Social Media and Doctors: Risky Business or Good for Business?

Yes, social media has risks. But that doesn’t mean providers shouldn’t be using it.

This was the key message from Kevin Pho, MD’s opening keynote at the 12th annual Healthcare Internet Conference.  Pho is an active user of social media and a practicing family physician.

Eight in ten online Americans look for health information on the Web and one in three read about others’ health experiences (check out our new infographic with more statistics on how health consumers engage online).  This presents one of those key opportunities to influence health consumers while they’re evaluating care options including treatments, physicians and hospitals.

Unfortunately, the majority of consumers aren’t good at assessing the quality of the healthcare information they’re reviewing.

The result is, while consumers are more educated than ever before, some of that information is unreliable. Vaccines are a great example. It’s easy for politicians and celebrities to get attention by throwing out wild, unsubstantiated claims about the evils of vaccines. When they do, vaccination rates go down and consumers are hurt.

It falls to credible healthcare organizations to battle misinformation.

More importantly, providers can use the Web to engage with patients through these tools. Dr. Pho blogs regularly on a variety of health-related topics and many of his patients’ concerns are allayed when he writes about the relatively low risk of a disease that has hit the media or when he talks about alternative therapies when a popular drug is removed from the market.

In fact, many of Dr. Pho’s patients come from his online efforts. His blogging and other social media efforts have built a strong national reputation for him. This has led to numerous media interviews.

Here are a few recommendations that he makes for clinicians use of social media:

  • Keep a dual identity on social media – don’t friend patients from your personal accounts.  Keep your professional and personal lives clearly separate.
  • Use the elevator test – if you wouldn’t say it in a crowded elevator, don’t post it on social media.
  • Post under your real identity – don’t get caught in the trap of perceived anonymity.  Using your real identity provides a much-needed filter of information to prevent posting things that you shouldn’t.
  • Remember that your online identity is your professional identity – keep it professional.  It’s ok to express some personality, but don’t get into the habit of posting anything that’s likely to reflect negatively on you.

In the end, healthcare providers have both an obligation to participate in social media and an opportunity presented by these new tools. With a little caution, this can be a great way to build your reputation and it can make you better at what you do.

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