How to get clinicians on social media


I believe Clinicians (Doctors, Nurses, Physiotherapists, Speech Pathologists, Dietitians, Audiologists, Social Workers, etc.) need to be on Social Media. I believe that it is our ethical obligation to be where our patients are when they’re discussing health matters. I believe that we need to listen to our patients, fill the online space with accurate health information and therefore influence the health conversations occurring already on social media.


I encounter many clinicians who do not think much of Social Media, primarily because they’re not certain of the role of social media in public and personal health. The following are common fears and criticisms around Social Media and what you can say in response:


Social Media is a waste of time.

Of course it can be. Just like reading magazines and newspapers can be. The good thing is that social media is my personalized learning channel. I curate who and what I follow on social media and hence I get the latest educational information on things that matter to me. I have ready access to a wealth of information whenever I have some time between activities.


Social Media is for selfies and food photos.

If that is so, then you’re following the wrong people. Social media helps me see what patients are concerned about. Social media shows me the social effects of diseases. Social media allows me a peek into some operating theatres and helps me attend conferences virtually. I have been exposed to more relevant evidence-based medicine articles through social media than I ever did through stopping by at the library. I read lots of abstracts and other papers discussed on social media.


Social Media is a passing fad.

That’s what they said about the internet. I have been on social media for 5 years now and it’s only getting better, more sophisticated and smarter. People are finding health information, health forums, other patients and health professionals much quicker than ever. Patients are sharing information about illnesses in a way that is disrupting the traditional way of doing medicine. It’s like going from the fax machine to having emails and smartphones. It is the natural evolution of social communication. Having a social media account is much like having an email or a phone number.


Social Media is risky.

So you think being on social media places you at risk of being slammed and rated by patients? Which do you think would be a higher risk, being on social media or not being on? Without a basic social media presence, you have no control of your reputation, your content or your supposed expertise. Someone else could potentially grab hold of your profile and turn it bad, as has previously happened before. You can stay in an enclosed ivory tower in medicine, but that’s not the way that health communication is going. Patients seek and respect professional opinions of physicians on the online space.


Social Media exposes my personal life.

The proper use of social media still allows you the opportunity to delineate public and private life. There are good privacy settings on all platforms, and you don’t have to share any of your personal life information. Mind you, in today’s world, anyone can take a picture of you and plaster it all over the internet. Having a private/public divide does not entitle you to behave unprofessionally in private. Be it public or private, health professionals are fortunately or unfortunately expected to behave at a certain standard.


Social Media is Advertising.

You can if you want to, but most of us clinicians don’t use social media for marketing purposes. Social Media is where we learn from others who are both in and those who are not traditionally in our social circles, where we listen in on our patients’ conversations about the issues they have with their diseases. Social media is more of a listening and learning tool rather than a marketing tool.


Patients can find you on social media.

Of course they can find you, just like they used to find you on the White Pages. The same privacy rules apply, you can totally set your settings as private so no one can find you, or you can be found and then you can direct enquiries to the office. There’s no obligation for you to engage patients directly on the social media platform. If you are contacted by patients, you can direct them to have a formal consultation in the office. Your patients can “like” your Facebook Page or “follow” your Twitter timeline, but you need not and must not be their “Friend” on your Facebook Profile.


Patients may not like what you put up on Social Media

It depends on what you put up. Patients will ultimately gravitate towards clinicians they like. Some patients may be drawn to the more human side of you, others may prefer to choose a straight up formal clinician. Either way, that’s a good selection process in itself. I want to build rapport with my patients and if they see my page and still like what they see, that’s rapport building even before they meet me in real life.


Social Media is like an echo chamber

That’s what a non-engaged user would say. The epidemiology data is clear. More and more patients are using social media to direct their health behavior, through consuming information, engaging clinicians, and collaborating with other health consumers. I applaud the patients who spend time researching on social media because that’s a marker for initiative, which is a great health behavior. Social Media is not an echo chamber. It is more like a doctor’s waiting room turned into a classroom where patients share information that they have found through their personal research.


Clinicians should invest their time in something else more important.

Sure, you can lock yourselves up in the library where information is stored within it’s walls, or choose to be present in the community where our patients are already having an open discussion about health. We need to be on social media because our patients are already there. We need nurses, speech pathologists, physiotherapists, dietitians, etc. to be present in the online virtual town square where significant health conversations are occurring. We need clinicians from every specialty to immerse themselves in these conversations, listen in, and if possible, value-add to the discourse.


So where do I start?

I recommend starting with Twitter, because it does not need to take up too much of your time. Open an anonymous account, if you’re really that worried. Follow the people of your ‘tribe’, then follow the ones they follow. Listen to the conversations. Then listen in on specific hashtag conversations such as #HCSM (Health Care & Social Media) or #MCSMN (Mayo Clinic Social Media Network). Get a feel of the discussion and add to it. Give yourself a few weeks, and graduate to more extensive engagements. I’ll give you some tips on how to use Twitter next.