Social Media and its Role in Healthcare

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and countless other social networking tools have made an appearance at the workplace. Half a billion people alone use Facebook: more than the combined population of Canada and the United States. With so many users, ignoring Social Media has become impossible for any organization or professional that wants to communicate with their clients.

Physicians and their healthcare practices are no different. It stands to reason that just a few of the millions of people using Social Media are going to be your patients. Engaging your patients, or prospective patients, can work as a marketing tool by driving interest toward your services and even influencing your websites Google ranking, but this is not the only strength of Social Media (in fact, Traditional offline and online marketing methods still outperform Social Media in the short term). The way patients find and share information about healthcare has been dramatically altered by Social Media, making it easier for patients to find out about new and promising treatments. Paolo Zamboni’s theory about CCSVI is an example where Social Media spread the message of a possible new treatment for Multiple Sclerosis. Social Media makes it possible for doctors to join these conversations and to help their patients make an informed decision about their healthcare.

An example of a wonderful use of Social Media to communicate with patients comes from Vancouver’s own False Creek Healthcare Centre. The Centre announced that they were planning to provide free MRI and Ultrasound scans for CCSVI Multiple Sclerosis research. Naturally, their phone lines rang off the hook. Unfortunately, this meant that other patients could not call to get information about their surgeries and the services of False Creek’s other departments ground to a halt. Social Media provided the solution. False Creek had already been promoting the MS/CCSVI research on Facebook, building a decent following of roughly a thousand people. They made use of this following and announced over Facebook that any and all enquiries about the free scans must be made through email. Within an hour, the constant ringing had stopped and the phone lines were no longer jammed.

It is important to recognize that while Social Media offers many opportunities for healthcare professionals, there are also many restrictions. Social Media is about engaging the public and exposing your personality, but doctors are unable to engage with their patients through Social Media in the same way as the average person. The College of Physicians and Surgeons or British Columbia stresses the importance of maintaining a professional distance with patients online, and being proactive in removing any content that could be viewed as unprofessional. In short, a doctor probably shouldn’t be friending all of his patients or tweeting about her lunch. Patients and their privacy always come first, and must be treated with the same respect online as they would be in your operating room.

Approached with a professional attitude, Social Media offers doctors and other healthcare professionals opportunities to promote themselves and establish online therapeutic relationships. To ignore the potential of Social Media means missed opportunities and the chance of losing patients to more tech savvy members of your profession.

Getting Started with Social Media

  1. Claim your name in social space. Register your name or practice name with Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Flickr, and Youtube.
  2. Claim ownership of local business listings in Yelp and Google Places. Monitor the reviews that patients post on these websites. You may have outstanding bedside manner, but the most common complaint will be about administrative staff.
  3. Use Google Alerts to set automated monitors to track what is being said about you online. Use this information to respond to both negative and positive feedback from your patients. You may not be able to resolve every issue, but addressing the complaint is often enough to pacify an unhappy patient.
  4. Educate yourself on privacy. PIPEDA articulates 10 fair information practices to protect consumer privacy. Patient consent is required to disclose patient demographics, photos, and testimonials in Social Media.

Need help getting started with Social Media? Talk to our Healthcare Consultants today.

Authored by: , Stuart Popp

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