Medical Social Media - Advice for Physicians Online

August 25, 2011

Wondering which social media channel is best for physicians?

Along with Skype, social media use is growing exponentially for physicians as they reach out to care for patients, improve their own marketing, and confer with colleagues. Social media is a great tool for physicians, but it doesn't come without some risk. It is important to keep in mind the public can be privy to everything you post.

Public Social Media

Wondering which social media channel is best for physicians? They each have their pros and cons:

  1. Twitter: A great way to reach and educate the public. But given the trickiness of private communication and the risks to a physician, it's wise to assume all use is for public viewing.
  2. Facebook: The most popular social media channel on the market, but like Twitter, it is best used exclusively for public-facing material. Avoid any patient specific information.
  3. Google+: Physicians may get a lot benefit out of Google+ if it becomes as popular as Twitter or Facebook. The circles feature allows you to separate colleagues from patients, and both from family and friends.

Physician-specific Social Media

Aside from social networks open to the general public, there are several social networks exclusive to physicians. Each looks to facilitate doctor-to-doctor collaboration and learning. A few noteworthy networks to check out are:

  1. Sermo
  2. Doximity

Professionalism in Medical Social Media

The AMA preaches professionalism when using social media. People have lost their jobs over what they post online. And for physicians, this is obviously a more important issue. You not only have your own professionalism at stake, but also the confidentiality of your patients to consider.

Physicians have options depending on the goals of a social media presence. Looking to connect with friends and family? Carefully monitor your privacy settings and politely decline (with a message explaining your desire for professional separation) patient and coworker friend invitations. If you're looking to reach patients for marketing and educational goals, avoid posting too much about your recreational life. Many of my physician friends use two profiles on the same social network to achieve these two different ends.

What to do: examples of good medical social media

Follow physicians who are having success with social media. Kevin Pho, M.D.
( @kevinmd) uses Twitter to promote his medical blog, converse with readers, and announce new posts.

Dr. Rob Lamberts ( @doc_rob) uses a more personal voice. His sense of humor shines through with updates that are less about medical information and more about his life and career.

Children's Hospital Boston does a great job with their social media campaign. Their Facebook page is full of video and heartfelt patient testimonies. Everyone is invited to post, but their social media policy about responsible and public posting is made clear.

What not to do: the liability of medical social media

Avoid posting about any specific patients. Earlier this year, a physician's employment was terminated for posting about a patient. Although the patient's name was not disclosed, enough was shared for the patient to be identified.

Some medical academic institutions have answered this challenge by outright banning social media. In my opinion, they'd be better off educating their students about maintaining online integrity. Many aspects of the profession are moving online, especially marketing and patient interaction, and it's a trending wave that shows no sign of abating.

Social media can put physicians and medical institutions at risk. However, with a solid plan to make sure everyone on your team understands the channel and with careful monitoring of feedback, social media can be effectively used to achieve your goals.

Opinion Disclaimer: The opinions and views expressed in this blog are meant to be directional and informational based on topics that I find interesting and thought provoking on a daily basis. Our work interacts with physicians every day, so we hope you find some of these topics relevant to your career. In no way do they reflect the viewpoints of the American Medical Association or AMA Insurance.

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