Social media has become the primary source of information, news and more for many people (myself included). The numbers from this Pew Research Center report demonstrate the reach and scope. For example, 62% of all American adults are on Facebook and 70% of those login daily! The question is, how can doctors (and other medical professionals/organizations) take advantage of this trend? Perhaps more importantly, should they?

If you Google “Social Media for Doctors” one of the top results will tell you that healthcare social media is a waste of time for most doctors. The jist is that most doctors are overworked and burned out and that their has been no proven return on investment (ROI) for doctors engaging in social media. If you have no time and there’s no demonstrable ROI, why would you bother?   It’s an important question, but the argument focuses too narrowly on social media’s impact on the financial bottom line and nothing else.

What are you trying to accomplish?

Before you can do a proper ROI analysis, you must determine what you’re trying to accomplish. Social media can be used in many ways to accomplish many things. You could use it to drive new patients to your practice or to persuade them to purchase additional goods and services. Alternatively, you may be interested in proactively managing your online reputation to combat potentially harmful (and often inaccurate) reviews and ratings. Blogger Marjorie Stiegler, MD advises that doctors use social media strategically to do just that.  Stiegler points out that a handful of negative reviews can be mitigated   by a stockpile of content (i.e. tweets, blog posts,  videos, etc) that you’ve produced to bring value to your patients, colleagues and the community at large. Similarly, healthcare social media evangelist  Dr. Kevin Campbell commented in this Forbes piece that every professional has a cyber reputation right now and “its like letting your grass grow. It’s going to grow regardless. It will either look manicured and nice, or it will look like a disaster.”  It’s really up to you.

Every single person, as a professional, has a cyber reputation right now. Whether you deserve it or not. There’s something out there, and so you should actively manage it to determine what it’s going to look like, as opposed to just letting it be. It’s like letting your grass grow. It’s going to grow regardless. It will either look manicured and nice, or it will look like a disaster. — Dr. Kevin Campbell

Beyond driving new business and taking control of your online reputation, there are countless social media goals a doctor may undertake. Again, I turn to Marjorie Stiegler, MD and her list of 21 ways a doctor can use social media. It’s a great place to start if you’re looking for ideas on where you might find value. In fact, many of the items she lists are in line with my own experience in using twitter as a HealthIT professional. You can use it to learn, collaborate, build brand, discover new trends and much more.

One of my favorites from Stiegler’s list is the idea of using social media for professional advocacy and to influence policy. She says “Whether negotiating your department’s annual budget with the hospital or addressing CMS requirements, as the saying goes, if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” For a real-life example of this, check out what happened when Dr. Mike Koriwchak wrote an open letter to CMS’ Andy Slavitt here. Given everything that’s going onwith MACRA and healthcare transformation in general, this is a strategy all doctors should consider.

Whether negotiating your department’s annual budget with the hospital or addressing CMS requirements, as the saying goes, if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. — Marjorie Stiegler, MD

Your goals and social media strategies will drive your ROI calculation. For tangible goals like recruiting staff or patients, the calcualation will be pretty straight-forward. If your goal is less tangible, then your ROI calculation will be too. How much is a strong brand worth? How much personal satisfaction do you derive from sharing your work with the world? How many new opportunities have you generated as a result of online networking? How valuable are your online colleagues and the ability to bounce ideas off them 24 x 7 x 365?

Much of the value of social media is about growing. Just because you can’t tie it to a specific line item on the P&L doesn’t make it less valuable.

Are they’re risks?

Of course there are, but they aren’t terribly different from those that would be faced by professionals in other fields. It mostly comes down to common sense and discipline. Dr. Kevin Campbell (Forbes article linked above) offers some guidelines:

  1. Never give out specific patient advice to any particular patient.
  2. Never identify a patient.
  3. Never identify or make a derogatory remark about a patient, a doctor, an industry partner, or anybody, even if it’s unidentifiable.

In a nutshell, social media is open. Treat it accordingly and you’ll be fine.

Give social media a look

Doctors shouldn’t engage in social media just because it exists and other people are doing it. They should recognize that most other people ARE doing it and consider how it might help them achieve their goals. Like evaluating any other tool, the process should look like this:

  1. Identify goals.
  2. Determine if you can use social media to aid in reaching those goals.
  3. Design a few tests and think about how you’ll measure success.
  4. Run tests.
  5. Keep doing what works and provides commensurate value. Stop doing everything else.
  6. Repeat.

It’s going to take time and it can be hard work, but that’s true of anything worth doing.

#hcbiz 16 Details

On Wednesday, June 1, 2016 the Business of Healthcare community will discuss how doctors can find value in social media. As always, we’ll take a practical approach and talk about how real doctors might use social media to drive real value today.

12:00 PM EST — Tweet Chat

The tweet chat will ask 3 questions in 30 minutes. Note the times below if you’d like to schedule some tweets.

Q1: How can doctors use social media to drive value for themselves, their practice, patients and/or community? (12:03)

Q2: What are the biggest risks for doctors using social media and how can they be mitigated? (12:12)

Q3: What advice would you give to a doctor who is just getting started with social media? (12:21)

(Follow the #hcbiz hashtag on Twitter or use an app like tchat.io to join the conversation).

12:30 PM EST — The #Hcbiz Show! On Blab

The #hcbiz Show will dive deeper with a live 1-hour panel. Our guest will be Healthcare Firebrand, Social Entrepreneur and Data Evangelist Mandi Bishop. We’re expecting a few other experts to drop in as well ad will rotate through guest commentators in the fourth seat. If you have something to add, please drop by and we’ll try to get you on. Subscribe here!