Your product is healthcare. It’s consumed and administered by humans.
Are you still using the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) as a reason to stay away from social media? Do you refrain from using this powerful marketing tool because it’s “casual,” and healthcare is a professional undertaking where the well being of patients must be presented formally?
Healthcare is a business and compared to other areas of business, it’s woefully behind in using social media to find new patients and deepen relationships with existing ones. Numerous healthcare companies have demonstrated it’s possible – and beneficial – to be reputable while using social media to humanize their companies.
Consumed by humans
Your product is healthcare. It’s consumed and administered by humans. When medical professionals are treating people, they interact socially. They laugh, display genuine interest and concern, and share common interests. Why does all of this get jettisoned when the relationship moves online to social media?
Ah, that’s right. HIPAA. Many medical professionals – as well as entire healthcare organizations – avoid social media as a way to maintain their relationship with patients because of a fear of violating HIPAA regulations.
Distilled to a commandment, HIPAA would be, “Thou shalt not use private patient information to promote services or products without written permission.” The same precautions you take as a medical professional to protect patient privacy in real life easily translate to the digital realm of social media.
All about people
As a medical professional, you interact with people, and you treat their health issues. The people are private. Their health issues are things shared by millions or even hundreds of millions of others.
If it’s your goal to increase your patient load, helping people find information about these health issues and then showing that you are the best health professional to help them with a solution is the benefit – and the reason – to use social media.
Nobody’s faulting you for being cautious, but you’re crippling your marketing efforts by continuing to think that using social media to interact with prospects – and with patients – is a HIPAA privacy violation. If you wouldn’t say in any circumstance other than face to face in the privacy of an examination room, it isn’t going to be appropriate for social media.
Meanwhile, an exponentially growing list of healthcare professionals and organizations are using social media to make human connections with prospects and deepen existing relationships with patients. None other than the Mayo Clinic has undertaken the effort to compile a list of hospitals, physician practices, and other health-related organizations in the United States that actively use social media.
It's how people want to find you
Several years ago, Avvo surveyed over 1,000 people about their usage of the Internet to find medical information and choose a doctor. The results were surprising, with 73% of the respondents saying they research physicians online. Another survey by the National Research Corporation shows that over 40% of us search for medical information on social media sites. What are they looking for?
- Patient reviews
- Physician resumes and certifications
- Published articles
Social media is quickly growing and is the preferred source to learn about a health professional based on their perspective and their approach ability. It’s also important to understand the psychology behind the search. We recently wrote about this in an article here where we observed that people want to feel like they make these choices themselves. They’ll choose you if the story of your organization and why you do what you do resonates with them. Self-promotional content will likely turn them off.
Just because you, as a healthcare professional, choose not to use social media, it doesn’t mean that you’re not all over it – and not in a way that’s good for you. Social media has become the preferred way to share word-of-mouth recommendations. Regardless of how you feel about it, social media has also emboldened people to be far more forthcoming with criticism.
HIPAA regulations do not restrain the public, and unfortunately, discretion. They can choose to disclose whatever they like about their interaction with health professionals. Thankfully, most patients use social media to make negative comments without divulging detailed personal information. Either way, they’ve telegraphed a negative comment out to their network, which can continue to spread.
How will you respond? How will you even know? Reputation management is by itself sufficient as the crucial reason you need to have a social media presence.
Wading into the world of social media is something that does require careful thought. You need a strategy, and it must be tied to your marketing objectives. We look to healthcare professionals as heroes, and we do expect them to adhere to the highest standards of professionalism and discretion. We also expect them to be approachable human beings.
That expectation isn’t met when we discover they have no social media presence. It’s a serious disconnect – especially when it’s not uncommon to actually engage with a celebrity.