By Jenn Riggle
Hospitals can’t afford to let their doctors become cowboys – especially when it comes to social media.
Your docs are probably eager to set up their own Facebook pages, if they haven’t already done so. But it’s important for hospital marketing departments to work with their employed docs and guide them as they set-up their own pages – and corral the ones that have gone astray.
So Why Is This a Big Deal?
Hospitals are moving more and more to an employed physician model. So if your physicians are not following good social media practices or driving people away from your hospital’s Facebook page, there’s a danger that it can dilute your hospital’s brand.
So here are some rules that will help marketers wear the white hat when it comes to working with employed physicians:
- Take the lead: Marketing personnel are responsible for protecting your organization’s brand, so it’s important they work with your hospital’s employed physicians to help them all get on the same page. Marketing needs to meet with physicians, set the ground rules and explain expectations. For a good list of hospital social media policies check out Ed Bennett’s blog, Found in Cache.
- Create fan pages for physician practices: Because people select their doctor based on reputation, it’s important that physician practices have their own Facebook fan pages. Not only does this help distinguish themselves from other physician groups, it also gives them an opportunity to put medical information in perspective, as well as engage on the hospital Facebook page. In addition, by creating a practice page (instead of an individual profile), physicians don’t have to worry about “friending” their patients.
- Set privacy settings: If individual physicians decide to have their own personal Facebook page, it’s important they keep their personal profile separate or put privacy controls in place. For example, a physician might not feel comfortable letting his patients see photos from his vacation to the Bahamas. By adjusting the privacy settings, physicians can keep private information private. The New England Journal of Medicine interviewed a number of physicians about social media and reported that none of them had accepted patients’ requests to become Facebook friends because they were concerned that this would “cross the boundary between a personal and professional relationship.”
- Show affiliation with hospital: While each practice has its own name and identity, it’s important that they be clearly aligned with the hospital. Consider having the hospital logo on the page or some language about how the practice is part of the hospital’s medical group.
- Post a disclaimer: This should establish guidelines for postings and state that you reserve the right to remove comments that are inappropriate and what comments fall into this category.
- Make sure someone is responsible: The physician practice needs to select someone who will serve as the page administrator, who will be responsible for reading the comments posted on the page and making sure someone gets back to them in a timely manner. In addition, someone from the hospital’s marketing department should also be named as a page administrator. This way if there’s a real issue, marketing can take charge and fix the problem.
Protecting Patient Privacy
The number one concern about having physicians engage in social networking sites like Facebook is protecting patient privacy and violating HIPAA regulations (which can result in hefty fines). This includes addressing questions or comments about sensitive health information offline and not giving medical advice over social media. However, it’s fine to confirm an appointment or suggest that someone should make an appointment.
Also, if a patient posts personal health information, don’t respond directly to the post. It’s alright for a patient to say they’ve been cancer-free for one year, but it’s not alright for medical personnel to confirm this.
What About Service Lines?
What’s right for the goose isn’t always good for the gander. And while it benefits the hospital to have their employed physicians set up their own Facebook pages, the same isn’t true with service lines. People go to hospitals to receive specific services, so it’s important that information about these services is be included on the hospital page. And if all the service lines had their own Facebook pages, there would be no one left to talk on the page except administration.