Clinicians often fear social media and perceive it to be only Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. However, according to Wikipedia, social media includes any web-based or mobile technology “which are used to turn communication into interactive dialogue,” which can enhance communication and interaction with our patients and our provider network. Social media presents an opportunity to enhance the visibility of your practice, connect clinical staff with patients, and to create a network outside the walls of your clinic. This is essential for a hospital-based practice and even possible for an individual practitioner.
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Explore This IssueSeptember 2012
The financial industry, businesses, and many service markets use social media to connect with customers on a routine basis. Our patients and colleagues of all ages expect to connect with our practice through social media. Did you know that 50% of the world’s population is under the age of 30, or that women over the age of 55 have become the largest group of new social media users? Our patients anticipate discovering our clinical practices or individual providers using social media. Social media tools are a means of public relations for a rheumatology practice, and they expose the rheumatology profession to the wider public. Examples of web-based enhancements for your practice may include:
- Interactive technology to build trust and a positive reputation with patients by introducing them to clinic policies, advertise services, and highlight staff member profiles.
- Routine demographic and billing forms for the clinic that can be downloaded by patients prior to their first appointments.
- Web-based education for rheumatic diseases and medications and providing links to the ACR and other reputable sites that enable patient education and decrease telephone calls.
- Virtual connections between patients, rheumatology providers, and other rheumatology specialists in occupational therapy, physical therapy, pharmacy, nurse educators, psychology, and social workers supporting a holistic approach to rheumatology care.
- YouTube videos for interviews, education, and reviewing procedures with patients.
Sharing health information on Facebook or Twitter is a safe practice for strictly educational purposes. However, providing specific patient recommendations using social media can be risky to the provider, the practice, and the hospital.
A website is practical in most clinical settings. It is critical to establish policies surrounding patient privacy and professional boundaries. Sharing health information on Facebook or Twitter is a safe practice for strictly educational purposes. However, providing specific patient recommendations using social media can be risky to the provider, the practice, and the hospital. Therefore, many practices have established policies to not answer specific patient questions via social media or e-mail. If a patient contacts you via Facebook or Twitter, it is recommended that the dialog be taken off line and clearly documented in the medical record. Facebook and Twitter links have become common at large medical centers, but often are managed by media and public relations professionals, not by practitioners.
Social media has shifted how we all communicate, adding another dimension to patient care. It is our responsibility to provide reliable rheumatology information online to benefit our patients and colleagues. Staff members and patients can assist in the design of a valuable, interactive practice website to educate and to coordinate care in a collaborative way. Staff member input is important to understand which media can be supported, and patient input is invaluable to understand how they prefer to communicate via social media. Although patients strongly value peer referrals to a rheumatology practice, your practice’s reputation on social media is critical to individual patients, colleagues, and the community.
Dr. Battafarano is chair of the Rheumatology Service of San Antonio Military Medical Center and clinical professor of medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio and a member of the ARHP Practice Committee.
Want to learn more about social media? Here are some suggestions for further reading.
- AMA policy: Professionalism in the use of social media. www.ama.assn.org/ama/pub/meeting/professionalism-social-media.shtml
- Bryan Vartabedian, MD. 33charts-medicine.health (social) media. http://33charts.com
- Doctors, Patients & Social Media. www.quantiamd.com/q-qcp/doctorspatientsocialmedia.pdf
- Lambert KM, Barry P, Stokes G. Risk management and legal issues with the use of social media in the healthcare setting. J Healthc Risk Manag. 2012; 31:41-47.
- Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media. http://socialmedia.mayoclinic.org
- The 2011 Social Media Consumer Trend and Benchmark Report. www.experian.com/assets/simmons-research/brochures/2011-social-media-consumer-report.pdf
- The Social Media Revolution 2012. www.youtube.com/watch?v=0eUeL3n7fDs