Motivating Doctors to Use Social Media

I recently got my first new patient referral directly through Facebook. A patient from another country contacted me after seeing my Facebook Fan Page and I eventually saw her in the office as a new patient when she came to the States.

crowd of people being social

credit: billward on Flickr

Physicians and social media

I have spent a lot of time online recently reading physician responses and reactions to social media. Most seem to be ambivalent and some condemn it outright.

Houston Neal at Software Advice has written an article on how social media can improve healthcare.

Social media is about more than the relationships between individuals. It’s about the dissemination of information. Information that can improve health care and save lives.

Social media for patient education

Social media can be an extension of the doctor or provider-patient relationship insofar as it serves as an outlet for education. For example, it’s in the best interest of both parties for the patient to be “pre-educated” by the doctor’s own information prior to visiting the doctor.

This can’t happen thoroughly all the time, especially if the patient has a mysterious illness. But even in those cases the patient can at least learn about the doctor’s practice philosophy, approach to diagnosis, read about the clinic, etc., and improve her comfort level with the doctor before the visit.

The biggest advantage of social media for doctors

In most situations, patients know generally what their problem is; for example, “high blood pressure”. Now imagine what would happen if that patient searched online for “high blood pressure” and “doctors” in a search engine. Some search engines are able to narrow the scope of those results and mix in location-specific results based on the searcher’s IP address.

If a doctor spends time broadcasting his hypertension patient education materials in social media outlets and on his website, his name will rise to the top of search engine results over time.

Social media’s greatest strength is its multi-channel nature. Since doctors want more patients and patients are increasingly online and engaged with social media, placing educational, custom content online is in doctors’ best interest. They may already do that on a website, but expanding that outreach into social media will reach more patients with that custom message.

Some sources of resistance to social media in health care

Physicians who hold sacred the doctor-patient relationship will embrace new and social media as long as that media fosters those one-on-one relationships.

If the return on investment is low, or the risk is high or increased (some physicians perceive social media as intrusive or have privacy concerns), physicians will continue to resist.

A proper motivator

Mr. Neal brings up the idea of an obligation to use social media. I can’t think of a worse term to use in the discussion about motivating physicians than that word.

Nothing will generate anger among doctors faster than to suggest they “must” do something, because of the implied “or else” that goes along with it.

However, doctors do generally feel obligated to their patients and to themselves. Social media is one way to purify, brand, and personalize a unique message. That message tends to streamline and optimize the doctor-patient relationship on several fronts:

  • The patient gets to know the physician and his practice through social media outlets before the initial visit
  • Experience with the doctor’s message fosters trust before and after the person becomes a patient; imagine if your patients already begin trusting you before they walk in the door.
  • Communication in the office becomes easier and faster – patients are more familiar with vocabulary and concepts already.
  • The patient is empowered – she feels more “ownership” of the doctor selection process

If doctors can be convinced of these types of patient-centric advantages and values, resistance will begin crumbling. Every physician wants patients to digest reliable and personally crafted educational material that “fast tracks” the path to wellness. The prospect of “owning” that process should be valuable to most doctors and providers now and in coming years.

More and more docs are realizing that they can’t do this in an efficient way in the office anymore; reimbursements are too low and overhead is too high.

The next step in promoting social media use

The motivations for adoption of social media will not come from software developers, savvy entrepreneurs, or government programs. Patients and doctors will individually have to recognize the power available to them through social media outlets and the mutual advantages to both parties.

There are low risk but powerful ways any physician can start using these tools within a few days to start helping current and potential patients. One of the easiest and best ways is to start the process of moving educational information onto a practice website or even a Facebook Fan Page for Business.

Expansion from there into other avenues like Twitter, blogging, or YouTube is just a matter of tool-specific education.

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