In 2015, Macleans called Canadian physicians “digitally conservative.”
A lot can change in just a few years.
Today, Auxita regularly chats with hundreds of Canadian physicians and health professionals eager to innovate. Digital Health Week made waves across the country, and Canadian doctors tweet, post, and use online communication more than ever before. Organizations like CMPA and CMA have even joined the conversation, publishing articles, policies, and social media best practices for physicians.
More and more, healthcare professionals and clinics are realizing that careful and conscientious use of social media has more benefits than downsides. That’s good news for their digitally-driven patients – and great news for the future of their practices.
Benefits of Social Media for Healthcare Professionals
Here are a few of the benefits of social media for clinics, according to the Canadian Medical Association’s policy on the subject:
- Increased communication between medical professionals and the public/patients, thereby improving patient satisfaction
- Easier means of delivery of public health messages
- A clear, current, and concise medium where people can access medical expertise in a more direct way than traditional media
- Improved quality of health information; professionals can post (with copyright permission) evidence-based medical information, combating misinformation that could be online
Are there risks? Of course. But they can be managed, mainly with a bit of common sense – don’t share confidential information, retain appropriate boundaries in online communication, check your sources for shares, and stick to areas of expertise. The CMA’s policy on the topic is a good starting point for those with questions or concerns.
To use social media effectively and appropriately, you’ll need some knowledge of which platforms are available. We put together some quick tips and information on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn to help you on this journey.
Facebook: Sharing Information with Patients
Facebook is the most widely used social network in Canada, making it a top priority for any social media savvy health practice. Fortunately, Facebook makes a clear distinction between professional users (Pages) and personal users (Profiles), so it is easy to maintain boundaries and engage the right people.
Ideal for: Sharing public health messages and reminders (flu shot season, for example), sharing clinic information such as hours or address, and educating patients on your range of services.
Tips for Facebook:
- Do run your practice’s Facebook presence as a Page, not a Profile, to maintain professionalism
- Do keep your hours of operation and contact information up-to-date
- Do name your clinic manager as one of the Page’s administrators. If a patient messages your Page, administrative staff should be able to manage the inquiry and direct the patient to the proper channels
- Don’t discuss personal medical information on Facebook Messenger. Even scheduling or confirming an appointment should not be done via an insecure platform such as Facebook. If you do wish to schedule appointments or share other information digitally, it is critical to use a secure and approved platform
Instagram: Quick Reminders for Young Adult Patients
Reaching people in the 20 to 30-year-old age bracket is notoriously tricky thanks to changing addresses, technology-based communication, and inconsistent lifestyles. For family practices, this can pose a problem – doctors have important health reminders to share with these patients, but often no way of doing so. Enter Instagram. The majority of 18 to 29-year-olds are active on the platform, making it one of the best ways to reach a wider and younger audience.
Ideal for: Sharing quick quips and images, showing off your clinic, connecting with young adult patients.
Tips for Instagram:
- Do make text-based “images” to share on Instagram. Limit it to a few words, then elaborate in the caption. Free tools like Canva or a local social media agency can help develop winning creative for your account.
- Don’t post personal content on your professional Instagram. Unlike other industries, keeping a strong barrier between personal and professional is a must for health professionals online.
- Do “follow” the Instagram pages of specialists, organizations, and entities within your network. This will help you maintain a positive relationship with partners and stay up to date on goings-on in your professional community.
Twitter: Keeping up with the Conversation
Initially built for sharing news in bite-sized, scannable chunks, Twitter has grown into a social media behemoth. Newsflashes still pepper the site, but today the platform is also rife with opinions, debate, humour, and connection. For this reason, Twitter is a particularly popular choice for physicians looking to participate in discussions about healthcare-related topics: research, conferences, and even the odd hot-button issue. While it is a great medium for expression and conversation, health professionals should be aware that these are public-facing profiles and should maintain a level of professionalism and authority when tweeting.
Tips for Twitter:
- Do carefully consider whether you would like a Twitter account under your name or your clinic’s name. If you plan to share opinions about healthcare related issues, an account under your name is likely best (here’s an example from an Ontario doctor). If your Twitter is just for public announcements and clinic news, your practice may wish to operate on Twitter as a “business account” (this is common for hospitals and larger practices, check out this example).
- Do retweet or reply to content shared by associations, entities, and reputable companies that you trust. This is how conversations happen on Twitter - don’t be shy!
- Do use relevant hashtags at the end of your tweet. Most awareness days, conferences, and movements have an associated hashtag. When in doubt, check out what other reputable accounts are using and follow their lead.
LinkedIn: Networking with Other Health Professionals
LinkedIn is a social network aimed at job-seekers, businesses, and professionals. It is a great place to connect with colleagues, post job ads, find opportunities, and share career progress.
Ideal for: Looking for a new position or opportunity, networking with peers, and hiring clinic staff
Tips for Linkedin:
- Do follow other clinics, associations, research bodies, trusted vendors to stay up-to-date on professional news (you can also follow relevant hashtags, such as #physician and #digitalhealth)
- Do nurture your network by sharing professional milestones and celebrating others’
- Do join professional groups and positively engage with those who share ideas, publications, or promotions
- Don’t use LinkedIn to connect with patients – it is a professional network that should be used primarily to keep in touch with colleagues and professional organizations
Should you (or your practice) use social media?
For the most part, it is great for health professionals to be active online - public health awareness increases, misinformation can be challenged, and patients love the increased communication.
However, there are healthy fears that can come with bringing social media into a practice. How do we use it properly? What should I do if a patient messages my Page? What if something I post is misconstrued? These are reasonable issues to consider, but they are not necessarily reasons to forgo the technology entirely.
It’s a good idea to manage risks by speaking with social media experts, reviewing the CMA policy, and following what other professionals do online. If you are in doubt about whether a comment could be taken the wrong way, try having someone look it over first.
Bottom line: it is possible to be cautious, contentious, and innovative in healthcare. In fact, that is how we would describe most Auxita users! By embracing technology while keeping professional standards top-of-mind, Canadian health workers can be a real force for good on social media.