It's no surprise: the use of social media among physicians is expanding. In fact, some studies suggest that as many as 90% of physicians are using the internet to gather information about pharmaceuticals, biotech, and medical device information.
But despite this increase, few physicians are truly leveraging the power of social media. If you're like most, you've probably tinkered with Twitter for a few weeks, then written it off as a diversion. Or maybe you started a new blog and found that you underestimated the time and energy to maintain, much less blog, about your topic.
Here's what I've learned: Don't give up on social media quite yet. Why? Because, like most things in medicine, there's a learning curve to using social media properly. Moreover, the true potential for social media to enhance your work as a physician is far from being realized. The problem is that most physicians simply don't know where to start. Here, then, is my list of the top 5 tools you can use to get started.
Top 5 Social Media Tools for Physicians
1. Facebook Practice Page
Most casual Facebook users aren't aware of the marketing tools under the hood of Facebook. Among the most powerful is the ability to create a page for your medical practice. Use those features to create a fan page for your practice and ask you friends and colleagues to link to that page using the "become a fan" button. Use the page for general updates and news about your practice. One excellent use of the Facebook Fan Page is Dr. Maggie Yu's Sherwood Medical Practice.
2. Google Reader for Medical Articles and News
An indispensible tool to my morning routine, the Google Reader allows me to scan hundreds of blog posts and medical news articles in the time it takes me to brew my first cup of morning coffee. I find feeds using the search function within the reader. Although not a social media tool per se, you can harness the power of social media by commenting on articles and inviting others to do so using the comment and note buttons at the bottom of each article in the reader. For more information on getting started with Google reader, watch my video, "How to Read 1,000 Medical Articles in Under 10 Minutes"
3. You Tube Channel for Patient Education Library
For months I had written off YouTube as a diversion to my daily routine rather than as an asset until I discovered that other physicians were already using YouTube to compile videos libraries of patient education materials. Think of the top 3 questions you answer every single day and make a 1-3 minute video clip of your answer. (I recommend using the Mino Flip video camera for hassle free video recording). Then upload these videos by creating a Channel site on YouTube. Then announce your video library of FAQs with printed information in your waiting room, or better yet, on your Facebook Fan Page.
4. Twitter for Connecting with Colleagues
I know. You've tried it and you still don't get how Twitter can make you a better physician. Look at it this way: Twitter is like a big cocktail party with lots of conversations in the room. When you show up to a cocktail party, you don't just walk up to a group of colleagues and start talking about your practice; you listen, you participate in the ongoing conversation, and when asked, you provide information about yourself. Too many physicians use twitter like a megaphone at a cocktail party: "ATTENTION: New Study Finds Most Antidepressants Minimally Helpful"--some bewildered glances, but mostly ignored. My point is that there are rules for social engagement on Twitter, and if you don't follow these rules, you're likely to be ignored. Used correctly, it can be an extremely effective tool for finding colleagues for collaboration and consultation. For some ideas on other ways physicians are using Twitter, check out Dr. Shock's blog article, "Twitter, Doctors, Hospitals and Medical Education"
5. Practice Blog
Again, this is a tool many physicians, including myself, have tinkered with and eventually abandoned. While there are a number of ways a blog can be used to market your practice, I'd encourage you instead to see the blog as an opportunity to engage others on controversial happenings related to your field. One of my favorite blogs in this vein is The Carlat Psychiatry Blog. Notice that Dr. Carlat isn't promoting his practice, nor is providing straightforward news on updates in psychopharmacology. Instead, he writes candidly about controversial topics for a general audience. How can you slant your blog from a medical information site to a blog with remarkable content?
You might notice that I did NOT include having a practice website on this list. Most practice websites are static brochure sites that provide information about a practice or service; in order for a physician website to function as a social media site, it needs to be a place where people gather to exchange information. Ideally, you want your remarkable blog and business information on the same site. For a an excellent example, check out Philippa Kennealy's The Entrepreneurial MD.
I'd welcome your comments on any tools that you use that I haven't mentioned.