Dr Google is alive and well
Only a decade or two ago, the only way to get health information was to talk to a medical professional. Unfortunately, those times are behind us: the internet has changed this type of top-down information distribution, and patients can now get a second, third, and fourth opinion in minutes from Dr Google.
A 2017 study found that about half of all patients report looking online for health information regularly, and each only spends an average of 20 minutes investigating their condition before making a self-diagnosis.
However, Doctor Google doesn’t have to be your enemy: the same study revealed that 68% of participants found that Dr Google helped them communicate more effectively with their physician, and 80% felt it helped them to ask their health provider the right questions about their condition.
Instead of focussing on the negative aspects of social media and online healthcare information, you can use your social media to capitalise on this trend and support your patients while establishing your online position and credibility. Read on to find out how.
Combat misinformation online
Misinformation about health conditions and treatments (especially vaccines) is one of the most dangerous obstructions to effective healthcare and disease management in the developed world, and has been identified as a “major threat” by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most common threats, and it’s often provided to vulnerable people by those they trust, making it seem so much more believable.
As a medical professional, you have the knowledge and power to dispel false information, stop scaremongering ‘news’, and promote evidenced-based medicine by correcting factual errors and providing reliable sources where they’re needed most.
With a bit of time and energy, you can evolve your online presence into a haven for truthful information that supports patients by helping them to access real health information that’s in their best interest. Doing this also helps to establish your credibility as a medical professional and keeps your social media informative, engaging, and entertaining for your audience – a huge drawcard.
Talk to your patients
The internet’s most popular medical professionals are often popular for the same reason: they talk to people. They use outlets like Twitter, Reddit, Q&A sessions, and YouTube to reach out to their fanbase and support them by answering their questions, promoting health and wellness, and lending a friendly ear to patients and helping them feel validated.
Take notes from medical professionals with famous online presences, like YouTube’s Dr Mike and Dr Sandra Lee: they use their platforms to answer health questions, provide general advice within their realm of expertise, and tell engaging stories about their many years in practice (anonymised, of course). They also engage with their audience and establish their fun and caring personalities by creating on-trend content popular with their younger audience.
Another important thing they do is ask their fanbase questions about what they want to see, pay attention to their answers, and act accordingly by providing the kind of content that they know will be beneficial. This is a brilliant tactic that helps then keep relevant, while also minimising the amount of research they need to do into content topics.
Tackle the big issues - reduce stigma
The social media has long been a support forum for patients with mental illness, HIV, AIDS, and other often stigmatised conditions to provide each other with support. As a medical professional equipped with a unique degree of skills and education, you’re in a perfect position to reach out and support those affected with your socials.
By using your platform to initiate discussion about these sensitive topics, you can help break down taboos around these issues and create positive dialogue, which can encourage your patients to feel comfortable in seeking your help. If you’re able to offer treatment or management options for these conditions, your social media is also a great way to help make it known.
The anonymity the internet provides for patients can be a huge help in creating a safe support network online, and it’s important to respect this by offering support without judgement and not pressuring people to reveal details about themselves, their condition, or how it’s being managed. They’ll offer that information themselves if they decide to seek your help formally.
Be helpful, but beware
The ever-present risk in service-based industries is that it’s easy to provide a little more help than what’s appropriate. A lot of health professionals have a natural instinct to help wherever possible, and sometimes it can be hard to suppress the urge when someone approaches you in need of medical advice.
As professionals, we do not provide advice without a proper consultation - this is no different in the world of online. If you’re not meeting in direct conference with someone, there’s a risk that they may not provide accurate information, or that you could miss other diagnosing factors. Because of this, it’s important to make it clear that you’re there to help, but not to diagnose or treat over the internet.
Social media evangelist Dr Kevin Campbell put it best in his Q&A with Forbes: “When people tweet me with issues, I advise them to contact their local emergency room or contact their physician. You need to make it clear that you are not providing treatment advice and you are not engaging in a doctor-patient relationship”.
Anonymity and privacy is also important to respect: While it’s fine to share stories about your medical practice online (and a lot of people really love to hear them!) it’s important to keep them anonymised. Luckily, using a fake name for your patient and withholding other potentially identifying information (like blood type or the patient’s location where applicable) is usually enough to abide by the Privacy Act 1988 and let you share your story with the world.
Need a hand?
We’ve been helping medical professionals manage their online presence for over ten years, and we’d love to help yours too. Get in touch today to see how we can revolutionise the way you reach your patients and help you use your social media powers for good.