Social Media for Doctors: Taking Professional and Patient Engagement to the Next Level

 

Some of the top family physicians on social media share their best practices for building a following and avoiding common pitfalls.

Fam Pract Manag. 2020 Jan-Feb;27(1):19-24.

Author disclosures: no relevant financial affiliations disclosed.

Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram attract billions of users daily. With the popularity of these sites, it is not surprising that many patients have turned to social media to share their health experiences or to learn more about their medical conditions. Family physicians are in a unique position to provide accurate information about a variety of health topics. By meeting patients where they are on the internet, family doctors can educate the public and support policies to advocate for community health. They can also find an outlet for professional engagement and connection as well as personal creativity.

Yet entering the world of social media can be daunting. Professional society recommendations for social media use tend to be either too restrictive, focusing on what not to do, or too general to provide practical tips. In this article, we explore some best practices and challenges that have emerged as more physicians and patients are using these platforms for health information.

KEY POINTS

  • Social media is a valuable tool that can be used to educate, collaborate, and advocate.

  • Before jumping in or reassessing your use, take some time to define your goals, listen to the conversation, and think about how you want to present an authentic online persona.

  • Be professional in your social media interactions with patients and the public, be judicious about sharing patient stories, obtain informed consent before sharing information involving patients, be careful with potential conflicts of interest, and know your employer’s policies.

DEFINING YOUR GOALS

The first step in developing a high-performing social media presence is determining your goals. The more well-defined your objectives, the easier it will be to identify an audience, decide what to share, and measure effectiveness. The social media aims for family physicians can be as diverse as family physicians themselves. The most basic aim is connecting with current patients, and a previous article in FPM discussed how family physicians can do this.1 Additional goals include the following:

  • Providing health education to the public. Education can focus on general topics such as fitness or wellness, or on a topic in which you have particular interest or expertise. How you distribute content on these topics can vary from simply sharing links to news or research articles (along with your perspective or commentary) to producing original content in the form of infographics, blog posts, podcasts, or videos. With the latter approach, social media can become a creative outlet and perhaps even reduce burnout.

  • Promoting your practice. A strong social media presence can help you recruit patients to your office, retain current patients, and have more control over your online reputation. For

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Dr. Nguyen is a family physician and faculty member at Memorial Family Medicine Residency in Sugar Land, Texas.

Dr. Lu is a primary care physician and extensivist at CareMore Health Plan in San Jose, Calif.

Dr. Bhuyan is the regional medical director of the West Coast at One Medical and faculty member at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Phoenix, Ariz.

Dr. Lin is a professor of family medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and deputy editor of American Family Physician.

Dr. Sevilla is an assistant professor of family and community medicine at Northeast Ohio Medical University in Salem, Ohio.

Author disclosures: no relevant financial affiliations disclosed.

References

1. Twiddy D. Social media: strategies for building greater connections with your patients. Fam Pract Manag. 2014;21(4):7–12.

2. Lifchez SD, McKee DM, Raven RB 3rd, Shafritz AB, Tueting JL. Guidelines for ethical and professional use of social media in a hand surgery practice. J Hand Surg Am. 2012;37(12):2636–2641.

3. Firger JDr. Oz defends weight-loss advice at Senate hearing on diet scams. CBS News. June 17, 2014. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/dr-oz-defends-weight-loss-advice-at-senate-hearing-on-diet-scams/. Accessed Oct. 30, 2019.

 
 

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