by DJ Edgerton (@wiltonbound)
Its been several years now since the pharmaceutical industry first began to try to figure out social media – what it was, how to use it to find customers, how to give customers information, and how to learn more about them through it. It hasnt been always successful, those several years, but the process has been going on nonetheless. Maybe its improving, or maybe not – but the struggle has become part of life for the industry.
Now, however, its moving elsewhere in the healthcare arena – to individual healthcare professionals (HCPs). Your own doctors and nurses, nurse practitioners and physician assistants – theyre the ones just starting to see the impact that social media can have on their profession, for good and for ill.
Recently, James Ellis riffed on how Facebook and SEO are cracking the formerly impervious facade in the image of your HCP. Social media does, undoubtedly, personalize everything. No longer are experts of any kind able to decree without question. No longer is “a customer base a vast, collective singular. Customers are individual people – and so are the experts. So how will HCPs handle social media?
On the one hand, its an opportunity for a person with even the smallest practice to become a pundit. Blogging, tweeting, podcasting and posting can make a minor celebrity out of a HCP. When you Google a new HCP, wouldnt you be impressed if they had a wide swath of results showing their thought leadership in their field, proving that they kept up with the latest news and cared enough to write and consider it outside of their everyday practice? Kevin Pho, the New Hampshire GP who is the most famous HCP in social media, suggests that all HCPs either have, or be part of, a social media presence. He points out its utility as a marketing tool – and in a practice where managed care profit margins grow ever smaller, free marketing is a valuable commodity.
However, as celebrities, professional athletes, writers, job-seekers and plenty of average people have discovered, the ease with which social-media sharing can happen can lull users into not thinking critically before posting. When you have people who are trusting their health and that of their loved ones to you, what you think of as noncontroversial can be problematic. Would you want to know that your surgeon had spent the weekend partying before your Monday-morning operation? Are you going to be impressed to hear that members of the office staff are feuding?
Boundaries must be considered, set up and maintained to make sure that a healthy social-media presence does not overwhelm a HCP, that it does not set unrealistic expectations of availability in patients minds, and that it puts the practice in a favorable and accurate light.