Physicians' top questions about social media answered

Social media has evolved into something far more than just a tool to stay in touch with colleagues, friends and family.

For healthcare providers in particular, platforms like Facebook and Twitter have even turned into hands-on educational resources. For example, last month, cardiologists in Louisville, Kentucky performed a specialized procedure that doesn’t often show up in the average operating room. To give other specialists a look into techniques they may not otherwise be able to witness, the doctors — with permission from their overseeing facility — live-streamed and live-tweeted the procedure.

Indeed, opportunities and cases like this may not be common for the everyday physician or specialist. Nonetheless, social media is becoming a necessary tool nearly on par with a stethoscope.

Take the word of physician blogger Kevin Pho, MD, founder and editor of KevinMD.com, who defended social media as a worthy medical practice when answering physicians’ most pressing questions about the relative platforms for the latest issue of Physician Family.

According to Pho, there are three primary reasons that physicians should give social media a whirl: To educate patients, to flesh out their online reputation and to share their perceptive/voice.

“More patients than ever are going online to research their health condition, but the accuracy of the information they may find is questionable. Social media is a powerful way for physicians to guide patients to better health information or create their own health content,” Pho explained for Physician Family.

Moreover, “in this era of health reform, the voice of the practicing physician is often missing,” and social media is the most effective and universal medium to fill that void.

How should doctors get started in enriching their social know-how?

First, spend a few hours creating profiles on professional social networks such as LinkedIn — then stop. At this point, ask yourself, “What are my goals for social media?” Pho wrote.

Once physicians have been able to establish themselves online and grow more comfortable there, that’s when they “should incrementally adopt social media platforms” that coincide with their ultimate goal in the social universe, such as “curating links on Twitter to creating content on a blog or YouTube,” Pho added.

Of course, there are a number of things physicians should avoid doing online, like detailing a specific case — even vaguely — as patient privacy laws prohibit most talk in this regard. Moreover, airing general practice dirty laundry can easily spread far beyond its initial posting site, and can severely dent your reputation as a reliable practitioner.

As far as online criticism is concerned on physician review sites, doctors should take care to listen to such comments and make sure to their responses are well thought out instead of immediate, Pho noted.

Oftentimes, the best way to approach a particularly scathing review it to take the conversation offline. Per Pho: “Respond with a standard reply, thanking the patient for the comment and asking him or her to call your office. If you can resolve the dispute over the phone or in person, the patient may take down the negative review, or even post an addendum saying, ‘Hey, this office is listening to what I’m saying.’”

Do you have any additional social media tips that have worked for your practice? Let us know in the comments below.