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Nothing Personal, but Doctors Still Fear Social Media in Physician Marketing

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Social Media & Physician MarketingYou could call this a digital dichotomy...or maybe a cyber standoff.

Physicians, by most accounts, are technology-enabled, digitally connected and social media savvy. They use social media, new survey data tells us, to talk among themselves. But as a physician marketing tool and engaging with patients? Well…not so much.

As a group, US doctors are clearly leaders in internet connectivity, but with one major exception: Physician marketing, that includes engaging with patients via social media, continues to be an area of considerable caution for most doctors.

Doctors have the hardware. You would be hard pressed to find a physician who does not use a smartphone (likely an iPhone), a tablet computer (likely an iPad), or both. Over 80 percent of physicians use smartphones, Manhattan Research tells us. (Our guess would be higher.) And physicians are one of the most mobile of all professions, according to the research outfit Frost & Sullivan. Throw in the odd laptop here and there, and internet-connected office computers, and the physicians' world is a wired world.

It’s business, not personal.

But when it comes to physicians using social media, two distinctly separate categories emerge. Recent survey data from the online physician learning collaborative QuantiaMD reveals that nearly all US doctors use social media. Nearly 90 percent of physicians reported that they use at least one social media site personally. (Read the summary here.) Compare this to about 65 percent of the general public that uses social media, according to Pew Internet & American Life Project.

“Personally” is the word of significance. The two walled camps in social media are physician-to-physician interaction (usually in closed physician communities), and physician-to-patient communications. American Medical News reports. “One-third of survey respondents said they had received a friend request from a patient on Facebook, but three-quarters of the physicians declined those invitations.”

"There is a real reticence on the part of many physicians to use social media, or even email for that matter, to communicate with patients," said Nancy Fabozzi, health care market research and competitive intelligence specialist with Frost & Sullivan. Not only are physicians worried about liability and privacy issues, but also "there's not enough hours in the day, quite frankly," she told American Medical News.

Social media as a doctor-marketing tool for better health.

So where do physicians and other healthcare providers see value in social media? Doctors reportedly believe there is potential for physician-patient online interactions...patient education, medical monitoring and medication compliance. But that said, one out of five doctors regard online communications with patients as "inappropriate."

This earlier post about social media may also be of interest: One Physician’s Candid Assessment of Social Media in Medical Practice Marketing.

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