And embrace other forms of social media
The way patients gather health information and research physicians/hospitals continues to change dramatically. According to Pew Research Center,
“80% of adult Internet users look for health information online. 29% of users have looked online for information about a particular doctor or hospital.”
In fact, the AMA (American Medical Association) has recently joined the social media community. As reported by MM&M, the AMA now has a Youtube channel and Facebook page. According to the AMA, the reason is simple.
“The AMA Facebook page is a tool for patients and physicians to learn and communicate with each other about the latest health-reform developments.”
That makes a lot of sense. By creating this presence, the AMA is getting involved in the health-care reform conversation. They have recognized that whether or not they participate in the discussion, the health care debate rages on. Simply having a website is not enough anymore. Social media platforms provide them an opportunity to become involved in the discussion and present their own positions.
The AMA is just one small example of medicine participating in social media. There are hundreds of hospitals and practices currently shaping the future of healthcare by participating in social media. Here’s why you (as a healthcare provider) should also become involved in social media.
Why doctors and hospitals should get involved in social media:
Opportunity to communicate good medical information – One of the drawbacks of how the Internet has evolved is that there is a tremendous amount of misinformation. Let me be perfectly clear. There is a ton of very accurate medical information available online. However, it is difficult for patients to filter the good from the bad. Medical professionals have a responsibility to communicate accurate medical information.
Let’s use the swine (H1N1) flu vaccine as an example. There is a tremendous amount of paranoia and misinformation on the Internet regarding the safety of the vaccine. On a daily basis I see inaccurate information posted on blogs, Facebook, Twitter and more. It’s important that physicians act as a voice of reason when this is happening. A simple blog post or status update can notify patients of you position regarding these types of matters.
Properly used, social media can help patients make better decisions. This way fewer patients will rely on myths and half-truths when making medical decisions.
Connecting with your advocates – Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms give physicians and hospitals the opportunity to connect with their own advocates. There are plenty of patients out there right now that love your services. By connecting with these patients and creating a dialogue, you can effectively build a network of evangelists. Why is this important? Your advocates can help build your practice’s online presence. Advocates will be honest and often complimentary in social media environments.
Public relations – Social media represents the real world in real-time. In a situation where current news and events affects your practice of medicine, you have an immediate voice (and audience) for the dissemination of information.
Marketing – Facebook fan pages have public content. This means the information posted to the page is indexed by the search engines. The same is now true for your Twitter posts. Both Google and Microsoft Bing are providing real-time search results. A simple social media search strategy can seed the search engines with relevant content regarding your business.
Reputation Management – There are currently dozens of sites on the Internet that exist primarily to rate physicians. I’m not suggesting these sites are inherently bad, but it is important to note that your personal/professional reputation can be easily tarnished online. Patients looking for reviews should be able to access that information online. However, it’s important for patients to make decisions based on more information than just a review. The combination of a web 2.0 site and a social media presence allows you to present relevant information online to patients or potential patients.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) – Simply put, search engines like social media. Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Flickr, Youtube and other social media sites provide you with an opportunity to be noticed in search. Accounts created on these platforms are indexed by the search engines with a high degree of relevance. When people search for doctors online, they are likely to find content created in various social media accounts. In addition, you can link back to your website from these accounts which ultimately helps your search engine rankings.
There are few social media industry guidelines available for physicians to date. Therefore, it is important to note that patient privacy should be a primary component to any social media activity. For now, common sense should rule the day. Hospitals, practices and individual physicians getting a head start in social media are much more likely to build online influence and credibility – so start tweeting now. The conversation has already begun.