Today’s guest post is by Pamela Reilly a Naturopathic Nutritionist who has some terrific advice for medical practitioners interested in adding social media to their marketing mix. 

Social media has become such a powerful marketing and relationship building tool that many medical practices are embracing it. Although social media can be a good tool for medical practices and practitioners, there are some key factors practitioners should remember:

Create a social media plan: Many practitioners dive into the social media pool without having a plan. In the simplest terms, a social media plan should: identify which social media tools will be used; clearly state goals with measurable outcomes; identify who your intended audience is; map out a content calendar for posts and authors. A social media plan should also include a clear plan for how to handle and escalate any problems that arise.

Use social media for education and marketing, not for treatment: The biggest social media mistake medical practitioners make is to use social media to provide medical advice. To do so for a person who is not an established patient/client and for whom a signed consent form is not on file creates the potential for legal action, up to and including a malpractice suit, that could destroy your practice. To provide medical advice to established patients via social media (a public platform) is in direct violation of HIPAA laws, even if the patient initiated the conversation.

Practitioners should also communicate that patients/clients cannot use social media channels to ask questions about their condition. Instruct patients/clients to communicate via approved methods used by your office. Additionally, always document any communication between the practitioner and patient/client that occurs via social media. Failure to do so could have legal implications. Some practitioners use the symbol “SM” in charts to indicate how the communication occurred.

Don’t assume “private” messages are private: Past court cases proved nothing shared via social media channels is private. Some of these court cases successfully subpoenaed “private” messages from social media and used them as evidence. Again, HIPAA laws must be adhered to regardless of the communication channel used. Also avoid referencing a patient’s case using vague terms to describe successful treatment methodologies. Any reference to someone under your care may be a direct or indirect violation of HIPAA laws.

Create separation: Some practitioners choose to have personal social media accounts separate from their business account. Although there are advantages to doing so, all of the previously mentioned rules still apply. Be very careful using your private accounts to express frustration or make comments related to your practice. An obvious rule is to never accept friend requests from established patients/clients, and to set up privacy rules to allow you to select who can follow you.

Don’t engage: You cannot control how your message is received and there will always be someone ready to disagree with your opinion about medical matters. Engaging with naysayers simply to prove you are right can be very damaging to your personal reputation and to that of your practice. If you think you’ve been misunderstood, try to clarify with a single post and then either ignore the situation or let the dissenter know you would be happy to continue the conversation off-line. Taking negative interactions off-line as quickly as possible is always best.

As social media continues to evolve, I am certain the medical community will discover broader ways to use it to improve patient care. During its evolution, practitioners need to embrace it but use it with wisdom.

 Pamela Reilly, Naturopathic Nutritionist, CNHP, CNC, CPH

Pamela Reilly, Naturopath, spent 20 years working in an IT corporate communications role before pursuing her passion to help others find healing using natural methods.

Now in private practice, she speaks nationwide on topics related to natural health and social media. She is available for speaking engagements and private consultations.  Follow her on Twitter : @IndyHealer