Jul-Aug 2014 Table of Contents

Social Media: Strategies for Building Greater Connections With Your Patients



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Joining online networks can lead to faster and better communication with patients.

Fam Pract Manag. 2014 Jul-Aug;21(4):7-12.

Author disclosure: no relevant financial affiliations disclosed.

This content conforms to AAFP CME criteria. See FPM CME Quiz.

Social media has become a key source of health care information for patients. Surveys show a third of consumers in 2012 used social media for health-related matters, such as investigating health topics or joining conversations on symptoms, diagnoses, and treatments.1 Physicians are using social media for professional purposes at similarly high levels, with almost a quarter reporting that they use it daily to access or post medical information; two-thirds are doing so weekly.2

Many physicians use social media to get information, to advocate for their specialty, or to pursue their professional goals, but how many are using these tools to strengthen their connection with their patients? It's an important consideration as patients are increasingly using social media and physician rating sites when deciding whether to choose or remain with a practice,1 and putting one's best face forward online is professionally and personally beneficial. Some see social media as a promising tool for patient engagement, although time will tell whether it lives up to this potential. For a refresher on the terms, see “Social media primer.”

Of course, family physicians already have a lot on their plate, and spending more time using social media may seem daunting. It could take several minutes a day to several hours a week to manage your social media, depending on your goals and the number of platforms you use. Some practices give specific physicians or staff members the job of generating and posting content to social media while others accept content from multiple contributors, with one person responsible for monitoring the platforms for patient messages and making sure the sites are working correctly.

A key issue when communicating with and about patients is avoiding any activity that could compromise their privacy. The dangers of unwittingly sharing a patient's health care data – or harming your reputation with ill-conceived personal postings and photos – have become serious enough that most medical societies, including the American Academy of Family Physicians and the Federation of State Medical Boards, have issued lengthy policies on physicians' use of social media.3,4

Assuming careful use of social media and adherence to policies, physicians can use social media to build their practices, educate their patients, and give them the information they need to make good health decisions in their daily lives.

SOCIAL MEDIA PRIMER

  • Web logs: More commonly called blogs, these are specialized websites that allow creators to publish articles of any length and even incorporate multimedia, such as sound, video, or interactive elements. Some of the key platforms for “do-it-yourself” blogging include Wordpress, Blogger, and Tumblr.

  • Facebook: One of the most popular social media platforms on the Internet with more than 800 million active users, Facebook allows registered users to post regular updates and other content. Users can follow the updates of individuals by “friending” them and follow

About the Authors

David Twiddy is associate editor for Family Practice Management.

 

1. PwC Health Research Institute. Social media “likes” healthcare: from marketing to social business. http://pwchealth.com/cgi-local/hregister.cgi/reg/health-care-social-media-report.pdf. Accessed on Sept. 23, 2013.

2. McGowan BS, Wasko M, Vartabedian BS, Miller RS, Freiherr DD, Abdolrasulnia M. Understanding the factors that influence the adoption and meaningful use of social media by physicians to share medical information. J Med Internet Res.2012;14(5);e117.

3. American Academy of Family Physicians. Social media for family physicians: guidelines and resources for success. June 2013. http://www.aafp.org/dam/AAFP/documents/about_site/SocialMediaFamPhys.pdf. Accessed on Sept. 23, 2013.

4. Federation of State Medical Boards. Model policy guidelines for the appropriate use of social media and social networking in medical practice. May 2, 2012. http://www.fsmb.org/pdf/pub-social-media-guidelines.pdf. Accessed on March 24, 2014.

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