Surveys suggest that physicians use social media for personal use at nearly the same rate as the general population. However, when it comes to professional use—namely, the exchange of information and advice with other physicians and patients—physicians tend to be more apprehensive (Figure). With a boom in physician-review websites and an increasingly tech-savvy public, most physicians already have an online reputation that should not be ignored.

Managing Online Persona

“Many physicians are fearful of using social media because they believe what they say may be misconstrued,” says Enoch Choi, MD, a blogger and social media guru. “Others simply prefer to stay private. Unfortunately, there is plenty of information available online about most physicians, often including personal details, such as a home address or family members’ names.”

Social-Media-Callout

A recent Pew Internet survey found that 44% of patients research their physicians online. Dr. Choi says physicians should keep this statistic in mind and actively manage their online personas so that the public finds the information they want found. “Flooding the internet with this information through social media engagement can bury personal details,” he says. “It can also limit inaccurate data and negative connotations that can be found among search engine results.”

Examining the Social Media Options

The various social media platforms (eg, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and blogging) offer a multitude of benefits, but physicians should focus on their own goals and personalities, according to Dr. Choi. “Facebook is useful for word-of-mouth-type sharing with patients because many of them already use it. Facebook is a convenient tool for many reasons, including the fact that many family members and friends are on it.”

Having a public Facebook page allows patients to share their experiences. For example, patients can post that they have seen a physician and liked the care they received. This can help bring other patients to a practice. Another benefit to Facebook is its privacy settings, which allow physicians to block people who subscribe to their account from viewing their personal information or private pictures. At the same time, patients can still find information regarding physicians’ professional work.

Dr. Choi notes that many reliable videos have been posted to YouTube by providers and can serve as a convenient resource for patient education. “Physicians can create videos for the conditions they treat most,” he says. “Giving patients URLs for YouTube videos in a post-visit summary allows them to review what was discussed during the visit and then share that information with caregivers, family, and/or friends. It also gives people a chance to share reliable medical information online with other patients, which in turn adds exposure for physicians who provide such videos.”

Twitter is an ideal tool for reaching other providers and patients who are on the go, Dr. Choi says. “Twitter is particularly useful when attending medical conferences. The hashtags associated with conferences can help clinicians communicate with others at the meeting and learn while on location. Additionally, conference- related posts tend to be re-tweeted, which can offer great exposure for physicians.”

One downside to Twitter is its 140-character limit for posts. “This can be restricting,” says Dr. Choi. “For lengthier information that is still relatively condensed, short-form blog sites like Tumblr are becoming increasingly popular. Blogging isn’t typically a source of income, but it can be a great public relations tool and an outlet for sharing personal interests.”

Potential Pitfalls of Social Media

According to Dr. Choi, the most effective social media engagement occurs when users like, share, and comment on other’s posts. “When people see that you’re doing this, they’re more likely to do the same with your posts, creating a virtual circle of engagement.” Dr. Choi offers several other additional recommendations for effective social media engagement (Table).

Despite the potential benefits of social media, clinicians should also be cognizant of potential pitfalls when using any of the various platforms. “HIPAA compliance is important, and physicians should keep all patient details anonymous,” warns Dr. Choi. “It’s also important to be sensitive to different backgrounds of those who follow social media accounts because messages have the potential to be misunderstood if not worded carefully. Furthermore, patients should be informed that private information regarding their care cannot be discussed online. Lastly, physicians should be cognizant of any rules and regulations their organization may have regarding social media use. Following these simple recommendations can allow physicians to reap the myriad of benefits that social media can offer.”

References

Choi E. Social media for physicians. Available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5d8pUnqKuU .

McGowan B, Wasko M, Vartabedian B, et al. Understanding the factors that influence the adoption and meaningful use of social media by physicians to share medical information. J Med Internet Res. 2012;14:e117

Scott S. The researcher of the future…makes the most of social media. Lancet. 2013;381:S5-S6.

Bottles K, Kim J. The evolving involvement of physicians using social media. Physician Exec. 2013;19:86-88.