Many healthcare practices are hesitant to join social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, citing concerns about staying within HIPAA guidelines. With all of the laws in place, is it even possible for a medical practice to benefit from social media?
While it’s true that HIPAA should definitely be a concern for your practice on social media, your practice can benefit from social media without violating HIPAA laws. Putting specific social media guidelines in place, like 54% of healthcare organizations had as of 2011, can help to alleviate legal concerns.
Social media can help your practice connect and maintain a relationship with current patients and further extend your reach to new patients. When your patients interact with your practice on a social media platform like Facebook, their friends see that interaction in their news feed. When people associate their friends with your practice, it could lead to some great referral conversations between your patients and their friends. It can also help you increase traffic to your website, which may in turn lead more patients to book appointments.Facebook currently has 2 billion monthly active users, while Twitter has 328 million monthly active users. Furthermore, one-third of patients use social media to seek out information about health-related concerns. If you aren’t on social media, you could be missing out on the chance to connect with current patients and potential new patients to be the trusted source of information they are looking for.
1. Connect with patients and get feedback
This may be the greatest benefit of social media. 60% of doctors say that social media improves quality of care. Social media gives you the ability to reach out to an audience of your patients and get instant feedback. That feedback can help you in several ways.
Patient reviews on Facebook can be a great indicator of how satisfied patients are with their care. If most of your reviews are positive, then you know you’re on the right track. If you are getting a lot of negative reviews, it may be time to assess those complaints to see if any changes can be made to improve satisfaction. Whether your reviews are positive or negative, make sure you respond. Thank patients for positive reviews, and try to do what you can to resolve negative reviews, prompting the patient to contact you offline if needed. Just be sure not to share any private information about the patient in any of your responses, and try not to take on a defensive tone. Patients want to know that you are there to help.
Social media can also help you understand which health issues your patients are most concerned about. This is especially helpful if you want to add content to your website or if your practice has a blog. Try asking questions to get a discussion going. You might be surprised by what patients have to say. You may be able to put together a “Frequently Asked Questions” article for your website or write a blog post based on the feedback you get.
Asking questions is also a great way to get feedback from patients. If you are redesigning your website, you can ask patients which type of features they would like to see. You can also get an idea about how patients feel about the use of technology, like patient portals, in your office.
2. Promote events and news
Social media is especially helpful in promoting community events. You can post about any upcoming events, like seminars, open-houses, or charity drives. You can get the word out about these types of events at no cost. If you really want to draw a following, you can also pay to promote a post so that more people see it. You don’t need to pay to promote every post, but if you have a big event coming up, it’s a good way to extend the reach of your posts.
If your post grabs the attention of your followers, some of them may even share it on their own social media profiles. Images always help posts stand out in Facebook and Twitter feeds, so try to share an image along with your posts about the event. If it’s an annual event, you can share photos from the previous year’s event. You could also share an image of the flyer for the event.
If your practice is on Facebook, you can use the Events feature to set up an event and invite your followers. Anyone who joins the event on Facebook will get any updates about the event and will get a reminder before the event happens.
3. Share your tips
There is a lot of misinformation about health that is circulated online and on social media. You can use your practice’s social media profiles to share legitimate information and help dispel some of the misinformation circulating on social media. 60% of patients trust health-related social media posts from doctors–more than any other group, including nurses and hospitals.
You can share health tips from trusted sources, or your own articles if you have a blog. In fact, if you do have a blog, social media is a great way to drive traffic to it. The majority of your patients are unlikely to be visiting your website regularly. Current patients may visit your website to schedule an appointment, and new patients may be visiting to download forms and get information about your office. If no one is visiting your site regularly, they probably won’t know when you have new blog posts, and some may not even be aware that you have a blog at all. When you post links to your blog posts on social media, you increase your chances of someone reading your posts.
4. Extend the reach of your practice in the community
Social media can help to extend awareness of your practice throughout your community. When people like and or follow you on social media, their friends and followers will see it as well. This opportunity is especially true of Facebook posts. When your followers like, share, or comment on your posts, their Facebook friends can see that activity in their news feeds. If your posts are attention-grabbing, those people may click through to your page to learn more about you. Even if those people aren’t seeking out your practice’s services, they will remember you if they ever do need your services. You may even get some referrals out of it.
If your practice is on Twitter, you can also use the advanced search feature to do a location-based search to get in on conversations related to your area of expertise that are happening in your area. You may be able to develop relationships with people who were previously unaware of your practice. If you can increase your brand awareness in your community and show that you are knowledgeable and trustworthy, you may gain new followers. This in turn can help you extend your reach even further.
5. Connect with other doctors
It’s important to connect with patients on social media, but it’s also beneficial to connect with other doctors. 60% of physicians on social media say that their most common activity is following what colleagues are sharing. You can use social media to make connections with these doctors.
There are several ways you can benefit from those connections. You can connect with specialists in different fields. As you build professional relationships with these physicians, you can begin referring patients to them. They will likely return the favor. Social media can also be beneficial if your practice is looking to hire or if you are looking for a job. A 2013 survey found that 42% of healthcare professionals used social media when searching for a job.
You can also use doctor-only social networks like Doximity to connect with doctors across the country. The secure messaging allows you to share information with other doctors and get second opinions on rare or complicated cases. This is especially beneficial if your practice is located in a rural area where the closest specialist is hours away. It also allows you to connect with the other doctors your patients see so that you can get the most complete health history possible. All messages and faxes are sent through a secure, HIPAA-compliant network, so you can quickly get your patients the help they need without worrying about violating patient privacy laws.
6. Share patient success stories
Sharing success stories can help instill confidence in your healthcare practice. It helps to reinforce the message you are putting out–that you provide high-quality care and are knowledgeable about what you do. A quick disclaimer–you need to get permission from patients before posting any information about their condition, treatment, and/or recovery. If you have patients who have recovered particularly well, ask them if they would mind if you shared their success stories.
Try to include photos and/or videos whenever possible. For example, let’s say you are an orthopedic surgeon, and you did a knee replacement on a patient whose arthritis left him almost unable to walk. If that patient can now walk without pain, that’s definitely worth sharing. Your social media followers may be able to identify with that patient, which can be really powerful. It’s one thing to read a patient testimonial, but to actually be able to see the success your patients have had can greatly increase confidence in the quality of care that you provide.
7. Share videos
In healthcare, videos can sometimes have a greater impact than other content. Videos get to the point quickly, and patients can easily digest the information. Healthcare as a whole is such a physical profession; it makes more of an impact to be able to show patients what you can do rather than tell them.
YouTube is one of the best platforms to use to upload your videos. Not only are YouTube videos easy to share on a number of social media networks, like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, but they also may show up in Google search results. Google owns YouTube, so uploading videos there can give you an advantage in search results as compared to other platforms.
A 2012 Google study of hospitals found that 1 in 8 patients watched online videos on hospital sites, health information sites, and YouTube. These videos can make a big difference when patients are researching a new practice; the study found that 53% of patients who didn’t watch a hospital’s videos were unaware that they existed. On the other hand, 30% of patients who watched an online video booked an appointment, and YouTube traffic to hospital sites has increased 119% year-over-year.
Going back to patient success stories, 43% of patients watched patient testimonials, while another 32% watched patient-generated content. Patients watched videos to learn more about hospitals and understand complicated treatments and procedures. You can use these statistics to inform your video content. You could do a video tour of your office or explain the state of the art services you offer. You may also want to do videos that explain some of your most common procedures or answer common patient questions about those procedures. However, be careful about showing too much graphic content in your videos, like real-life surgery videos. While it’s good to have that type of content available for those that want it, it can be off-putting for some people. If you’re going to post a surgery video, it’s best to label it as such.
Healthcare practices who are active on social media are seeing the benefits. Patients are looking for a trusted source of information online. With all of the misinformation circulating on social media, you have a chance to step in and help patients get the help they need.
More and more healthcare organizations and hospitals are seeing the benefits of social media and joining in on the discussion. If you don’t step into that space, someone else will. If you are looking to grow as a practice, you could be missing out on some big opportunities by avoiding social media.