Growing Your Patient Base With Social Media Marketing

With physicians under increasing pressure to see more patients in shorter office visits, developing a social media presence may offer valuable opportunities to connect with patients, explain procedures, combat misinformation, talk through a published article, and even share a joke or meme.

But there are caveats for doctors posting on social media platforms. Medscape spoke to four doctors who successfully use social media. Here is what they want you to know before you post — and how to make your posts personable and helpful to patients and your practice simultaneously.

Use Social Media for the Right Reasons

While you’re under no obligation to build a social media presence, if you’re going to do it, be sure your intentions are solid, says Don S. Dizon, MD, professor of medicine and professor of surgery at Brown University. Dizon, as @DoctorDon, has 44.7K TikTok followers and uses the platform to answer cancer-related questions.

“It should be your altruism that motivates you to post,” says Dizon, who is also associate director of community outreach and engagement at the Legorreta Cancer Center in Providence and director of medical oncology at Rhode Island Hospital. “What we can do for society at large is to provide our input into issues, add informed opinions where there’s controversy, and address misinformation.”

If you don’t know where to start, consider seeking a digital mentor to talk through your options.

“You may never meet this person, but you should choose them if you like their style, their content, their delivery, and their perspective,” Dizon says. “Find another doctor out there on social media whom you feel you can emulate. Take your time, too. Soon enough, you’ll develop your own style and your own online persona.”

Post Clear, Accurate Information

If you want to be lighthearted on social media, that’s your choice. But Jennifer Trachtenberg, a pediatrician with nearly 7K Instagram followers in New York City who posts as @askdrjen, prefers to offer vaccine scheduling tips, alert parents about COVID-19 rates, and offer advice on cold and flu prevention.

“Right now, I’m mainly doing this to educate patients and make them aware of topics that I think are important and that I see my patients needing more information on,” she says. “We have to be clear: People take what we say seriously. So, while it’s important to be relatable, it’s even more important to share evidence-based information.”

Many Patients Get Their Information on Social Media

While patients once came to the doctor armed with information sourced via “Doctor Google,” today, just as many patients use social media to learn about their condition or the medications they’re taking.

Unfortunately, a recent Ohio State University study found that the majority of gynecologic cancer advice on TikTok, for example, was either misleading or inaccurate.

“This misinformation should be a motivator for physicians to explore the social media space,” Dizon says. “Our voices need to be on there.”

Break Down Barriers — and Make Connections

Mike Natter, MD, an endocrinologist in New York City, has type 1 diabetes. This informs his work — and his life — and he’s passionate about sharing it with his 117K followers as @mike.natter on Instagram.

“A lot of type 1s follow me, so there’s an advocacy component to what I do,” he says. “I enjoy being able to raise awareness and keep people up to date on the newest research and treatment.”

But that’s not all: Natter is also an artist who went to art school before he went to medical school, and his account is rife with his cartoons and illustrations about everything from valvular disease to diabetic ketoacidosis.

“I found that I was drawing a lot of my notes in medical school,” he says. “When I drew my notes, I did quite well, and I think that using art and illustration is a great tool. It breaks down barriers and makes health information all the more accessible to everyone.”

Share Your Expertise as a Doctor — and a Person

As a mom and pediatrician, Krupa Playforth, MD, who practices in Vienna, Virginia, knows that what she posts carries weight. So, whether she’s writing about backpack safety tips, choking hazards, or separation anxiety, her followers can rest assured that she’s posting responsibly.

“Pediatricians often underestimate how smart parents are,” says Playforth, who has three kids, ages 8, 5, and 2, and has 137K followers on @thepediatricianmom, her Instagram account. “Their anxiety comes from an understandable place, which is why I see my role as that of a parent and pediatrician who can translate the knowledge pediatricians have into something parents can understand.”

Playforth, who jumped on social media during COVID-19 and experienced a positive response in her local community, says being on social media is imperative if you’re a pediatrician.

“This is the future of pediatric medicine in particular,” she says. “A lot of pediatricians don’t want to embrace social media, but I think that’s a mistake. After all, while parents think pediatricians have all the answers, when we think of our own children, most doctors are like other parents — we can’t think objectively about our kids. It’s helpful for me to share that and to help parents feel less alone.”

If you’re not yet using social media to the best of your physician abilities, you might take a shot at becoming widely recognizable. Pick a preferred platform, answer common patient questions, dispel medical myths, provide pertinent information, and let your personality shine.

Lambeth Hochwald is a New York City–based journalist who covers health, relationships, trends, and issues of importance to women. She’s also a longtime professor at NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.

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