There is no question that social media has changed the way that businesses are marketed. As a healthcare provider, privacy is extremely important which may be why many practices avoid the use of social media as a marketing tool. However, by following a few tips, any practice can tap into the many options for marketing in social media and still maintain the privacy of their patients.
Why Use Social Media?
Before learning tips for using social media, it is important to understand why a medical practice would want to use it as a promotional tool. One of the best reasons for using social media is that it provides an easy way to connect with patients in a real-time manner. It may be easier to think of social media as word-of-mouth promotion as many people ask their friends and family to recommend a healthcare provider. Social media is another way for people to ask for referrals and get information about healthcare providers in the area. It also allows physicians to engage with patients in an informal way.
Demonstrate Thought Leadership
Social media is a good way to share medical information. Posts about wellness, weight control, diabetes or other medical conditions can provide information to patients and even those who may not be patients. Social media can help set a doctor up as an expert in certain medical conditions which can increase patients for the practice. Ending posts with a call-to-action that encourages readers to contact the office for an appointment can also increase the chance someone may choose the practice to treat a condition.
Keep HIPAA Regulations in Mind
It is important to remember that a healthcare provider cannot post items the same way a retailer or art gallery can on social media. Violating HIPAA rules can be very expensive and can actually damage your reputation with patients. Be sure that the people who can post on social media pages is limited and that they clearly understand HIPAA rules. It is recommended that staff members be offered refresher courses on HIPAA if they are permitted to post on social media.
Understand Patient Population
A pediatric practice will have a different approach to social media than a podiatrist. Many medical practices are age-specific and social media posts should keep this in mind. A geriatric specialist may not have many patients who are active on social media beyond Facebook while a pediatric practice may want a social media presence on several different platforms including Instagram and Snapchat. Posts will be different depending on your patient base as well so always keep that in mind when using social media.
Keep It Up To Date
The old saying “build it and they will come” is not true when it comes to social media. It is not enough to set up a page and then only post on it once every few months. Social media requires commitment so it is important to designate specific staff member who will be responsible for updating social media on a regular basis. Define a specific strategy such as increasing patient numbers by ten percent over the next year as well as a mission statement in order to create a working social media strategy.
Avoid Personal Commentary
It is tempting when posting on social media to respond to or post personal beliefs and commentary. However, it is important to look at the practice’s social media page as a business page and not a personal page. In fact, the AMA Code of Ethics has strict rules about some personal discussions like politics. The social media page for a practice is not the place to express views on politics or religion. Instead, keep that commentary to a personal page and avoid all discussions on the practice page, even if there are politically connected staff members in the practice.
Choose the Right Platforms
There are many options available for social media marketing and it is important to understand which is the most appropriate. For patient engagement, sites like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram may be beneficial. If the goal is to provide education, YouTube or LinkedIn might be the best option. There are also social media sites available on physician networks if the goal is educating peers. Adding a blog is another way to provide information and set up the practice as an expert in the medical field. Press releases are also forms of social media that can be used to announce changes in the practice or added services.
It is important to remember that all social media platforms are public forums. They should not be used to discuss private matters. It is fine to connect with patients on general health matters, but doctors should never discuss specific patient information, even in private messages. Even though Facebook and other social media sites offer the ability to discuss through private chat messages, it is not advised that doctors use that service to discuss personal matters as it may be accessible by others. This could risk the confidentiality of the patient. Instead, suggest that the patient call the office or reach out to them through a patient portal if the practice has one.
Branding is Critical
When creating a social media presence, it is important to keep the branding of the practice in mind. Use the practice logo or a picture of the building as a profile and cover photo. Use the same voice when posting messages. Be sure to end each post with a similar call-to-action that asks patients to call for an appointment.
The best way to use social media is to generate interest and participation. The medium is designed for people to review, share and contribute information. It is a place for people to comment, support and even report negative experiences. Posts should be informative, interesting and encourage people to comment. Open-ended questions about healthcare, wellness or other aspects of the practice that encourage people to respond are excellent ways to encourage responses. Links to articles that support the practice or photos of success stories, with the proper permissions, are another way to encourage participation.
Defamation, libel, slander and plagiarism rules apply even on social media. Never make false statements that could harm a person or organization or post defamatory statements. Doing so could open the practice up to libel or slander charges. Be sure that all information posted is accurate, true and correct. Although linking to someone else’s article or blog post is perfectly acceptable, never use someone else’s words in a post or try to use someone else’s article as a blog claiming authorship. Plagiarism and copyright laws apply in the online world just as they do in the printed world.
Develop a Policy
The best way to handle social media in a medical practice is to develop a written policy that outlines exactly what social media will be used for. Explain if it is just to engage patients, to provide information or for other reasons. Be sure to include whether physicians in the practice will answer certain questions on their own. Be sure to communicate the policy with patients and obtain the appropriate releases if there is a chance that patient photos or other information will be included on social media.
No matter how careful a practice may be, security breaches can occur. Even in physician-only groups, privacy breaches occur so it is important to have a plan in place for how security breaches will be handled. Occasionally review privacy policies on all social media platforms to be sure they meet HIPAA guidelines. Update any privacy settings in the practice that must be adjusted and avoid any chance of disseminating patient health information.
Social media is one of the best ways to promote businesses and its use is growing in almost every industry. Even with strict privacy laws, healthcare practices can use social media to develop a more casual relationship with patients, offer educational information and further increase their online presence.