Connecting with Patients on Social Media

Today’s patient is more likely to go online for answers to their healthcare questions than ever before. Physicians can choose to make this move as well, by meeting their patients where they are – on social media. However, as with all innovative movements, there are both pros and cons to using social media to connect with your patients.

The Pros

Branding and Marketing

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, about 40% of people say social media affects their decision when it comes to choosing a doctor. Therefore, it makes sense to use social media for marketing and branding purposes. Physicians can post patient testimonials, revitalize word of mouth referrals and control the conversation others are having about them.

Connecting with Patients

In a report published by Adweek, 60% of doctors say that social media increases the quality of care they give to their patients. Patients will seek out information on Facebook pages, in Facebook support groups and from reading blogs. They will also connect with their physician on LinkedIn and Twitter. Engaging with patients in this way can put the doctor and patient on a level playing field. It can also increase the patient’s knowledge, making it easier for the patient to come prepared with questions at the next visit.

Educating the Community

A 2018 study reveals that 80% of internet users have searched for health information online. The majority of the information consumed is not from medical professionals. Doctors can combat that by posting links to news and journal articles and other credible online resources. Also, people turn to social media for breaking news, making it a great platform to disseminate information during a health crisis.

Public Health Monitoring

People post online when they are sick. By monitoring hashtags, healthcare providers can get a real-time sense for when and where illnesses are breaking out, along with the severity of the symptoms.

Citizen Engagement

Social media can encourage people to take positive action towards a healthier lifestyle. Targeted campaigns can normalize otherwise stigmatized conditions, such as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or psoriasis and move people to seek treatment.

The Cons

Time Constraints

Most physicians do not have time to engage in social media. The average time allotted per patient is 15 minutes, with an hour left at the end of the day to return phone calls. Fitting social media management in is difficult.

Professional Image

It can be difficult to uphold a professional image on social media. Posting erroneous information, losing respect from colleagues and ending up in the middle of controversy are valid concerns. Ethical dilemmas can be tricky to handle as well. For example, is a doctor liable to answer a question posted online by a patient on LinkedIn?

Boundaries and Trust

It is easy for both, the doctor and the patient, to overstep boundaries or to destroy trust. The doctor may be able to view the personal habits of a patient based on what was posted. Doctors who consider this information in their diagnosis risk making an incorrect judgment, because they are presented with incomplete or questionable data. Being “friends” on social media can blur the doctor-patient relationship and patients may overstep their boundaries by seeking out extra care when the physician is ‘off the clock’.

HIPAA Regulations

By far, violating HIPAA tops the list of concerns when it comes to engaging with patients on social media. Physicians can unknowingly give out a patient’s personal information online. On some platforms, it may not be transparent to users that they are connected with other patients. Users may feel that their anonymity is safe, when in fact, they are easily identified as a patient.

In spite of this, nearly 60% of people are more likely to trust a doctor who has an online presence over one who does not. Despite the fact that over 53% of practices have a Facebook page, taking the next steps to engage with patients on social media is a decision only you can make.