relations.
Social media is here to stay and its impact on society cannot be ignored. It is possible for physicians to strategically use these platforms and have a measurable impact on the health of their patients as well as the financial bottom line of their practice. The key is setting realistic goals and remaining within the ambit of the law regarding protected health information, while getting your message across.