I am beginning to think that Facebook can be something more than a HIPAA violation engine for healthcare.
I’m admittedly not much of Facebook user. I have my own Facebook profile that I occasionally use to post family movies or to say “Hi!” to friends I had in high school 30 years ago. However, that “how are you doing” introduction is often accompanied by an awkward pause…and then I don’t know what else to type in the little text box and we both move on to the next long lost friend.
Three things recently drew my attention to Facebook.
First, I was excited to hear that the hospital where I serve as Medical Staff President was awarded a social media award. This prompted me to go look at their Facebook fan page. It’s well done! Interesting pictures from our hospital’s 84-year history, highlights of recent re-certification as a Primary Stroke Center, and videos of our physicians on the news. Plus, it has a bunch more followers than other local hospitals.
Second, while sitting next my wife at the kitchen table I noticed that she was looking at my daughter’s orthodontist’s Facebook fan page. That office is a happening place. Lots of laughing, goofy photos, and healthy teeth. As I glanced through the pictures of smiling patients and caregivers, it made me think that I might want to have braces, again.
Finally, I’ve become more aware of an increasing number of websites are rating physicians. Yelp rates physicians, government sites reveal physician ratings, and even Zagat moved into the “is your doctor hot or not” business. But what can a physician do?
How do patients find us?
I bet a lot of patients use the Internet to search for physicians. I could Google the exact numbers, but since my wife uses it, her friends use it, and my mom uses it, I can conservatively estimate that a number approaching the population of earth will soon look up their physicians online.
My sense is that on one hand the loud and disgruntled patients are more likely to rate physicians, whereas the happy patients have other things in life that draw their interests, like TMZ or The Bachelorette. But perhaps I am projecting.
Many local physician practices I see online look like a beginners class in HTML with animated GIF images of stethoscopes, while others look like smarmy marketing brochures. There certainly is room for improvement and, perhaps, a more connected way to reach out to patients.
What is a Facebook profile or fan page?
So I began to ask myself, should physicians have a Facebook page for their practice?
As luck has it, Amy Porterfield, a well-known social media strategy consultant, and I share an executive assistant. Amy wrote a book called Facebook Marketing All-In-One for Dummies, and I certainly fulfill the requirement of the title.
Here are three things that I learned from Amy:
1. There is a difference between a personal profile and a fan page on Facebook.
The personal profile is where you connect with family and friends to share private information with a limited number of people. Access to the private parts of your profile page is limited to those individuals that you “friend”.
A fan page on the other hand is a professional page where you promote your business. This is the page that you would use to be the face of your physician practice. Anyone can follow your fan page.
Your patients, a.k.a. your “fans,” follow your professional fan page by “liking” you. Once your patient clicks the like button on your fan page, they get updates of your office’s posts on their personal Facebook timeline. And more importantly, when they like you, their friends see that they like you. This social proof is very effective marketing.
I just created a Facebook Page for this site. It now has 4 followers…embarrassing. Please click this little Like button to show me some love.
3. The content.
This is where it gets interesting. You can use your fan page to nurture a deeper connection between your practice and your patients.
Here are three things you could post on your Facebook page:
- Update your patients on pertinent healthcare news or questions. For example, you could debunk the holistic chiropractor who just spoke inaccurately on your local news station about the efficacy of immunization.
- Post pictures and videos of physicians, nurses, and office staff enjoying their profession: being happy and healthy.
- Celebrate the health improvements of your patients and yourself as a model and shared experience for other patients. “Lost 50 pounds and ran a marathon!” or “Is in remission!” or “Is thankful for friends and family support…”
How do we protect patient privacy?
Protecting patient privacy is not only a moral and legal requirement, it is completely doable.
Here are three suggestions:
1. Make privacy a rule.
Make it clear that discussions about a specific patient’s care are not appropriate for Facebook. Remove any posts that violate the privacy mandate and block users who repeatedly refuse to comply. And, most importantly, make sure that you and your staff are available to answer questions offline.
2. Only share information that you have permission to share.
Logical, right? Get permission to share patient information. Does your patient want to celebrate their weight loss, their marathon run, or their remission from cancer? Get permission.
3. Teach your patients about how privacy laws effect your practice.
You can teach your patients about their right to privacy from your Facebook page. You can also teach them how it effects the way you practice, the way you send information, and the way you communicate with them.
Bryan Vartabedian wrote a great post at 33 charts:
“When I remind [patients] that they’re going to get me in trouble they feel bad. I don’t want to make anyone feel bad but they have to understand the potential gravity of the situation when it comes to the law, state licensing bodies and hospital privacy.”
Read Kevin Pho’s excellent book on physician use of social media for more comprehensive information about privacy.
Should your practice have a Facebook fan page?
Physicians who participate in social media will have “patient fans” who will recruit other “patient fans” to their practice. It is a way for us to be closer in our community, to guide each other, and to improve the efficacy of health care.
A successful fan page requires active management, content creation, and moderation. It is no quick and easy task. However, we’re going to see more physicians reach out to their patients with Facebook fan pages and other social media. It is yet another tool for us to use to improve the health of our patients.
Question: Do you have any examples of good physician or hospital Facebook Pages? Share them by clicking here.