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Should doctors embrace social media?

Yes, according to Dr. Farris Timimi , a cardiologist at Mayo Clinic who is medical director of Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media . In fact he goes as far as to say that physicians’ participation in social media is a moral imperative and part of being professional. He says that patients are spending time online seeking health information and support and that represents both an opportunity and a moral obligation for providers.

“Profound impacts can occur when we sit on the sidelines”

Dr Timimi recounts the impact of a flawed study by Wakefield that wrongly connected MMR vaccination to autism and led to a world-wide decline in vaccination rates. This decline was responsible for a major outbreak of measles in 2011. He then asks doctors to ponder the following: “There are 60,000 members in the American Association of Pediatricians; if each one put out one blog, one YouTube video, one Tweet, one Facebook post, who would have more ascendency on this issue – us or the celebrities who seem to rule the conversation?”

Dr Farris Timimi: Healthcare Social Media and Professionalism

An excellent example of how a physician, in this case a pediatrician, has used social media to connect with her patients and share opinions, new research, and controversies in parenting, is Dr Wendy Sue Swanson of Seattle Children’s Hospital. Check out her blog here.

Social media will help you get new patients
Dr Howard J Luks, an orthopedic surgeon in the New York area, gets about 7-10% of his new patients because of social media presence. He finds that these patients who see his videos and read his blog arrive far better informed and comfortable with him. He advocates using social media to present evidence-based information without any commercial hype. You can see how he has built his online presence by visiting his website here .

Online presence helps combat negative reviews
Physicians are often concerned about negative reviews posted online. Suing such sites or patients is counterproductive as it brings added negative publicity, says Dr Kevin Pho, an internal medicine physician in the US and co-author of the book, Establishing, Managing, and Protecting Your Online Reputation: A Social Media Guide for Physicians and Medical Practices. The effective way for physicians to counter this is to establish their online presence by creating social profiles – these can get high rankings by Google and push down the third party sites with negative reviews. Dr Pho also points out that another counter-intuitive solution is to simply ask all patients to rate physicians online – experience shows that overwhelming majority of patients rate their doctors positively and this can drown out outlier negative reviews!

“Tip toe in to get started!”
Dr Pho recommends starting the social media journey with small steps. That might mean just a LinkedIn profile with some details on a doctor’s practice or a Facebook page (consider starting a page rather than a profile, see the difference here ), moving on to Twitter, and finally writing a blog.

Dr Kevin Pho: Physicians and Social Media

Twelve word social media policy
Often doctors stay away from social media because of the risks that it can entail. Dr Timimi has a twelve-word social media policy that you can read about more here : Don’t Lie, Don’t Pry, Don’t Cheat, Can’t Delete, Don’t Steal, Don’t Reveal. He recommends combining the policy with orientation, training and guidelines for turning social media from a potential liability to an asset.

What next?
Social media is a jungle but there are many good resources to help you learn – one of my favorites is the Social Media Examiner . If you would like to take some free courses specifically targeted at health professionals, you can register for a guest account at Mayo Clinic’s Social Media Health Network .

You can also let us know what more would you like to learn about by commenting below and we’ll do our best to respond!

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  • Dr Rinku Sen Gupta Dhar

    There is absolutely no doubt that doctors cannot escape being part of the social media journey.I first felt the need to blog when my patients heard some negative feedback about me due to a “Mistaken identity ” with another doctor in another country. The pillar of trust that we need to bulid with our patients needs communication in a big way .The blog posts can strengthen the bond between us.

  • Anil Verma

    After reading the blog I realized that I am not only bit nervous and unsure about the social media also never had time to care about and realize its importance

    The site does offer some links for a person like me to get more educated about the social media. I do realize that social media offer lot of advantages including patient communication, patient education and advertisement about ones services. But how do patients and people who are not tech savy or do not have internet most of the times take advantage of the social media how do you communicate with patients who have not really used internet most of their lives. Some of my patients are not from higher economic strata and I feel may not have access to this service. Also it can be source of misinformation and can it have medico legal ramifications.

    Probably it’s still underutilized in the medical community.

    Nevertheless it seems social media has lot to offer in terms of education, spreading good information, academic reasons and self advertisement.

    • Great comment that raises common concerns and challenges. I think its important to realise that not everyone will use social media – it’s one of many channels, but one that is becoming increasingly popular for a growing number of people. Medico-legal implications can be real, and that’s why its important to follow a good social media policy along with getting some training – as Dr Timimi points out. The discomfort and concerns are understandable and its nice to start in small steps – like Kevin Pho advises. Think of skiing – you might find the idea of racing down slopes exciting but also scary – but over time you can learn to enjoy the thrill with (reasonable) safety by good training and use of appropriate restraints (know your limits, when in doubt perhaps best to leave out)!