Using social media for your medical practice can be daunting and a little tricky to navigate. But it has becoming an absolute necessity to build a practice and is one of the most effective ways to gain a large and loyal base of patients and promote more word-of-mouth business. A survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers showed 41% of people are open to sharing their information with health care professionals via social media, and 61% said they trust information they receive via social media! And 70% said they would like to receive help from health care professionals via social media – including referrals! These numbers speak for themselves – and they are growing every day!
Here are some tips and guidelines to start you off on the right track…
This has to come first. Not only is protecting your patients’ privacy the right thing to do, it’s the law. You can be very active & engaging with patients (and potential patients) on social media without having to even come close to any HIPAA concerns. As you start to grow your social media presence, people will post questions and concerns on your Facebook page, Twitter page, etc. and it’s up to you to address them appropriately. As a general rule of thumb, try to put these questions into one of three categories and address them accordingly:
- General Information. These are questions that are not specific to a particular person or their circumstances and can often be answered using a 3rd party source. For example, you see on your Facebook page: “Dr. Caresalot, is Tylenol the right thing to take for my headache? And how much?” You respond… “Mrs. Headache, thanks for reaching out and checking in before just taking something you’re unsure of. This is always a good idea. While I can’t diagnose your pain you can read the general uses and appropriate dosage for Tylenol at this link: www.tylenol.com. Cheers!”
- Patient Specific Question. These are the questions where someone is asking you very specifically about their condition or symptoms. For example, you see: “Dr. Caresalot, I woke up this morning with a horrible feeling in my chest and when I take deep breaths I feel a sharp pain. What should I do???”. You DO NOT want to respond directly to this post within your social media page. These are situations where you want to send a private message to the person, without any specific diagnosis or advice, but advising that they schedule an appointment as soon as possible. If they can do this online through your patient portal, send them the link there. If you can include days that might be more available, that is also very helpful. The key here is to not provide any advice but provide a solution so they can get the help they need. And very often you are that solution.
- Urgent / Critical Need. These are rare but they do pop up. This is when someone is coming to you with an urgent (possibly life threatening) question or situation. In those circumstances, the best way to handle them is to call that person as quickly as possible to discuss their situation. If you do not have their contact information, send a private message asking for it. If you simply cannot call, you can respond privately that they need to seek immediate medical attention. Again, these are very few and far between. Most people do not go straight to social media when they have something life threatening happening. But be prepared.
What to post
Here’s the million dollar question…..what do I post??? Well, it’s easier than you think. You’re already in a unique position in which you hear from your customer base constantly about things they’d like to know more about and specific questions they have.
Always be on the lookout, every day, for a patient question that you think others might want to know more about. You of course don’t want to post about a specific patient or situation, but if you hear a question or concern that you don’t always have the time to expand on, a Facebook post (or blog post that you ‘share’ on Facebook) is a great place to expand on the topic. You can treat this the same way you’d write any other publication piece – general information & suggestions.
Listen for common misconceptions. You hear these all the time. Address them via social media. If you’re always hearing “Oh I always have a stomachache, it’s no big deal…” address that. You can’t diagnose it via social media, but you can absolutely let everyone know that something chronic like this may be a sign of something bigger and they should see their doctor. You can even make it fun & eye catching, like titling the post “Misconception of the week” or something like that. People love to stay informed and know a little more about a topic than the next person!
How-To posts are always a hit. These can be Facebook posts, quick Twitter posts, a full blog post, or even a YouTube video. The specific How-To you put together is of course dependent on your specific area of expertise. It might be a quick way to self-diagnose, a generally accepted & globally safe ‘relief’ (not cure) for some minor ailment, or even a how-to of how to get the most out of an appointment with their physician; what questions to ask, etc. This information is extremely valuable – especially when coming from an ‘insider’.
Keep it engaging
Social media is all about engaging your audience. Ask questions, solicit feedback and always encourage participation. You can have a ‘Q&A’ session via Twitter or Facebook (ask people to post question, then pick one to address.) Even better, make it a recurring event that people can count on — something like “Ask me anything Wednesday”. Ask people to share their experiences and things they found to be helpful. This will stimulate conversations that occur completely within your social media environment.
Also keep an eye out for recent medical news and publications that your audience might find interesting or helpful. You will often be aware of new developments sooner than your audience would be so share it. Let them become ‘in the know’ sooner than their friends. This is what is referred to as providing “social capital” and it’s what people are constantly looking for on social media.
Finally, if someone is particularly pleased with their experience with you, ask them to share it on your social media pages. You don’t need everyone to do it, but if you don’t ask, you can rest assured that no one will do it.
Not much to say here other than don’t be a flash in the pan. Don’t post twice a day for a couple of weeks then once a month after that. Establish a schedule you can stick with, and STICK WITH IT. Your audience likes consistency and reliability. You don’t need to post every single day (although that would be great) but you need to post regularly with fresh content, and you need to stay roughly within your schedule so your audience doesn’t forget about it. Be consistent. Oh – and be consistent. And final word of advice, be consistent.
What has your experience been managing social media for a medical practice? We’d love to hear your thoughts!