These 6 social media tips can help boost your career

By Alistair Gardiner
Published December 9, 2021

Key Takeaways

Social media and medicine have collided—and there may be no turning back.

Health departments, clinics, and physicians are leveraging social platforms for health campaigns, medical education, and disease outbreak surveillance. Social tools make it easier to disseminate health information to wide audiences, combat misinformation, and provide public health guidance. 

Doctors are increasingly using their social media accounts for professional development by collaborating on research projects, sharing trending research findings, networking, or conducting job searches. Roughly 85% of care providers believe that social media can be an effective tool for educational purposes, according to a review published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research

Platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook offer powerful tools for the enterprising physician. But which tools are right for the job, and how can you maximize their benefits?

Here’s some guidance on how to use social media as a physician.

Focus less on followers

Social media success means thousands and thousands of followers, right? According to a Forbes article, not exactly. Followers may help you build clout, but it’s better to focus on these two goals: 

  • Educating and engaging with patients. You should aim to answer questions that patients post on social media (while refraining from dishing out medical advice), most of which will relate to conditions and treatments.

  • Promoting your practice and staff. Use your platforms to establish medical authority and trust by expressing empathy and engaging with patients in ways that resonate with them.

While it’s fine to track your traffic and engagement, you can meet objectives like maintaining a good brand reputation and engaging with your patients even if you’re only reaching a small number of people. An article published in Family Practice Management in 2020 points out that patient education can take the form of posts about general fitness and wellness, or sharing news and research articles. A positive social media presence can help your practice, particularly when a patient conducts an online search prior to scheduling an appointment.

Know the limits

Think of social media as a conference or networking event, one where your peers, role models, and patients are all in the mix. In this scenario, there are plenty of opportunities to boost your connections and relationships. But there are certain boundaries that doctors should maintain.

Refrain from offering specific medical advice to individuals on social media. It may even be worth explicitly saying to your followers that this isn’t something you’ll ever do. Many physicians include such a disclaimer on their profiles to minimize confusion.

You should also be very careful when posting about your patients. Consider whether a post might invade a patient’s privacy or violate HIPAA rules. If you’re sharing details of a specific case (including media like photos or video), you should always seek informed consent and, in some cases, get the patient to sign a media release.

Keep it professional

Social media has emerged as a great way for physicians to connect with each other. Physicians now have ways to informally interact with subspecialists, and platforms have brought opportunities for virtual conferencing with doctors from around the world. Social media is also a great way to advocate for social causes that affect patient health and physician well-being. For doctors, this can mean sharing everyday stories about their work or helping mobilize communities to influence public health policy. 

While it may be appropriate to adopt a casual tone on social media, you should always aim to keep your conduct professional. Part of this involves being selective about whom you interact with and how you approach new opportunities for connection. Consider carefully who you follow and “friend” on your platforms, particularly if these individuals are patients. Doctors who use social media platforms run the risk of blurring the lines between their professional and personal lives, so it’s critical to think carefully about how they’re presenting themselves online. 

Perhaps more importantly, physicians should always vet the accuracy of any information they share on their feeds. Even health professionals can be vulnerable to misinformation and, as public health authorities, it’s vital that doctors ensure they’re not sharing unreferenced and unverified statements or statistics.

Develop a workable strategy

With all of that in mind, the best way to manage your social media presence is to create a strategy that you can stick to. According to the aforementioned Forbes article, most health institutions adopt three pillars of content, where each post must relate to one of the following:

  • Health conditions that patients are actively researching

  • Treatments for those health conditions

  • Your unique philosophy on patient care 

In developing your strategy, be aware of who comprises your audience by listening to patient advocates—and keep in mind that your audience likely differs from one platform to the next, so your messaging should, too. In fact, your patient pool might dictate which platform you use. If, for example, you primarily see older patients, Facebook may be the way to go. If you’re serving younger patients, think about platforms like Instagram or TikTok. 

Don’t overdo it

It’s possible to have too much of a good thing. According to the aforementioned AAFP article, social media platforms are designed to be addictive. If you’re spending too much time on them, you’re bound to see diminishing returns—so remember to take breaks. Too much time focusing on your phone or laptop can be disruptive to more valuable life pursuits and personal relationships. 

Focus on your social media goals and take small steps each day toward achieving them.

Always follow institutional policies

If you’re an employee of an organization, check your employer’s social media policies before you start posting. Most institutions require that staff remain professional in their online interactions, but some may stipulate specifics (like clearly stating that the opinions shared are personal and do not reflect those of the employer).

Bear in mind that, by overlooking certain political content, physicians may be perceived as implicitly supporting the status quo. At the same time, certain online endorsements may have ethical implications. But if you find the right balance and build trust with your audience, social media can be the perfect tool to educate, engage, collaborate, and advocate. 

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