Social Media Marketing for Physicians – Best Practices to Decrease Risk and Increase Reward

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By John Gonda

Whether it be through the use of traditional media or emerging approaches, physician marketing is changing—for the better.

Social and digital media are beginning to blur the lines of what is and is not advertising, and physicians are now actively interacting with consumers in more ways than ever.

From a marketing perspective, social media offers physicians a proven way to attract new customers while also building a trusted reputation among current patients.

According to Erica Armstrong, MD and founder of Root Functional Medicine in Grand Rapids, Michigan, social media has allowed her to connect and interact with potential patients more than ever before.

“Social media has definitely helped me to develop not only my personal brand, but also create an increased awareness around functional medicine throughout my community,” says Armstrong. “For me, it has been another way to target, educate and connect with ideal clients.”

While these digital interactions with patients offer many positive outreach opportunities, there are also significant risks and challenges to be considered as well. 

To help mitigate these risks, special attention should be given to adhering to industry best practices before beginning any social media efforts.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), there are seven common best practices that are recommended to avoid potential pitfalls.

1. Be personable but professional. 

2. Refrain from offering medical advice. 

3. Be careful when posting about patients. 

4. Be selective when interacting with patients. 

5. Protect against misinformation. 

6. Follow institutional and organizational policies. 

7. Avoid conflicts of interest. 

While these guidelines provide a general overview of best practices, it is important to reinforce a few specific details to consider. 

Obviously, physicians should be extremely careful when it comes to online behaviors such as violating patient privacy, not revealing conflicts of interest, giving specific medical advice or making unprofessional statements that may be quickly magnified across social platforms.

To help with these aspects, most hospitals and medical groups have policies in place to provide guidelines on how physicians may interact with their patients on social media channels. If an organization does not yet have such a policy in place, it is recommended that one be created and shared with patients as part of their practice intake forms.

These policies and best practices not only help to set clear boundaries between doctors and patients, but also detail guidelines relating to protected health information (PHI) and patient privacy. Well-written policies and plans can help physicians avoid the negativity of social media.

When utilized correctly, social media can be a powerful business tool for physicians, providing not only an outlet to share knowledge and expertise, but also to show a commitment to delivering the latest health and wellness information to followers.

While staying properly connected on social media can be time consuming, Dr. Armstrong believes that it is a solid investment in her practice.

“I think that developing a best-practice social media strategy is now needed to succeed. It’s a necessary commitment. I spend more time engaging through my business accounts and less on my personal accounts. It’s a sensitive balance of time, but an important one,” she says.

Engaging on social media can certainly be a daunting effort for physicians. However, when done correctly the return will quite often outweigh the risks. 

In today’s competitive marketplace, being active on social media can quite possibly be the difference in acquiring, or losing, a potential new patient. To help ensure success, always remember to start slow, define goals, identify audiences and above all else, provide professional and consistent messaging to your followers.

About John Gonda

John is a Sr. Healthcare Account Manager with ddm marketing + communications in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has more than 22 years of experience in the healthcare industry, providing communications leadership for academic, community, public and faith-based health systems throughout the country. In addition, he has worked closely with physicians and medical groups to develop integrated marketing strategies and physician engagement programs.

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