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How to Grow Your Practice and Reputation and Get Involved on Social Media

There are many ways for doctors to get involved in social media. You can use it to exchange information, take on a cause, build your personal brand, market your practice, or look for a job.

Certain specific tactics can help you in concrete ways, from growing your reputation to helping you solve medical problems.

Exchanging Clinical Information

The information you want to exchange might include second opinions on cases, practice management advice, or decisions on referrals. This is typically done through a physician community.

Beyond such websites as Medscape or WebMD, many people—both physicians and the general public—search for medical content on Twitter, LinkedIn, or other social media. They gather information from journals, presentations at meetings, and other sources, organize it so it can be easily referenced, and share it with others.

Now that thousands of doctors are archiving content through social media, new findings can be disseminated at a much faster rate. Twitter makes it easy to archive content through the use of the hashtag symbol (#) in front of the topic. Doctors use Twitter to report new medical studies in journals and presentations at medical conferences, which are identified by the hashtag for easy reference.

New contacts are another benefit of using social media. Exchanging information on social media is a way to meet colleagues you might otherwise have never met. These can become important relationships that could change your professional career.

Solving Diagnostic Problems Through Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing on social media enables a doctor to use the knowledge and skills of a whole physician community to solve diagnostic problems and other issues. Crowdsourcing platforms include Medscape Consult, Human Diagnosis Project, Sermo, QuantiaMD, and Figure 1.

Physicians who post a query can expect answers from experienced colleagues in a matter of a few hours, according to a 2018 study of physicians' use of Medscape Consult. The study found that more than 90% of all queries received responses, and the median time to first response was 1.5 hours.

Also, the study on Medscape Consult identified a strong bond between older and younger generations: Retired physicians were using the platform to advise newly minted colleagues. Physicians 26-30 years of age posed one fifth of the queries, and physicians older than 60 years provided more than 60% of the responses. (Medscape's editor-in-chief, Eric Topol, MD, was a coauthor of the study.)

Correcting Misinformation Posted by Others

Doctors who are active in a particular cause can use social media to promote it. One important cause is countering the fake cures and misplaced medical theories that are flooding the Internet. There is a pressing need for doctors to get on the Internet and correct this misinformation.

This is crucial because consumers have come to rely heavily on social media to gather healthcare information. Often, they latch onto questionable sources urging them to abandon valuable treatments, from vaccines to statins.

Physicians can provide a worthwhile service by writing blogs or visiting online forums and answering questions from patients.

Physicians can provide a worthwhile service by writing blogs or visiting online forums and answering questions from patients. They will have ready listeners. Almost two thirds of social media users are more likely to trust posts from doctors than from any other group, according to one source.

Becoming a Recognized Expert

Social media is an excellent way for physicians to show expertise in a particular subspecialty or other niche. Writing regularly on a particular topic can put you in a leadership role.

Once you earn this recognition, you may then be asked to speak or write on the topic. It could even help you when you're seeking a new job. For physicians who are looking to write a book or teach a course, writing regularly on a topic can help enhance your reputation for knowledge in that area.

Connecting With Your Patients

In the limited time available during an office visit, doctors often aren't able to provide all the explanations they would want to. Through social media sites, they can furnish general information to patients about a specific condition, aspects of a healthy lifestyle, or explanations of procedures.

There is another dimension to this that exploits the interactive nature of social media: Patients have the opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback on their care. Social media opens the door to conversations.

Marketing Your Practice

Social media is swiftly becoming the top modality for marketing, and it is more cost-effective than traditional marketing techniques. You post information rather than taking out an ad, printing flyers, or generating annoying robocalls.

You can use social media to find new patients or enhance referrals to your practice. People have developed a new way to look for services. Rather than visit brick-and-mortar stores, they go online. In one study, nearly 60% of respondents visited a company's Facebook page at least once per week before deciding on whether to buy its product.

On Facebook, users frequently post on friends' healthcare experiences, giving you a chance to shine in front of a large audience. By posting medical content that is helpful to patients, you can establish yourself as a trusted authority.

A good rule of thumb is that 80% of your posts should focus on educational, informational, or entertaining content, leaving just 20% for marketing your services.

Be careful not to oversell yourself. Focus on providing patients with value—useful information, such as health tips and links to important medical findings. A good rule of thumb is that 80% of your posts should focus on educational, informational, or entertaining content, leaving just 20% for marketing your services.

How to Most Effectively Use Social Media Platforms 

Facebook. Your Facebook account isn't static, like an ad or a listing. Facebook content needs to be constantly updated so that people will come back. It should offer value in the form of original content.

Facebook users create a personal profile; add other users as friends; and exchange messages, including status updates. A physician can create a professional or practice page, and Facebook users can visit it.

Create a Facebook page that can stimulate human interest, with such features as staff photos, healthcare advice, and occasional humorous posts. To boost visits, invite people to like your page and leave reviews there. Use other channels, such as your website and Twitter, to promote your Facebook page, and provide backlinks (hyperlinks) to the Facebook page.

Your posts on Facebook should have a visual aspect, concise copy, and a call to action. For example, provide a fitness tip with a photo of it, write a sentence or two explaining the tip, and add a call to action to read more about this topic on your blog or practice website.

YouTube. Here, you can present videos pertinent to your practice. You can compile a playlist of videos created by you and ones you liked that were created by others. Then provide backlinks to your YouTube videos on your website or on your platforms, such as Facebook.

The video can show you talking about a theme that patients want to hear about. Your video clips can explain illnesses, perform exercises, or demonstrate early detection techniques. Each video should focus on a specific issue and be fairly short—about 5-15 minutes long.

You can make videos on your iPhone, or you can set up a makeshift studio, with a video camera, appropriate lighting, and a backdrop curtain or sign. However, if you're creating a video, make sure that it looks professional, careful, and well-produced. You want to convey the impression that you and your practice have high standards of professionalism, not "anything goes."

Twitter. Twitter can be used to report on journal findings and scientific presentations at meetings. Its hashtag ontology makes it easy to find relevant content. By typing in a 280-character maximum per tweet, users can post brief messages or updates. Pictures, videos, and links to other sites can be embedded within tweets.

You can also join Twitter chats, which are periodic conversations on a particular topic. Or you can use Twitter to gather information on what patients want to learn by follow tweets from patient advocacy groups and individual patients. To build your own Twitter followers, follow other people's Twitter accounts, "like" tweets, retweet content that interests you, and tweet consistently.

LinkedIn. LinkedIn provides a basic online presence, anchored by your physician profile. You can park your bio there, get into contact with colleagues, and join group discussions.

Using LinkedIn's publishing feature, you can even write an article and post it, like you would on a blog. This is a good way to see whether you like blogging. You can also join LinkedIn groups, which are topic areas shared by other doctors and professionals. There, you can participate in discussions and post items of interest.

Keep in mind that it won't help you to just join a group. You need to interact to get anything out of the experience. Participate regularly in group discussions. If you don't like a group, you can always withdraw from it and find a new one. You can build a following on LinkedIn by giving recommendations and endorsements of people you are linked with.

Other General Interest Platforms

Instagram. This platform hosts images, from photos you take at conferences to pictures of skin lesions. As on Twitter, you can search content using specific hashtags. The 2200-character limit on captions allows in-depth explanations and discussion. You can also post videos.

Pinterest. Users of this platform post and collect images, known as "pins," of everything from recipes to home decorating ideas, but medical items are now in the mix as well. Posts last longer here than on other social media. Half of the visits to a Pinterest post are made within 3.5 months, compared with just 90 minutes on Facebook. Pinterest has a stable, somewhat older demographic consisting mostly of women, so it may be very good for pediatrics or ob/gyn.

Other sites that are well-known, but are probably less useful for physicians, include:

Reddit. This platform functions as a big community forum covering a variety of topics. It's anonymous, unregulated, and often not US-focused, so it's kind of like the Wild West there.

Medium. This is an article distribution channel, essentially a blogging site. It's more for a general audience and not as popular as it once was.

Snapchat. Content on this platform is short-lived: Snaps disappear after viewing or after 24 hours. Snapchat has a smaller, younger audience, typically under age 24, so it probably doesn't fit most physicians' audiences.

Physicians' Platforms

Medscape Consult. This is a clinical knowledge platform, owned by Medscape, where physicians and other medical professionals can ask questions, share intriguing cases, and discuss clinical challenges with peers.

Sermo. Licensed MDs and DOs can engage in social networking and crowdsourcing to solve tough clinical cases. Sermo also conducts online opinion polls twice a week on physicians' issues.

Doximity. In addition to physicians, this site welcomes pharmacists, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners. Doctors can get advice on diagnoses and treatment regimens.

QuantiaMD. This is a collaboration platform for doctors. Physicians can earn redeemable points based on the amount of activity on the platform. The platform also regularly polls physician-users on a variety of topics.

DailyRounds. On this platform, you can chat with colleagues, share medical expertise, load case files, and access a drug database.

Figure 1. On this site, doctors can submit images to provide instruction or to get hlp with diagnoses. Through a tool on the website, users remove patients' identifying features from images.

Match Your Purpose to a Social Media Platform

Some platforms fit your specific purposes better than others. Here are a few typical purposes matched to compatible platforms.

  • To brand yourself an expert, use Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

  • To promote a cause, use Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, or Medium.

  • To communicate to patients, use Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, or Pinterest.

  • To market your practice, use Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, or Twitter.

  • To control your online reputation, use Facebook or YouTube.

  • To reach a younger demographic, use Instagram, Snapchat, or Pinterest.

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Welcome! This article is part of a Medscape Physician Business Academy course, . Visit the Course Page to take the full course and receive a certificate.


Michael Woo-Ming, MD, MPH

| Disclosures | January 01, 2019

Authors and Disclosures


Michael Woo-Ming, MD, MPH

CEO, BootstrapMD, San Marcos, California; Owner, Executive Medical, San Diego, California

Disclosure: Michael Woo-Ming, MD, MPH, has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.