Social media can be a versatile and rewarding platform for physicians and advanced practice providers. You can establish your brand, broaden your network, educate the public, share research, reach patients, and stay current. Through social media, you can learn from your colleagues, find your dream job, and connect with your local community. Possibilities abound.
Providers must take care to avoid the pitfalls, though. It’s wise to watch out for conflicts of interest, inappropriate posts, negative reviews, and patient privacy missteps. To help physicians and APPs use social media strategically, we’ve compiled these do’s and don’ts, along with resources for best practices in using social media.
Do search for yourself online to review your existing digital footprint. Check out different search engine results, provider review sites, visible personal information, and business listings. If you find issues, contact sites directly to update information and correct any errors.
Do strive for positive online patient ratings. In a University of Michigan national survey, 71% of patients reported that they would select a doctor with many positive ratings even if they had a few negative reviews, and 69% said that they would avoid selecting a doctor with mostly negative ratings even if that individual had a few very positive ratings (Healthy Aging Poll).
Do consider various social media platforms. For example, there are more than 2 million nurses and physicians with active LinkedIn profiles (up from 1 million a year ago) (LinkedIn). Providers can create Facebook business pages for their practices, establish a Twitter account for sharing information, or use medical networking sites like Sermo, Doximity, Daily Rounds, QuantiaMD, or Figure1.
Do follow all HIPAA, state, federal, professional, and practice guidelines for patient privacy.
Common social media HIPAA violations include posting images or videos of patients without consent, posting gossip, and sharing identifying information. HIPAA social media violations and guidelines can be found at HIPAA Journal.
Do create and share helpful information for patients, other providers, and the public. Offer valuable content, contribute to the body of knowledge, and help establish yourself as a thought leader in your field. This content can be in the form of blog posts, research articles, videos, podcasts, medical news, white papers, case studies, and more.
Don’t engage in behavior that could be considered unprofessional. This can include “violations of patient privacy; the use of profanity or discriminatory language; images of sexual suggestiveness or intoxication; negative comments about patients, an employer, or a school…taking digital photographs during surgery, posing with weapons or alcohol, and posting ‘tweets’ that are harmful to an individual or the profession….airing of frustrations, or ‘venting,’ regarding patients” according to a recent article published in Pharmacy & Therapeutics Journal.
Don’t ignore negative patient reviews. View a negative patient review as an opportunity for improvement. Healthgrades offers tips on how to constructively respond to patient reviews while remaining HIPAA-compliant along with an example of an appropriate response. For starters: be gracious, address concerns directly, share solutions, and continue the conversation offline (Healthgrades).
Don’t offer medical advice. AAFP advises against giving medical advice over social media and instead recommends offering general educational tips. Consider adding a snippet to your profile if you find you need to explain to your followers that you can’t offer medical advice online.
Don’t get into conflicts of interest. According to an article published in Journal of General Internal Medicine, providers may give advice without revealing drug industry ties or other information that may bias their opinions, leaving patients and the public in the dark. Carefully consider the impact of all information you share online.
Don’t forget to use your resources. Refer to AMA’s Professionalism in the Use of Social Media, FSMB’s Social Media and Electronic Communications, and FSMA’s Social Media Guidelines for Medical Students and Physicians for an in-depth look at best practices in social media for providers. Don’t forget to review your organization’s social media policies as well.
We hope you find these tips to be a useful resource as you work to thoughtfully craft your online presence through social media.
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