By Kristen Stuppy, MD, FAAP
Social media is the all-encompassing term for online presence in a bi-directional manner. Many of our patient families are on it, so why aren’t we? This is the first in a series of articles in which I hope to show you why it is important for your practice to be an active member of the social media community and how to begin the adventure.
How often do we complain that our patients learn about medicine from the evening news or Dr. Google? How great would it be to be a part of the media that they read? If you read the health reports and the research, interpret the reliability and digest it for your patients, you can put it into words that are understandable, reasonable, and reliable and save yourself a lot of headache in the office and on the phone. Counter the anti-vaccine voice with a voice of your own! Bring the over-reaching news story down to earth.
The website is now considered an essential business feature. It allows patients to find information about your practice in ways the phone book never could. Potential new patients find out so much more with a website than the Yellow Pages. Without a website many patients will never learn of your office when they search for a new pediatrician. However, websites do not offer an interaction that gives patients a feeling of belonging. Websites are cumbersome to update regularly enough to keep people returning daily. They simply do not fulfill all that patient families desire.
Parents use the Internet daily. They search for parenting advice, safety tips, health problems and more. But how can a person know if the information on the web is reliable? Is it biased? Are they selling something? Does it apply to children? We all know studies can be reported in a slanted manner on the evening news and with the Internet everyone knows everything instantly. But do they have the facts straight?
How can Social Media Help A Practice?
Recently there was an outbreak of Cryptosporidium in the KC area pools. Of course the media coverage can frighten parents, leading to an increased number of phone calls and office visits that were unnecessary. Parents misunderstood the news and demanded stool cultures and antibiotics, which were not indicated the majority of the time. A lot of damage control time was spent by nurses and physicians after the news spread the fear.
How would social media help?
• Spend a couple minutes searching for a reliable resource for parents and post to your office Facebook page or Twitter feed with a few words of advice. Be the authority your patients seek.
• Result: satisfied patients and a decreased number of phone calls tying up your phone nurse. Time saved for staff = money saved for your practice.
You can argue that these patient phone calls can all be directed to schedule an office visit, but if it is your opinion that every child with diarrhea should be seen, that can be your message: if diarrhea, schedule an appointment. This decreases time on the phone with the advice nurse while patients are still getting your advice. Note: I am not advocating any advice for you to give, simply that you have options of how you color the news with your own practice style.
Marketing with Social Media?
Businesses everywhere are turning to Facebook and Twitter because that’s where their target audience is. Pediatricians should also look to the marketing opportunities… and even better: they’re FREE! It doesn’t take long to get followers on your Facebook or Twitter account if you post regularly, mention it at office visits and link from your website. Posting takes just a few minutes per day, but has a lot of return on investment. Posts seen by your followers can be re-posted (shared) on their walls/feeds, which lets your post be seen by many more, and those people might then choose to follow your page or feed. It’s viral!
Blogs offer a unique opportunity to let your voice be heard. A blog takes a bit more time and thought than other media, but think of the return on investment here: people can hear your valid opinion on topics you feel important.
• Once patients start reading your blog regularly, you might just find that patients “hear” what you preach outside of the office. This saves time counseling on the same old topics at visits, saving time for more direct questions and increasing patient satisfaction.
• You might get new patients who already trust you because they have followed your blog. Automatic authority and acceptance in their minds.
• Conversely, patients who disagree with your style or practice patterns can identify this by your blog and never come in for that uncomfortable visit where you spend time trying to educate someone who has a completely different viewpoint.
• How wonderful to be able to know that you can affect the lives of kids in a positive way without having to repeat the same advice 20 times a day in the office? You give the advice all day every day: car seats, vegetables, helmets~ you know what I’m talking about here! Write it down! It can be read by hundreds (thousands?) of people after you type it just once and send it out into the cyberspace world!
So if so easy, free, and rewarding, why do so many physicians choose to not participate in social media?
1. I don’t know how to even start.
• Start by opening personal Facebook and Twitter accounts. Free and easy!
• Read blogs. Follow pediatric oriented pages and feeds.
• Ask your patient families what social media they follow—where would you get your biggest audience?
2. I don’t know what I’d write. I don’t feel like an expert.
• Hello… that’s what all those years of training and experience have made you! Your patients see you as an expert.
• Ideas will come. Start looking at your day, what advice do you repeat over and over? What health news do you want to help people digest?
3. I’m not a talented writer.
• You made it through college and medical school. I’m sure you wrote a paper or two in your day.
• A blog should be readable and personalized to your speaking style. Not fancy with perfect grammar. Just readable.
4. I worry about liabilities of breaking HIPAA and being responsible for doctor patient relationships of people I’ve never seen.
• Never, never, NEVER use specific patient information.
• Don’t discuss any specific case. Use generalizations and general medical advice.
• Talk about things that make news and medicine personal from your viewpoint, not about a personal patient.
• Clearly post a disclaimer that advice given does not constitute a doctor patient relationship.
• Keep advice general, don’t answer specific questions.
• This is important and there will be a full article on these issues.
5. I don’t have time.
• Physicians are well known to be overachievers and work-a-holics.
• Schedule a few minutes a day for time to read and interpret health related news. Just a few minutes! And this helps in your day-to-day job. Just one more step to share the news with patient families.
• Social media interactions can be done on your own time, when you want and where you want. You can share information from your office, the comfort of your own home, or on the go with your smartphone or ipad.
• We can all make time for what is really important, and social media is becoming more important in today’s climate. If your patient families identify with a nearby pediatrician from their social media presence, they might leave your practice. New families will find those on social media networks easier than those who aren’t.
• Use tools to help with time management. This will be explained in more detail in a future article.
6. I’m too old for this!
• Did you know that the 55 and over age group is one of the fastest growing age groups on social media platforms?
• Social media venues are easy to use—they are designed for the general public. Physicians tend to be smarter than the general public.
• Users don’t need to leave the comfort of their chair to share their knowledge gained over the years.
Social media allows your patient families to become interactive in a new way. This interaction can build mutual trust and knowledge sharing which can lead to an increase in referrals. Families are more likely to trust you and feel like they know and understand you. This might lead to them being more forgiving after a particularly long wait in the office or poor treatment outcome. They understand your positions on several issues without having to have the conversation directly, saving time in the busy office while still keeping your patients informed.
Today I hope I’ve stimulated your interest in social media. With the next issue I will discuss more details of how to get started. Until then start up personal accounts on Facebook and/or Twitter to get familiar with the players!