June 2013

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June 2013

Less Room for Luddites:

Why Social Media Matters to Every Healthcare Practitioner

Nearly 75% of all American adults are now using the Internet to search for healthcare information. Yet, only 8% of physicians use online sites to market to patients and only 22% market via Internet search, according to the 2012 National Physicians’ Survey. It’s time for all healthcare practitioners to leave the dark ages of patient communications and embrace the here-to-stay social media tsunami.

If you’re looking for just one good reason why you should communicate with patients through social media – even though you may not believe in it personally – we have four. Below are four great reasons why you should embrace and use social media now.

Whether you realize it yet or not, the Internet and social media networks are changing the healthcare marketing landscape in ways that can dramatically benefit you, your ability to communicate with patients and your healthcare practice. This is not a temporary change or a fly-by-night social trend. It’s a fact of life in 2013 America and throughout the world. And healthcare providers need to embrace what has become common and standard consumer behavior in the 21st century. Here’s why:

Reason #1 – Patient Behavior Has Changed

Most consumers no longer look up doctors or dentists in the Yellow Pages or check the ads in printed newspapers. When we want health information, we search for it online. If someone in our online community recommends a healthcare provider, then we Google the provider’s name and check online reviews. We trust the recommendations of our online peers far more easily than we trust traditional advertising.

The fact is that patients are looking for someone like you online. They routinely search for health-related information, online support groups, health blogs, hospitals, private healthcare practitioners. They read other patients’ reviews of their doctors, dentists, physical therapists, veterinarians and all kinds of ancillary healthcare specialists. They share their personal stories and experiences with each other and write reviews about their providers on Healthgrades or Vitals or Yelp. There are more than two dozen review sites where today’s consumer can post comments.

Reason #2 – Your Reputation is at Stake

Patient reviews have a direct and dramatic affect on consumer behavior. Good reviews attract patients and bad reviews repel them. Researchers have found that fewer-star ratings translate directly to fewer patients. One study showed a 10% drop in patients for each one-star drop in reviews. Every negative review can be damaging unless it is surrounded by many more positive reviews.

Do you know what patients are saying about you online? Have you Googled yourself lately? If not, you should do it as soon as possible. The results could be quite illuminating. If social media didn’t matter to you before, it should now. The critical question becomes: How will you protect and manage your online reputation as more and more patients base their healthcare choices on online reviews?

Reason #3 – Health Information Needs Context

When mass media – television, radio and print – report health-related stories, they edit them to fit time and space requirements. Few allow time or space for commentary from real healthcare providers. As a result, most of these stories lack real meaningful context for consumers.

21st century consumers want to know how a health story affects them personally. They want to know how it will or won’t impact their lives. And the most qualified expert to provide such meaningful context is their doctor. Yet more often than not, their doctor is absent from the online community and the ensuing conversations. So consumers turn to their friends and health information websites such as WebMD.

By joining the online community and conversation, you can share meaningful insights and real expertise with an audience that is hungry for what you can offer – an audience full of individuals who could easily become your best patients.

Reason #4 – Health Information Needs Accuracy

The Internet and Facebook and Twitter have given everyone an equal voice in the national healthcare conversation. In one respect, that’s a wonderfully empowering and democratic idea. But it also has a dark side. It gives the illusion that all these opinions matter equally, which they don’t.

So there’s a good deal of health information on the Web that is simply wrong. The Internet provides a pulpit for politicians and celebrities who unfortunately wield powerful influence over the opinions of most American consumers. Unless and until real medical professionals join the conversation, consumers will continue to hear misinformation, disinformation and myths. Without meaningful commentary from obstetricians, millions of women will continue following Kim Kardashian’s opinions about pregnancy.

By joining the online community, you can add a credible, expert, reliable and meaningful voice to the conversation. You can help dispel the myths and misinformation and guide patients and consumers toward accurate health information they so desperately need.

Social Media Needs You

Unless you are a complete Luddite who refuses to use email, computers, tablets or smart phones, you need to establish yourself in the online community – as an expert in your field and the source of accurate information about health issues in your specialty. At the very least, you need to connect with your patients in meaningful ways online. Why? Because it really matters to them. And it matters to the future of healthcare in America.

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