Today, use of the internet and social media networking has made an immense impact on healthcare. If a patient has a sore throat or a headache, they are not going to call their doctor. They are going to go online and search for help. For instance, some patients Google symptoms and most will probably even come across the WebMD Symptom Checker. The WebMD Symptom checker is designed to help patients understand what their symptoms could mean and provide them with trusted information so that they can make better and more informed decisions in regards to their health. Numerous patients even use the internet to self-diagnose, get a second or third option, read up on the most recent medical news and trends, as well as research healthcare professionals. Like it or not, an overwhelming majority of your patients are reading about your expertise, the services that you have to offer, as well as what other patients are saying about you before even thinking of making an appointment with you.
“The biggest mistake physicians can make is ignoring their online reputation, or downplaying its relevance. Whenever a new patient comes to me, I normally ask how they found me. Ten to fifteen percent say it’s because of my online presence, through my blog, Twitter or LinkedIn page, which came up when they Googled me. This scenario is happening nationwide” said Kevin Pho, internal medicine physician. He went on to state that “If physicians don’t take steps to control what shows up on a Google search, others will control how doctors appear online. It could be a negative patient review. A blog post from a disgruntled staff member. Or a news or television story that paints a doctor in a negative light. Physicians need to take proactive steps to establish and manage their online reputation. Soon, it will be as important as their reputation in the community.” While it is important that patients are given options when it comes to their health, such as finding the right doctor, it is equally important that they are guided to appropriate online resources. Needless to say, it is obvious that your assistance should have somewhat of a web presence.
Only around 7% of doctors email their patients and most do not even engage in social media networking. According to a survey conducted by the London School of Economics, results found that only 1 in 4 doctors check the reliability of online health advice. When you take into account the fact that over 60% of patients are using the internet to diagnose their medical symptoms and / or medical conditions, there are countless patients who accept sources on the internet as accurate and reliable information. For instance, when a patient types in “headache”, the results can vary greatly. A headache may triggered by several factors, ranging from stress to a medical disorder. 50% of patients may choose to believe that their headache is a result from stress and they may not seek help when in fact, their headache might be the result of a more severe medical condition. On the other hand, the other 50% of patients may choose to believe that their headache is a result from a severe medical condition and they may rush to the hospital demanding tests and treatment when in fact, their headache might be a result from stress. This is where the importance of accurate information comes in.
22% of patients are spending their online time reading through blogs and scrolling through social media networks. They read other patients’ comments and experiences with a particular test, procedure, or treatment. A study conducted by the Harvard Medical School analyzed over 700 wall posts on Facebook, each in reference to the diabetes communities. Among the comments, personal recommendations, strategy tips, and emotional support could be found. However, over 25% of the posts were of a promotional nature, advertising non-approved FDA products. So while social networks are a great way to connect with patients, share information, as well as experiences, they can also be dangerous as a lot of information on the internet is not credible. As a doctor, you have a responsibility to filter information and guide your patients into being able to decipher what is accurate on the internet and what isn’t.
Can these online social networks replace a qualified healthcare professional? Patients should be cautious when checking sources of what they read on the internet. They need to ensure that the information they read comes from a hospital, medical practice, medical school, or a healthcare professional, such as you. Online social networks may not be able to replace a qualified healthcare professional, but they are definitely changing the doctor-patient relationship. Not only should you expect patients’ questions and comments from online research, you should also be receptive to what they have to ask or say. Moreover, you need to continuously engage with patients online in order to dismiss false online sources and guide them to legitimate websites. You can help them to differentiate between seeking unnecessary care and seeking care whenever necessary.
“Doctors already have a presence online, but most don’t know it yet. If doctors Google themselves, they likely will already have a profile from an online physician rating site. And in many cases, these profiles are filled with advertisements, or worse, negative patient reviews or inaccurate contact or board certification information. The price of passivity is being defined online by someone else. There are powerful, free tools that doctors can use to take control of their online presence. A social media platform, like LinkedIn or a Google profile, for instance. And physicians don’t have to spend a lot of time on social media”.
“Doctors are busy, and I understand that they have varying comfort levels when it comes to being visible online. Some are hesitant at embracing that level of transparency. To this group, I recommend spending 15 minutes to set up a LinkedIn profile. Get used to being online. Similar to an online resume, physicians can use LinkedIn to list professional experiences and their educational background. That time spent will be tremendously powerful, as LinkedIn profiles gets ranked high on a Google search and can push down the relevance of online physician review sites. And once physicians get comfortable with being online, they can embrace other social media platforms, like blogs, Twitter and Facebook. Not only do they have tremendous utility in connecting with colleagues and educating patient, it can expand a doctor’s “digital footprint,” and put them in greater control of how they appear online” - Kevin Pho, founder of KevinMD.com.
Nowadays, there are thousands of active blogs and forums where your patients are present and discussing health-related experiences. However, over 60% who use social media state that they are more likely to trust content coming from healthcare professionals as opposed to any other group. In other words, social media engagement allows you to educate and influence your audience, more specifically, your patients. You can become their reliable source of information and expand their knowledge at a rapid rate by sharing informational videos, images, general medical updates, helpful health tips, patient stories, and more. Moreover, you can be placed in the best position to advise patients and decipher available health-related information online. With more than 57 million Americans reading blogs and 120 million using social media, the online community offers you the opportunity to guide patients to trusted voices, communicate and interact with them on a daily basis, as well as advocate for the future of healthcare. “Health reform cannot be dictated by politicians or policy experts who’ve never step foot in an exam room. It has to come from doctors and patients on the frontlines of health care. And that means they have to be on the same page. Social media makes that happen” said Kevin Pho.