Why social media tools are a must-have for physicians

With one-third or more of consumers using social media to obtain and share health information, physicians who don't use the technology risk getting left behind, according to several recent posts.

Orthopaedic surgeon Howard Luks and family physician Mark Ryan are particularly insistent--they say engaging on social media is a matter of professional survival. Without a digital presence, they say, physicians risk:

  • losing patients who prefer online communication
  • missing opportunities to brand themselves as experts
  • not reaching potential new patients through social media channels
  • missing the chance to dispel health myths and clarify correct and appropriate health information
  • failing to hear what patients have to say about their health, healthcare in general and other topics that can influence how a physician practices medicine
  • passing up the opportunity to respond to negative reviews of their practices

"Establishing a digital footprint, rooted as a social media presence is about educating, engaging, growing your audience, improving outcomes, improving compliance and potentially improving the bottom line of your practice, Luks says in a blog post.

For physicians, "to ignore the intersection of healthcare and social media is to ignore your own potential relevance as a healthcare practitioner over the coming years," he warns.

If for no other reason, healthcare providers should engage with social media because it can be a critical tool for communicating with patients during a healthcare crisis, notes Mike Morrison, a media relations officer for a Boston-area hospital, in a Hospital Impact post. Twitter, Facebook and other tools provide communication channels physicians may desperately need to reach patients, explain an emergency situation or provide critical health information, he says.

Morrison notes that during the 2011 shooting at Virginia Commonwealth University the VCU administration used Twitter's 140-character format to publish important information on the shooter's whereabouts, appearance and movements, he explains. The same kind of information could be disseminated during a hospital crisis, such as a fire on the hospital campus, he adds.

Ryan, in his own blog post, agrees, noting that while he sees a serious need for more standards and guidelines for clinicians using social media, he still sees social media as a tool that "physicians...can use in positive, and useful ways."

To learn more:
- here's Luks' commentary
- check out Morrison's Hospital Impact piece
- read Ryan's post