Using Social Media in Your Medical Practice – September 20, 2017

By now, everyone should have at least a passing familiarity with social media, even if they don’t participate. Loosely defined, social media comprises Internet-based platforms that allow people to create, share or exchange information in virtual communities or networks. There are pros and cons to using social media in your medical practice. 

Reasons to Try It

The best-known platforms today are probably Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat and LinkedIn. Each has a different approach and different user demographics.
 
For physicians, the primary reason to use social media, from a professional perspective, is for marketing purposes — because these platforms are where you can find people, including patients and prospective patients. For instance, a medical practice can use social media to: 

  • Reach out to new patients,
  • Develop and increase brand awareness for new and existing patients,
  • Develop patient loyalty and a positive referral base, and
  • Improve patient retention. 

It’s also important to stay up to date with the platforms currently in use. Facebook and Twitter dominate currently, but does anyone remember AOL chat rooms, Myspace or even Google Plus? Using a platform that no one else is using won’t help you market your practice. Identify which platforms your patients use, create a practice-related group and invite them to join. But don’t overextend your presence — choose a few platforms, not all of them.
 
It might be a good idea to advertise your practice’s availability. Build patient relationships in a HIPAA-compliant fashion, and provide updates about services and promotions. Both Facebook and Twitter have paid advertising options on their platforms. It can be difficult to evaluate their effectiveness, but it’s usually possible to target your audience and limit costs by placing a cap on the ad after a certain number of clicks. 

Reasons Not to Try It

There are plenty of good reasons not to use social media. For one thing, it can be difficult to evaluate your return on investment, because determining whether a social media presence actually brings in new patients or helps retain existing ones is hard to ascertain.
 
In addition, if you don’t follow best practices, potential violations of HIPAA could be legally dangerous. Further, if you express any opinions, you run the risk of irritating or offending existing or potential new patients. Social media is overflowing with people interested in being offended or picking a fight, and it’s all too easy to say something you’ll regret. 

Best Practices to Follow

It’s a good idea to assign one person in your practice the role of monitoring your social media presence. Here are some tips: 

  • Set guidelines and stick to them. Let HIPAA be the core of those guidelines.
  • Have a good reason. Social media isn’t Mt. Everest — you don’t need to climb it just because it’s there. Use it for a well-thought-out reason, whether to engage with patients or to market your practice.
  • Be professional. Develop a social media presence and persona that represents your professional self. Don’t get into politics or religion, for example.
  • Pay attention to security settings. This will limit who can see your posts and keep Internet “trolls” from hijacking them.
  • Use it regularly. Sporadic use is not effective.
  • Link to content. This content can be your own or other content of interest you’re permitted to use.
  • Be brief. Twitter requires it, but if you’re interested in long-form writing, go to your blog or a website and link to it. Posting on social media should be similar to chatting at a cocktail party, not giving a college lecture.
  • Don’t provide medical advice. It’s worth repeating that you should never, under any circumstances, provide specific medical advice on social media. 

Is It Worth Your Time?

Like most things related to marketing, it’s important to pay attention to what works and what doesn’t. If social media starts to become a chore that takes more time than it returns in benefits, seek other marketing strategies.
 
Clearly, your responsibility is to the health of your patients — and the success of your medical practice. Social media is simply one more tool to explore for enhancing patient relationships and growing your practice.
 
Contact Kathy Walsh at kwalsh@cohencpa.com or a member of your service team for further discussion.
 
Cohen & Company is not rendering legal, accounting or other professional advice. Any action taken based on information in this blog should be taken only after a detailed review of the specific facts and circumstances.