Synopsis: It’s official. Back in Nov 2010, the AMA recognized that “Social networking websites and blogs can be an effective and efficient way to communicate”. So, the AMA has created social media guidelines for physicians.
On one hand, the AMA advises doctors to be responsible in their communications and regularly track their online presence. It also advised physicians and medical students to proceed with caution. On the other, hand “71% of state medical boards have investigated doctors for violating professionalism online.” These are the facts!
Physicians who write blogs, use Facebook, Twitter and/or other social media tools must take extra care to manage their online reputation. Any and all online presence – whether as part of practice relationship marketing or on personal accounts – must adhere to certain protocols. Doctors, unlike most public persons, must accept full responsibility for their communications and use appropriate language when communicating online. Additionally, security settings must be kept at the highest levels on all online platforms (particularly access to personal information and to abide by patient privacy laws). Doctors and practices must also take extra precaution to ensure they are not hacked – or have their professional persona hijacked.
Social Media Guidelines for Physicians – Online Communications:
“Using social media can help physicians create a professional presence online, express their personal views and foster relationships, but it can also create new challenges for the patient-physician relationship,” said AMA Board of Trustees Member Mary Anne McCaffree, MD (at a November 2010 AMA meeting).
Google studies found that more than 90% of U.S. physicians use the Internet to gather health and medical information. Most doctors also use the Internet for personal communications beyond the workplace, and physician reviews are becoming more commonplace – so it’s imperative for a doctor to proactively manage their online reputation.
By 2014, an estimated 15% of social media reviews are expected to be fake, according to the technology research firm Gartner Inc. Eighty-five percent of consumers conduct online research before making a purchase, according to a Harris Interactive study. The Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 61% of Internet users look online for health information.
Competitors may posts fake physician reviews. It happens to other professionals, so doctors will not be immune.
This is why it’s so important to maintain appropriate doctor-patient boundaries and keep professional and personal content separated online. Physicians should be mindful that – even with privacy filters – most online communications will still be searchable, long-lasting and available to millions of people.
Though the Internet might create feelings of anonymity and impenetrability, doctors should not post anything online that they would not be prepared to express in writing (a letter or medical note in a chart, for example) as it could have serious negative professional repercussions. Although the AMA advises self-regulation (and reminds physicians to be cognizant of their obligations to patients and not do anything to jeopardize patient privacy or confidentiality) the temptation to ‘spill the beans’ can still sometimes be overwhelming and result in serious misconduct charges and malpractice suits.
On all social networking websites, physicians should use privacy settings that block their information from public view. They also need to recognize that those settings may not completely or permanently prevent outside access, the policy says.
Physicians are cautioned against having nonclinical communications with patients because doctors may see something about a patient online that could have implications for their medical care. In the report that led to the creation of this policy, CEJA members gave an example where a photo was posted online of a patient smoking – after the patient had told the physician s/he was a nonsmoker. Seeing that photo – and knowing the patient may not have been truthful – could affect how the physician interacts with the patient in subsequent visits.
Although it is part of a physician’s professional obligation to monitor the internet for their own content (as well as content posted about them or colleagues) some doctors have expressed concern about physicians approaching colleagues they believe have posted unprofessional content online.
While it shouldn’t be another doctor’s obligation to police online activities for colleagues, physicians have the public’s trust and must take that responsibility seriously. It is no different from existing standards that physicians report colleagues for unprofessional behavior they witness.
Physicians should recognize that their actions online and the content they post may negatively affect their reputation – both among patients and colleagues – and may have consequences for their medical careers.
Synopsis: Professional Services and Product Review Websites are proliferating the internet and are both a constant source of pride and irritation in equal measure to most businesses. Are they a Cure-All or are they a Curse? Well, think back to the last time you made a purchase decision of your own. When you last looked for a new car, where did you turn for a review? When you were looking for that new flat screen TV, where did you find the most interesting reviews and opinions?
Increasingly, people are also finding doctors, dentists, plumbers, lawyers, roofers, etc. online and verifying both reliability and suitability through online reviews: before making a purchase decision. “Members submit more than 65,000 new reviews each month” on Angieslist.com (one of the world’s leading professional services and product review websites). 65,000 REVIEWS PER MONTH!! Yelp.com is another key resource for many consumers looking for professional services and product reviews – particularly of companies in their local vicinity, although you’re more likely to find a restaurant than a restaurant holding company.
Reviews can be hit or miss – particularly if your company has a bad day – but it’s imperative to use reviews to your advantage. Reviews are neither a cure-all nor a curse. They are a part of your daily business routine. If not, and your business has not already started taking reviews seriously, then you are really missing a golden opportunity to use your most valuable sales and marketing tool – your existing, satisfied customers!
Why bother with review sites?
Many clients have asked us why reviews – and particularly online review websites – are so important. We regularly hear clients ask: “aren’t the reviews usually from people who want to complain about your business? Aren’t the complainers more likely to write a ‘review’?”
The short answer is no. There will sometimes be an element of the population complaining about your business. But that already exists, no doubt. The critical difference is here the complaint is open wide to the world to see (it was not sent to you in writing or made in the place of business, but on a review website). Since the majority of consumers are more reliant on review websites than ever before, managing the reviews process is becoming an ever more important aspect of marketing, PR and customer relations.
Reviews already act as a primary source of reliable first-hand information on both products and – ever increasingly – on services as well. More than 65,000 new reviews of service providers are added every month on the popular review website Angieslist.com.
What do your reviews say about your business?
Is your’s the best service in town? What did your last 10-customers say about your services? What about the person that complains about ‘everything’ – should you respond to the complaint? Why should you respond to reviews at all? How should you respond to any negative reviews?
Positivity is always the best option when replying to customers. Some businesses on Yelp take the reviews very seriously, and some even take a few moments every day to reply to each and every review posted about their business. This is fantastic, but as a business grows it can be time consuming and tiresome.
Reviews can make or break new businesses. In many cases, we recommend that as a business – particularly professional services businesses – you ask your clients to complete a survey after you have provided them with your service. This can be done by sending a link to your preferred review page, providing a terminal (an iPad is an excellent option) at the point of sale or by asking for a testimonial for your website. All these methods will help customers feel better about reviewing your business.
In cases where things have gone wrong, capturing the data immediately can help rectify the situation before it results in a negative review online. It can also help you better understand the needs of your consumers. Doctors, Dentists, Surgicenters, etc. are all slowly catching on to this methodology. With 55% of consumers finding their medical service provider online, it comes as no surprise that the old word-of-mouth recommendation of a doctor no longer (necessarily) holds as much sway as the online reviews and reputation of the doctor, etc.
Synopsis – Social Media for Medical Professionals:
Social Media is not a panacea but is now an integral part of all practice marketing and bedside manner. Regardless of who you are, what your practice is, who your patients are and where they come from, Social Media must be integrated with the website. Further, your online reputation is going to be vital to your practice – the key is knowing when, how and why to respond to patient reviews, how to handle them on the web and use them as a marketing tool. Your personal profile as a physician and the personality of the practice must be ‘felt’ across your website and in your tweets, Facebook posts, LinkedIn profile, etc. How can a doctor make a website an integral part of his/her practice and patient care? By using simple language – no jargon – and being human!
Building a web presence:
The key to building a successful web presence for any MD, hospital, medispa, dentist, etc., is that you should NEVER even think of doing the website yourself. D.I.Y. is for gardening and car repairs – it has no place in marketing if you want professional, measurable results.
Remember: lack of focus = lack of message = lack of results
One of the key problems with practice sites is that they are no longer like “wind-up” toys – just set it up and let it run – they are now long-term strategic marketing projects. Sites need to integrate with other marketing activities and vice versa. Classic symptoms of this are ignoring the reality of how Social Media for Medical Professionals should be integrated, and by not including web addresses, Twitter names, Facebook links, etc. on correspondence, brochures, business cards or newsletters — or publishing a website that looks even vaguely different from your branding messages.
Find ways to tell your patients and prospective patients about your site, follow-up immediately with inbound email or phone messages, and maintain the site with content updates and appropriate refinements. Pay someone to do it. You will not regret it … The nexus you create around your site and with your social media presence is a serious element of your overall Marketing Plan – and will help your practice grow, prosper and thrive.
Going forward, your website and your online presence needs to be a balance of patient and practice. Here are some of the main things that you are beginning to see now, but will be a necessity in 2013-2014:
- EHR integration including online records access, scheduling and prescription refills
- Health education via website and integrated social channels
- Customer support beyond a phone number in the billing department
- Projection of the “personality” of the practice (read: integrates with marketing and branding)
- Dejargonization (but not dumbing down of medicine)
- Extending the “bedside manner” via community involvement and development
- (One could hope for price transparency…)
The Next Great Thing:
Social media will be vitally important, too — it is not a panacea but has already become an integral part of practice marketing and your ‘virtual’ bedside manner. It helps maintain your online reputation and it helps keep patients informed of various practice ‘goings on’. Online reputation management is becoming more and more vital to doctors, too – this means having the sense and sensibility of knowing when, how and why to respond to negative patient reviews – and how to show dignity whenever you may see them on the web (without having to grow rhino skin).
The true personality of your practice must also now be ‘felt’ on your website and through your total online presence. This means spending 25-30 minutes a week with your marketing support person (or an outsourced partner) to draft blog posts, Facebook posts or a few Tweets about the practice and what is happening. It could be a chance to disclose personal experiences and aspirations for the practice. If you show humanity within your online nature, then that should come across from your website, your in-person bedside manner and be reflected in your online reputation.
We were discussing this in the office on Friday. And we came to the consensus that it is more important than ever.
It all boils down to this simple point: are you going to get the patients you want or just the ones that you get in a post-ACA world.
Despite the ACA, the medical field still needs to focus on marketing and practice development. Maybe even more than ever before.
The fact that there is going to be a ‘flood’ of new patients is going to change the competitive landscape, but MDs will still need to market practices as if there was no influx.
If the net result is to be chosen by a patient as a “practitioner of choice”, then positioning, branding, consistency of the message and the ‘virtual bedside’ manner will all make or break each and every practice’s ability to grow faster than others.
Marketing and communications, via branding, consistent messaging and positioning will separate the mediocre, “able to get by” practices from the high growth ones, and will highlight the practices that patients will choose to want to use.
Bottom line: Marketing is the only way practices will be able to overtly themselves differentiate from other practices and to indoctrinate the patient populations that they want and need.
What is your take on this?
Crane Creek was quoted in an article in today’s AMA News (http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2013/03/04/bica0304.htm).
Our favorite quote that we gave them: “… a key problem with physician practice sites is that they have been treated like “wind-up toys” that have been set up and then left alone to run. Going forward, there needs to be a balance of patient and practice.”
Here is the article embedded: