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Opinions on Practice Management

Emily Altman

Why Should I Get Involved in Social Media? Part 3: Developing Online Presence Through Social Media

Emily Altman, MD, FAAD

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Why social media?

Interactions with your website via social media add to the authority and trust for your website by the search engines. That sounds good, but, dang it, Jim, I am a doctor, not a social media marketer. Find out why you should learn more.

  • Social media gives doctors the opportunity to tell their stories
  • Doctors can make a difference in patients' lives by adding a personal element, such as their commentary on current media coverage of medical news or original patient education materials via YouTube or a blog
  • Patients who find you online are more inclined to like and trust you from the start
  • A better relationship with patients leads to higher online ratings


Generating content for social media

There are strict guidelines on the appropriate use of social media and social networking in medicine in a document published by the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB).1 The FSMB has developed these guidelines and policies for physicians who use social media and social networking to assure that physicians:

  • Protect the privacy and confidentiality of patients
  • Avoid requests for online medical advice
  • Act with professionalism
  • Be forthcoming about their employment, credentials, and conflicts of interest
  • Be aware that information posted online by physicians
    may be available to anyone and could be misconstrued


Engagement of new readers starts by providing unique, relevant and highly useful information regularly, such as:

  • Interesting blog posts
  • Compelling news items
  • Patient testimonials (HIPAA always applies)
  • Case studies
  • E-books
  • Useful web links
  • Educational images and videos

HIPAA=Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.


According to the 2012 Social Media Marketing Report, the top three benefits of social media marketing were generating more business exposure, followed by increasing traffic and providing marketplace insight.2

In a 2014 article for Forbes magazine, Jayson DeMers defines the top 10 benefits of social media marketing:3

  1. Increased brand recognition. Social media increases your visibility, makes you more familiar to your existing patients and more accessible to new patients
  2. Improved brand loyalty. Studies show that people that interact with brands via social networks tend to trust those brands more
  3. More opportunities to convert. Every post you make on social media is an opportunity for a reader to become a patient
  4. Higher conversion rates with social media marketing, perhaps due to, as DeMers calls it, social media's humanization element
  5. Higher brand authority. When people want to brag about their latest finds, a great product or service, they do so more often on social media
  6. Increased inbound traffic to your website
  7. Decreased marketing costs. Social media participation is part of inbound marketing, which is much less expensive and much more productive than the old-style outbound marketing, such as newspaper or TV advertisements
  8. Better search engine rankings
  9. Richer customer experiences. DeMers points out that every customer interaction you have on social media is an opportunity to publicly demonstrate your customer service commitment and enrich your relationship with your customers
  10. Improved customer insights via social listening

There is a large and constantly growing list of social media networks. The most helpful networks to interact with patients are Facebook, YouTube, SlideShare, and Pinterest. Two other networks that I use often are Twitter and LinkedIn, which are used exclusively for interacting with colleagues or following people/institutions from whom I want to learn. All these networks allow for visual content that is highly attractive to potential customers.

Rule #1 to remember regarding social media is to not mix personal and professional social media accounts. 'Friending' patients on your personal accounts is perilous and generally not recommended. Do not post anything questionable even on personal sites. A New Year's party photo with you holding a glass of liquor in your hand may be misinterpreted and blown out of proportion. It is as silly and as dangerous as that. After all, this is your online reputation.

It is also important to have the visual appearance of all your social network channels match the appearance of your website. This builds brand recognition, familiarity, and continuity for visitors. Draw on your existing network of email subscribers, blog readers and mailing list to promote your social media channels and make your pages publicly searchable.

For Facebook, the largest of the social networks, make sure that the members of your social media audience have selected to get notifications from you. It used to be sufficient just to click 'Like' on a business' Facebook page and you would get notifications from that page automatically. Not anymore - your readers must not only 'like' your page, but also select 'Get notifications' and which notifications (all posts, videos, photos, links, etc.).

To create great content and attract more visitors, be interactive, fun, and helpful. Photos and videos produce many more responses than plain text. Ask your readers questions. Christian Karasiewicz, a social media strategist, proposes three types of questions to ask your Facebook fans:4

  1. Fill-in-the-blank and open-ended questions, that may indirectly relate to your product or service, which would generate engagement and excitement before ever mentioning your services
  2. Be direct in asking your readers if you want to know something
  3. Ask your readers for tips and/or advice


Reputation management

The latest statistics show that approximately 20% of people go to doctors' rating sites to find information about new doctors and that number is growing. In 2005, there were 2475 individual physicians with ratings on; by 2010 there were 112,042 (Figure 1). Medicare will now publish reviews of physicians online on the 'Physician Compare' page of What is also known is that a dissatisfied patient is much more likely to gripe or vent on the internet than a satisfied, happy patient is to sing your praises. This is a double-edged sword. Pay attention to what is being said in these reviews, as there may be an opportunity to change something about your practice that would benefit you in the long run. Also, be proactive in asking your satisfied patients to write reviews; most will be happy to do so. However, be careful about providing any kind of free service, rebate, discount, etc. for the reviews as that is considered to be unethical.


Figure 1. Number of physicians with ratings on



If there are negative reviews, what can you do? Try to resolve any situation before it becomes a crisis. If you can identify the patient, you may consider contacting him/her directly to rectify the situation and/or come to an understanding. That would be the ideal solution and would hopefully result in that patient removing the bad review.

If that is not a possibility, responding to the online review in a positive, constructive manner expressing concern about the claim, showing the history of good customer care and attention to detail is the next best thing. Since identifying the writer of the bad review as a patient is a HIPAA violation, all comments and replies must be done in general statements and not directed at any particular person. Being argumentative or negative is not helpful as the general perception is already that of a powerful doctor and a weaker, less able to protect themselves, patient.

I might add that getting review sites to remove a bad review or lawsuits against the websites or the patient regarding the reviews are almost never successful, so a different approach must be taken.

Overall, with all the perils of the internet, the promise is much bigger. It is true that practices live and thrive by word of mouth. Yes, our happy patients bring their families and friends. That is always a joy to see. We can also reach many more people with what we write on the internet. We can educate, guide, suggest, and interact with present and potential patients - all of which builds loyalty, trust and authority. In the end, it is that loyalty and trust that will bring potential new patients to your office.



  1. Federation of State Medical Boards. Model Policy Guidelines for the Appropriate Use of Social Media and Social Networking in Medical Practice. Available at: (accessed 3 Feb 2016).
  2. Stelzner MA (2012). 2012 Social Media Marketing Industry Report: How Marketers are Using Social Media to Grow Their Businesses. Available at: (accessed 3 Feb 2016).
  3. DeMers J (2014). The Top 10 Benefits of Social Media Marketing. Available at: (accessed 3 Feb 2016).
  4. Karasiewicz C (2012). 3 Types of Questions to Ask Your Facebook Fans. Available at: (accessed 3 Feb 2016).