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3 Top Reasons Why Doctors Need to Keep an Open Mind About Social Media

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Social media is a means for patient and provider to interact, to humanize institutions, to learn from each other and to support a patient-centered system. It is a means to speak, listen, understand and begin a relationship.

Social media isn't just for socializing, in the frivolous and inconsequential meaning of the term. In fact social media—Facebook, Blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn and many other channels—is now mainstream in American society.

Further, the Internet, and social media in particular, play a meaningful and expanding role in healthcare delivery and provider-patient interaction. And that role is quickly becoming mainstream also.

Many hospitals, health plans, and medical and healthcare product manufacturers seem to be among the leaders in social media marketing. But not so with doctors as a group. Although we will quickly add the caveat that social media isn't appropriate to every situation, physicians and healthcare providers who aren't using these tools need to keep an open mind.

When we bring up the subject of social media marketing, healthcare providers quickly divide themselves into three distinct camps. Please let us know if we've missed a category, but the main categories seem to be:

  • The Early Adopters are a relatively small percentage of providers who are actively using one or more social media channels to communicate with patients, colleagues and the public at large. Many in this category have been doing so for some time, and some of them endorse the idea for their professional peers.
  • The Sideliners are, we estimate, the largest sector. For various reasons these individuals are not prepared to leave the sidelines...at least not until the rules of the game are well understood and the momentum is clear. Social media policies-if they exist at all-are in a formative stage, and respect for important issues, such as privacy, reimbursement and liability, deserve a conservative approach.
  • The Not-Me Group is a sometimes vocal, and we hope small, group that appears to be firmly anti-social media. We've written previously about the surprisingly sharp comments from some doctors in this corner.

For the physicians and others who are still "on the fence," here are three of our top reasons to keep an open mind and perhaps take another look at social media marketing.

It's where your patients look for information. Over 60 percent of all Americans have joined at least one social network. Respected studies, including the Pew Internet & American Life Project, tell us for example that 80 percent of Internet users have looked online for information about any of 15 health topics such as a specific disease or treatment. This translates to 59% of all adults. Fifty-five percent of consumers report using the Internet to find treatment information, according to a Deloitte Center for Health Solutions survey.

What's more, social media (Facebook being the dominant platform) is a primary resource for users searching for health information. Over 40 percent of respondents in a survey by National Research Corp. rely on social networking for health info, and nearly all of those people (94 percent) turn to Facebook. Americans using social media for healthcare are affluent, and on average, 41 years old.

Modern medicine is all about the patient. "Participating, partnering and developing a professional relationship is paramount," writes media consultant and health expert Barbara Ficarra. "Dynamic health and medical professionals engaged in social networking...are on the front-line of new modern medicine. Social networking sites and blogs are a powerful and phenomenal platform to educate patients, raise awareness of health issues and it offers a forum to collaborate and connect."

Relationships, like communications, are a two-way street. As healthcare delivery systems evolve with the person/patient taking a more active role in their own well being, social media tools humanize and personalize how healthcare and society interact. Social media is a means for patient and provider to interact, humanize institutions and support a patient-centered system. It is a means to speak, listen, understand, learn from each other and form a relationship.

And here's a bonus reason: You might just put yourself ahead of the competition. Taking a leadership role—while others remain on the sidelines—is a competitive opportunity that's worth looking at closely.

Healthcare delivery isn't trapped in an ivory tower that's beyond the reach of people, society and "socializing." Both illness and wellness are personal, daily living conditions that are inseparable from a societal environment. Doctors, nurses, hospitals and health systems that may be undecided should remain open to the benefits that can improve the system and patient outcomes.

And please let us know what you think. Drop us a note, connect with us on Facebook or Twitter (@hcsuccess and @stewartgandolf), or connect with us here.

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