Social Media for Doctors: Overrated or Underrated? Real MDs Weigh In

If you’re skeptical about using social media to support and promote your medical practice, you’re not alone.

A Gartner case study (which is available to Gartner clients) illustrates why some health care industry professionals may be hesitant to embrace social networks for these reasons:

 

Solo and small practices may be extra cautious since they typically have limited resources to spend on practice management strategies and technologies.

However, Gartner analysts and other industry experts agree that the advantages of social media are too great to be ignored.

In this article, we’ll show you why social media for doctors isn’t overrated—it’s underused.

We teamed up with the physician-only social network SERMO to survey real, practicing doctors about their feelings regarding social media.

Our data, with accompanying commentary from SERMO CEO Peter Kirk, illustrates why maintaining an online presence can help you coordinate care with colleagues, grow your practice and educate patients.

“Doctors enjoy social compared to traditional means of communication because social amplifies messages.”

Peter Kirk, SERMO CEO

To see our survey results, click on a section below. Each of the first three sections represents a key benefit of doctor social media usage:

Professional Networking

Practice Marketing

Patient Education

Conclusions and Considerations

Professional Networking

Two main types of social networks are available for you to connect with colleagues:

  • Professional: Intended for medical professionals only. Physicians must verify their identity at sign-up, though some networks allow users to post content anonymously once they’ve been accepted.
    • Examples include SERMO, Doximity, Figure 1 and QuantiaMD
  • Consumer: Intended for the public at large. Anyone can sign up and begin posting content for a specific or general audience.
    • Examples include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram

The former is especially great for connecting with colleagues. As Peter Kirk of SERMO says, it’s “essentially a giant, global virtual doctors’ lounge.” Since these platforms are exclusive, doctors feel more at ease conversing with colleagues.

In a survey of SERMO users, 46 percent say they use the social network to share second opinions on patient cases. Forty-one percent are logging on for casual discussions, i.e., “lounge talk,” with peers and 37 percent are soliciting or doling out practice management advice.

Top Ways Physicians Use SERMO for Professional Networking
Kirk says this type of medical crowdsourcing is great because a second opinion can make a world of difference.

“When doctors are faced with a tough case, they can get input based on hundreds of years of medical experience, from different places and specialties, in a matter of hours,” says Kirk.

“Most doctors work in isolation, which leads to misdiagnoses and mistreatments, but technology provides new ways for them to work together.”

Physicians should always safeguard protected health information (PHI) while asking for advice on patient cases. There are consequences to violating privacy and security laws, so delete any details that could give away a patient’s identity when describing their condition.

SERMO user getting help from fellow MDs

 

Our survey shows doctors are using social media to help themselves too, leveraging SERMO to track down job leads or practicing some self-care by joking with peers online.

“Doctors are constantly managing intense, stressful situations, so relaxing and chatting on the site is, perhaps surprisingly, a really important activity,” says Kirk.

The bottom line: Nearly 50 percent of surveyed doctors use a social network to share second opinions with colleagues. This is especially valuable for solo and small practice physicians who don’t have as many opportunities to interact with other doctors on a daily basis.

Practice Marketing

Marketing your practice via social media is best done through consumer social networks, e.g., Facebook and Twitter, rather than the professional platforms we profiled above.

Previous research reports have taught us patients really care about your web presence because they use online reviews as a key selection criteria when looking for a new doctor.

Knowing this, it’s a shame to see the majority of physicians surveyed (54 percent) are not interested in marketing their practices via social media.

In our physician survey, respondents were asked what is keeping them from maintaining a social media presence to attract or retain patients.

Top Reasons Physicians Don’t Use Social Media for Practice Marketing
This shows us social media is an underused platform with a great deal of potential. A 2012 PwC Health Research Institute study found 41 percent of patients take social media content into consideration when selecting a doctor.

Social media usage has only been on the rise since then, so it’s most likely the percentage of patients using social as a factor to select a physician has increased too.

“Doctors that market themselves and talk to patients through social channels likely have a certain business edge over those that don’t, in the sense that they are visible, open and generate higher awareness with potential patients,” says Kirk.

Our findings indicate some physicians do want to market themselves on social, but are coming up against the challenges listed in our graph. We offer you the solutions to get rid of those challenges in this table:

Solutions to Common Challenges in Social Media Practice Marketing

Challenge Solutions
Not enough time Pick one consumer social network to focus on and set 15-30 mins. on a specific weekday to come up with content for it. Twitter, for example, lets you schedule posts weeks in advance. Encourage staff to submit ideas for future posts.
Social specialist is already on staff (so physicians themselves aren’t posting for practice marketing) Enhance your social specialist’s efforts by proactively suggesting content and retweeting, tagging or commenting on their posts using your own social media accounts (e.g., LinkedIn).
Not enough help from staff Help from staff is ideal, but unnecessary. Tips such as setting your browser’s homepage to a social media network to remind you to post or signing up for an industry newsletter for content ideas can go a long way.
Unsure what to write/post This article’s next section has some content types to get you started. The Doctors Company is also a great resource for physicians to learn best practices about posting on Facebook, Twitter and even YouTube.
Patients aren’t on social media Use social networks to market your services to a new pool of patients. Consider participating in LinkedIn discussions and Tweet Chats to build an audience that’s ready to refer friends and family to you.

 

Still not sure what implementing social at your practice would look like? Check out this recent Facebook post from Texas-based solo physician Dr. Lamia Kadir:

A post from Kadir’s practice Facebook page showing patient engagement

 

This is a great example of a fast, easy and typo-free post that doesn’t appear too promotional. Kadir is welcoming new patients, but also keeping her practice on the minds of existing patients and eliciting positive feedback in the process. It’s a win-win.

The bottom line: Despite social media’s ability to attract and retain patients, the majority of physicians surveyed (54 percent) are not interested in growing their practice that way. This means doctors that do use social have a competitive advantage over their peers.

Patient Education

Millions of Americans are already looking up health information online, even though researchers note that it often comes from unreliable sources. You have the chance to disseminate accurate, thoughtful and helpful health information through social media.

But would patients actually read your educational posts? Yes, according to our data!

For our last survey, we asked U.S. patients to tell us how often they would check their doctors’ social media feeds if the doctor posted regularly.

A combined 74 percent of patients say they would check their doctors’ social media feeds daily or weekly.

To help you determine what kind of posts would drive the most patient engagement, we asked respondents to pick the most helpful types of content their doctor could post on social media to contribute to their health care:

Top Social Media Content Types Patients Want From Doctors
This is great news for physicians, especially as providers move to value-based care models, where patient health outcomes are prioritized over number of services performed.

With this shift, it is increasingly important for practices to ensure patients are able to identify health problems early on, follow care instructions well and lead healthy lifestyles. Social media is a free way to educate patients on all these objectives.

New York-based orthopedist Dr. Howard Luks has a great example for a “how-to” post on Twitter:

A recent educational post from Luks’ Twitter account

 

The article Luks is linking to comes from his own blog, but small practices with limited time can post third-party articles (e.g., “Here’s a great article in the Times with step-by-step instructions for breast self-exams”).

Just be sure to explain difficult concepts in a way that is easy to understand. Use videos or images when possible to make your posts pop.

The bottom line: Seeing as the majority of patients surveyed (74 percent) are willing to check your social media feeds for educational content on a daily or weekly basis, it would be a missed opportunity to ignore their desire for preventive and follow-up care information.

Conclusions and Considerations

It’s clear from our survey data that social media is a valuable, if underused, opportunity to improve everything from patient care quality to physicians’ quality of life.

If making time for social media is your primary challenge, try to identify inefficiencies in your practice’s workflow. Consider automating parts of your clinical and operational processes by investing in medical office software. The time savings can help you find a few minutes each week you can devote to developing a social presence.

“We believe a younger generation of patients will want more of this kind of contact, indeed they may even expect practices to maintain a social presence, but we know that many doctors are not comfortable implementing these tactics currently,” says Kirk.

That discomfort is totally understandable, so we’ll leave you with this handy list of social media do’s and don’ts to guide you in your social media strategy:

Download Infographic

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