As we move forward in this digital world, doctors are also finding that they need to change the ways they normally interact in their jobs and with their patients. Doctors are increasingly turning to technology not only for diagnostics and surgical tools but for telehealth and connecting with patients.
Before the pandemic, I think this was not commonplace, but not because it wasn’t needed. There was significant potential in the market for digital connectivity and tools, but the funding was lacking and the processes were not set up. The pandemic definitely expedited this transition and it did so for the better.
As part of a recent series on the doctor-patient relationship, this article explores those doctors using social media to connect with patients.
How Doctors Are Using Social Media
According to surveys from the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), there is a growing percentage of physicians who are using social media in their practices. However, this isn’t always to connect with patients.
These surveys suggest that about 88% of physicians use the web and social media to look into pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical devices. And another 76% of physicians use mobile devices in their place of practice.
Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram attract a billion-high audience daily. So it’s not surprising in the least that physicians would want to go to these places to connect with this audience.
According to the same study, 54% of millennials and 42% of all adults are either actively connecting or want to connect with physicians on social media.
Family physicians are in this unique position where they can enter the fray and be able to provide accurate information about their specialties. This means that physicians who are actually knowledgable on subjects can outperform those influencers or posters who are posting similar information but without the knowledge, credibility, and expertise. In a way, we need physicians to go online to provide accurate information, especially since so many individuals are getting their knowledge from these social media sites.
Key Considerations When Discussing Medical Advice on Social Media
According to the AAFP, physicians need to be careful about how they use this powerful tool.
Social media can be useful to educate, collaborate, and advocate around things pertaining to that physicians’ specialty or expertise. However, physicians need to make careful considerations before jumping in. The AAFP recommends setting some goals and defining your online persona. It’s also important to remain professional, even though social media can come off as overly casual.
Privacy concerns are the natural barrier to social media connections. So physicians will have to be careful about sharing and collecting personal information and providing personalized recommendations over the platform. Professional organizations recommend taking personalized interactions offline and into a secure web platform instead.
In addition to these considerations, do the following:
- Protect against misinformation
- Limit your screen time
- Follow your institutions best practices
- Be selective when interacting with followers/patients online
- Be careful posting about patient use cases or examples
- Always stay professionals
- Don’t offer medical advice on the social media account
- Assess and avoid conflicts of interest
- Be careful with sponsored content
- Work to build trust and credibility
Best Ways of Connecting on Social Media
Naturally, when we think about “doctors connecting with patients,” I think we assume that doctors can and should provide professional medical recommendations. And this is the wrong route as this can pose significant challenges.
Doctors do not always have to be working, and they can easily have a medical-focus social media account that shares funny aspects of the job, tips and tricks, and common questions.
Social media can be used for several reasons:
Growing your marketing persona and creating an audience: This social media account can operate as a marketing funnel to direct patients to your marketing practice. The interested patients found through social media would redirect to your professional website and be able to seek medical advice from there. You’ll want to research the laws around providing medical advice online in your state and team up with a partner who could help to facilitate this for you.
Pure educational purposes: Providing educational material online on social media platforms has become extremely popular, especially in the time of the Trump era and the COVID vaccine. Infographics can help physicians educate followers about making sound medical decisions, and they can do this carefully and without providing too much personalized healthcare.
Marketing tool for evaluating pain points: Perhaps you are trying to understand what patients want. Maybe patients want to connect with their doctors on social media, or they think that their state laws around healthcare are lacking. Physicians can organize these needs, take them to professional organizations, and find unique ways to solve problems. You can use social media as a forum for assessing these pain points and advocating for a change!
Should You Go On Social Media as a Physician?
It’s normal to get swept up in this huge trend, but you should ask yourself if you should and if you have the means. If you don’t want to, no one is twisting your arm! There are already lots of physicians able to go online. However, being online can support a demographic or pain point that has not been addressed.
You don’t have to post online every day, and really you can use the social media sites how you need it.
If you’re not sure about this, no worries. I’m here to help. I think that social media is a powerful tool and should be used carefully for educational purposes. The use of this blog is one example of educating and the route that I go. But you can also consider Youtube videos, podcasts, and live streams as other ways of sharing medical knowledge.