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Published April 19th 2012

How Does the Medical Industry Use Social Media?

When businesses want to reach the masses, they no longer look to television, radio or print media like newspapers and magazines. Instead, they turn to social media networks to connect with consumers and other businesses, with surprisingly good results.

The medical industry has been slow to embrace this method of communication. As a result, doctors, medical device manufacturers, medical institutions and companies may be losing out on a chance to connect with potential patients.

People with individual health plans are freer to choose their healthcare providers, making a stiff competition for those in the medical industry.

Understandable Caution

Many doctors, hospitals and other medical institutions tend towards caution when it comes to entering the world of social media, and the majority of practitioners avoid social media altogether.

Among the biggest concerns that medical practitioners and institutions have with the use of social media is the need to protect patient privacy and fears that entry into social media may compromise security.

Another concern is that it would be necessary for doctors, hospitals and other healthcare providers to create a monitoring system to prevent employees from abusing the social media connection, and to ensure that information that is shared is factually correct and has a positive impact on the image and reputation of the institution.

Finally, there is undoubtedly concern about charges of malpractice, in the event someone sought medical advice. While most doctors know they should avoid offering medical advice outside of their offices, many may worry that social media would blur the line between doctor and patient and ultimately lead to decisions that are less than professional.

Are There Benefits?

There are many benefits to using social media in the medical industry. First and foremost is the effect that word of mouth advertising—which social media guarantees—will have on a medical practice.

If someone is faced with a medical decision and doesn’t have a specific doctor or hospital in mind, they are more likely to contact someone familiar, whose name comes to mind quickly. What better way to stay in touch with existing patients and make the acquaintance of new ones than through social media?

In addition to adding a virtual face to an otherwise faceless establishment, using social media allows quick communication between businesses and consumers.

This is especially helpful for pharmaceutical companies, medical supply companies and other medical businesses. If there is information to be shared—whether it’s for upcoming events or sales or for new inventory—there’s no better way to get the word out quickly without having to pay costly postage.

How to Optimize Social Media

People are often very focused on health and well-being. As a result, they regularly rely on search engines to research symptoms and diseases and try to connect with people in similar situations.

When they share treatment advice, the result is that regardless of how the information was obtained, patients are quick to accept this type of advice and resort to self-medicating.

If, instead, the afflicted individual were speaking to a trained medical professional, they’d be far more likely to seek appropriate medical attention, rather than running the risk of a botched attempt at self-medication.

This could attract new patients and lessen the likelihood of misdiagnosis by an average citizen with an Internet connection.

Social Media Could Change Medical Industry

There are many social media networks available to the medical industry. Some are very broad, while others are more concentrated; still others are more specialized and niche-oriented.

  • The broader platforms include Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. These allow medical professionals to post content that can be as informative as they want it to be.
  • CancerDoc, Healthline and Revolution Health are aimed at people who want to share similar experiences, communicate information, or for medical institutions and practices to share ideas and disseminate information.
  • Sites like WebMD and AskDrWiki are regarded as expert sites that are designed to allow patients to ask questions and get answers from medical professionals.

Medical Companies Begin Use of Social Media

2010 signaled a significant jump in the use of social media by medical companies and institutions. The Mayo Clinic created a Facebook page that has amassed nearly 100,000 ‘likes’ since its creation.

That institution currently has two Twitter accounts, one for all institution locations and another for the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media. The main Twitter account currently has over 333k followers.

Throughout medical school, students are taught the value of being cautious and not rushing into anything. However, this does not and should not apply to some of the newer ways of connecting with patients.

Not only can social media draw attention to practices that might otherwise be missed, but these online communities also ensure effective communication and word-of-mouth, and may well cut down on the number of patients who defer going to the doctor until it is too late.

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