Social media in general practice

Common platforms and tips for use

 

 What is Facebook?

Facebook is currently the most highly used social networking service globally. In Australia, about 50% of the population uses Facebook every day.6 Many use it as a way to stay in touch, share moments from their life, engage with businesses they like, or promote their own business.


Advantages of using Facebook

  • Facebook allows you to create a page dedicated to your practice and engage and communicate directly with patients and colleagues.
  • Facebook can be used as a business directory, serving as another avenue for patients to find you.
  • Facebook can help direct traffic through to your practice’s website from your Facebook page, encouraging patients to access more information about your practice and other resources.
  • Facebook is a great way for you to build your network with other professionals. Facebook users can create groups for like-minded people to join and engage in discussion and information sharing. The groups are often localised or dedicated to a specific interest.
  • Your Facebook page can be linked to your online appointment booking service, if you use one.

Tips for using Facebook

The RACGP offers the following tips for the use of Facebook by GPs and practice staff.

  • Customise the settings on your Facebook page. Facebook offers various degrees of privacy and accessibility for pages, from closing a page off, accessible only to the owner of the page through to a public profile where anyone can view and make comments on the page. An example of customising a business page for a general practice might be to prohibit visitor posts from outside parties. This would prevent inappropriate comments being published on the Facebook page.
  • An automatically generated Facebook page for your practice may already exist. Facebook will create an unofficial page when someone ‘checks in’ to a place or business that doesn’t have an existing official page. You can claim an unofficial page by clicking on the ‘Is this your business?’ link.
  • If you decide to have a Facebook page for your practice, it is recommended that a staff member is assigned the task of updating and maintaining the information posted on your page. This role should be clearly defined and documented in the practice’s social media policy.
  • Facebook has an instant messaging feature, where private messages can be sent directly to and from individuals. There are a number of risks involved in using this feature as a means of contacting patients. It is not a secure line of communication, as the information being sent is not encrypted. The RACGP recommends that this feature is not used due to its lack of security and inability to verify recipients. Refer to the MBA’s advice on electronic communication with patients.
  • A review tab is added as a default when you set up a Facebook business page, which allows visitors to leave a review or ‘star rating’ on your page. Because any review that is published could be interpreted as a testimonial, the RACGP recommends you disable the review tab to remove reviews and ‘star ratings’ from your page. This can be done by going to ‘Settings’ > ‘Edit page’. Alternatively, you can remove this feature by changing the category of your practice’s page category to ‘Community organisation’; however, you will lose some features of the business page if you do this.
 

What is Instagram?

Instagram is a photo-sharing and video-sharing social networking service owned by Facebook, Inc. It is the third most popular social media platform behind Facebook and YouTube. Instagram users are the most likely to follow businesses or brands when compared to other social media platforms. Other Instagram users can request to ‘follow’ you and vice versa.

Advantages of using Instagram

  • Useful site to share visual images of your practice facilities and staff
  • Can be used as another way to direct traffic to your website and other social media pages

Tips for using Instagram

  • Customise the privacy settings on your Instagram account. By default, anyone can view your profile and posts on Instagram. You can make your posts private so that only followers you approve will see them.
  • You can turn comments on or off for your posts. You can do this before or after you share a post.
  • As with Facebook, Instagram has an instant direct messaging function. The RACGP recommends that this function is not used to communicate directly with patients due to the insecurity (lack of encryption) of this means of communication.
 

What is LinkedIn?

LinkedIn is an online professional directory of individuals and companies. It is currently the largest professional network worldwide, with 300 million members around the world. Individuals use LinkedIn for professional networking, connecting and job searching.

Advantages of using LinkedIn

  • You can create a company page for your practice, which lets you recruit staff and provide company information to prospective employees.
  • As an individual member, you can search for jobs, research companies and network with members of specific groups.
  • Like Facebook, LinkedIn lets you join and contribute to specific interest groups and networks. Through these, you can start your own online discussion about a topic that interests you and track the number of replies.
  • You can build a resume of your work experiences and achievements. It is a medium for GPs to inform their network of their skills and expertise.
  • LinkedIn is a popular platform for sharing articles of interest to others across your professional community.

Tips for using LinkedIn

  • Choose an appropriate profile picture that creates a professional impression.
  • You do not have to connect with everyone who sends you a request on LinkedIn. You can send personal messages to individuals and find out why they want to connect with you. It is recommended not to connect with patients (current, former or prospective).
  • Your profile page provides colleagues and future employers with an understanding of your experiences and expertise. The ‘Accomplishments’ section of your profile allows you to add extra career achievements such as courses, projects that you have worked on, and publications you have contributed to, such as online resources, journals or studies.
 

What is Twitter?

Twitter is an online social networking and micro-blogging service that enables users to post and read short messages (‘tweets’) up to 280 characters long. In a tweet, a person can share an idea, opinion, promotion, photo or video. You can also ‘follow’ particular organisations or people, which means their tweets are visible in your feed, and people can follow you back, meaning your tweets will be visible in your followers’ feeds. Anyone can read content posted on Twitter, but only registered users can post tweets. It can be a useful social media tool in general practice as it provides a way to stay in touch with colleagues and follow people and organisations that interest you.

Advantages of using Twitter

  • Twitter allows you to share information about your practice, be part of conversations, provide useful information and start to build a community.
  • You can provide your followers with health tips and information on your practice.
  • You can follow anyone who has a Twitter account, from friends to celebrities and politicians, who might usually be hard to reach.
  • You can follow people or organisations who could influence your business or be a valuable source of information (eg the Australian Government, the RACGP).
  • You can follow and participate in conversations at conferences using hashtags (eg #gp18conference).

Tips for using Twitter

If you are setting up a Twitter account, you should consider the following.

  • Decide whether the account is for yourself or the practice (or one for each).
  • Design your page to reflect the brand of your practice.
  • Tweet regularly. To increase the popularity of your Twitter account, you should tweet on a regular basis to make it worthwhile for your followers.
  • Mix it up: your tweets can include links to other web content (eg a blog post, website, PDF document, photos or videos).
  • Use Twitter to direct traffic to your own website or blog.
  • Ensure you maintain professionalism and appropriate boundaries when using Twitter. It is recommended that you do not seek out patients and follow them on Twitter; however, they may follow your Twitter account for health-related posts. Apply your professional judgement if these situations arise and consider what is appropriate in a doctor–patient relationship.

Do not retweet testimonials made by others (regarding you as a GP, your general practice or health service). For more information, refer to AHPRA’s ‘Social media policy’ and other relevant guidelines.

Using Twitter at conferences

Twitter is becoming more popular at conferences, allowing delegates to make comments and suggestions over live Twitter feeds that are often displayed on a big screen visible to all delegates. Twitter can also be used at conferences to ask questions in major plenaries. Be mindful of what you write on these types of Twitter posts, as they are publicly broadcast at events and on the internet.

Public tweets versus direct messages

Direct messages are private and can only be seen by the sender and receiver. However, anything you publicly tweet is not private and can be accessed by anyone, including those without Twitter accounts.

Keep this in mind when tweeting or responding to tweets to ensure that you are professional and respectful in your online behaviour.

Using hashtags

A ‘hashtag’ is a key word or phrase preceded by the hash sign (#). Hashtags are used on most social media platforms to categorise content so users can find, follow and share content about a specific topic. They are a useful way to find content you are interested in (eg #womeninmedicine, #digitalhealth), and adding hashtags to your own posts can help engage people with your content.

The Healthcare Hashtag Project is a good place to learn more about hashtags related to health.

Case study: Dr Timothy Senior

Based in Sydney, Dr Timothy Senior has been active on Twitter since January 2011. With over 5000 followers, Dr Senior’s Twitter reach includes a varied audience of doctors, other health professionals, academics, students, journalists, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and interested members of the public. While the majority of his followers are based in Australia, he has a number of international followers in the medical field.

Dr Senior chooses to follow people who start interesting discussions, and he links to thoughtprovoking sources of evidence or expertise including academics, journalists or politicians. His tweets explore topics such as public health and social determinants of health, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, general practice, medical education, politics and classical music. His Twitter account is for personal use. It acknowledges his profession as a GP, but he does not post on behalf of a practice or his employers.

Dr Senior has found Twitter to be a useful tool in enhancing his career as a GP. He has been able to link directly with a thoughtful and informed group of GPs across Australia and the world. Twitter links him to research and ideas of academics and patients, which has broadened his perspective on health and health systems. It has expanded his opportunities, mainly for writing and occasionally for public speaking.

Dr Senior has easy access to his Twitter account via his smart phone and tablet, which keeps him up to date and allows for regular tweets. He finds tweeting at conferences a useful way to stay informed and engage with other participants, fostering an entertaining and engaging sense of community at conferences.

He posts a tweet most days and more frequently when involved in Twitter conversation. He tries not to tweet unless he has something interesting to add, and often stops to rethink his tweets before posting them, deleting those that he deems too sarcastic or cynical.

Dr Senior’s rule is never to be dull in his tweets, and he often deliberately tries to question or challenge prevailing wisdom. He often tweets about policy changes that impact healthcare, and challenges some of the cultural values of other medical professionals, especially regarding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health. He regularly bases opinions on evidence, uses humour and questions, and steers clear of abusive arguments.

Dr Senior’s use of Twitter has resulted in new opportunities. Through Twitter, he successfully crowdfunded a regular column for Croakey, discussing the health impacts of various government policy proposals. He has been asked to talk at conferences about using social media as a GP, and now has a reputation as a doctor who tweets, despite this being only a small part of how he views himself.

 

What is a blog?

A blog (weblog) is a website that features a diary-type annotation and links to articles on other websites. Blogs can be used for business or personal use, and can focus on a particular topic or a range of topics. Some are more like personal journals, presenting the author’s daily life and thoughts. A general practice or a GP could have a blog and write about their practice, the health sector and health-related issues in which they are interested.

How to blog

  • Choose the target audience and a topic to blog about.
  • Blogs can be set up in a variety of ways, including hosted on a free platform, self-hosted on a paid domain name, or sitting on your current practice website. Free blogs are often limited in functionality, and it is important to remember that if your blog is hosted on a third-party website, it is possible that your content will become their property.
  • Blogging platforms offer many designs for you to choose. It is recommended that you choose a design that reflects the image and branding of your general practice.
  • It is recommended that a staff member is assigned to the task of updating and maintaining the practice’s blog. This role should also be clearly defined and processes documented in the practice’s social media policy.

The benefits of starting a blog

  • A blog lets you post longer pieces about the topics you want to cover, which is not usually possible on other social media platforms. So you can use it to build a ‘library’ of information based on your expertise and experience. By posting regularly, and posting good-quality content (eg evidence-based health information, interesting perspectives on issues), your blog can become a place people visit to gain knowledge on certain subjects.
  • You can promote and share your blog on other social media platforms. This can enable you to expand your network and reach with healthcare professionals.
  • Your blog can help you establish your online identity.

Tips for blogging

  • An engaging blog is one that educates and inspires your readers. Make your blog helpful by using it to provide general health advice to your readers.
  • Blogging is a great way to present your ideas, but you need to be wary of your online identity and what you blog about. It is essential to consider the impact of the content you post on your readers. If you upset or offend certain groups, it could result in negative comments being left on your blog and a negative image in the online community.
  • Monitor the comments section of your posts and remove any that are defamatory or otherwise inappropriate. It might be useful to include a clear commenting policy displayed on your blog that states what will or will not be allowed.
  • You need to prepare for complaints and learn how to manage them. The way you respond to any negative comments or criticism on your blog can have a significant impact on how you are perceived by your followers. Refer to the RACGP resource Responding to online reviews’ for further information.
  • It is recommended that you have a protocol or practice policy on managing and monitoring the content and feedback of your blog.
  • If you are also on other social media platforms, consider posting links to your blog articles.
  • Dr Edwin Kruys, a GP blogger, has posted ‘The no. 1 blogging tip you should always keep in mind’. You may find this advice useful and you can access this on his blog.

Case study: Dr Edwin Kruys

Dr Edwin Kruys started blogging in 2012 on the website of his general practice in Western Australia. When he moved to Queensland, he started his own blog, Doctor’s Bag, for personal use. Doctor’s Bag has grown in popularity and is read all over Australia, with international followers in the UK, Ireland and Canada. He enjoys writing and publishing, and originally began the blog to lift the profile of his clinic. Over the years it evolved into an opinion blog with a focus on the challenges of eHealth.

Dr Kruys lists his three main reasons for blogging:

  1. Dispel myths around general practice – his blog attempts to make medicine more transparent.
  2. Provide more reliable health information online.
  3. Give readers a new perspective with thoughtprovoking content.

Dr Kruys blogs several times a week about healthcare politics (mainly general practice), eHealth and social media. His primary audience comprises of doctors, patients, journalists and policymakers. He uses his blog as a networking tool and believes it is the interaction that makes blogging and social media interesting and powerful. He considers blogging a way to share ideas, dreams, opinions and experiences, and stands by the words of business coach Seth Godin: ‘You are doing it for yourself, to force yourself to become part of the conversation’.

Dr Kruys learns from the research he does for writing blog posts and from the responses regarding his posts from patients, colleagues and others.

Working in medicine is a cognitive job, but blogging has allowed Dr Kruys to use his creative skills. On occasion, he has found his blog has influenced decision-makers and made a contribution to the profession. Doctor’s Bag has helped Dr Kruys brand himself – journalists know where to find him for comment on health-related issues, and he is regularly invited to speak at events. Blogging has expanded his network and given him opportunities to connect with colleagues nationally and internationally

Dr Kruys’ blog has tackled some controversial topics – some posts and articles about eHealth and the national eHealth record system received extra attention and debate. His posts about pharmacy owners wanting to provide more medical services created upheaval, resulting in angry comments left on his blog. But Dr Kruys welcomes opinions from his readers, and aside from an active spam filter, he does not moderate comments. He appreciates the open access and transparent nature of blogs and wants readers to be able to give immediate positive and negative feedback. He prefers to have negative comments about him on his blog, rather than on another social media page over which he has no control.

Dr Kruys recommends the following for a blog:

  • Try to be of value to your audience – for example, by providing answers and solutions to common problems or issues they may have.
  • Share knowledge for free. • Declare conflicts of interest and consider having a disclaimer, intellectual property statement and disclosure notice.
  • Display the ‘house rules’ of your blog page – for example, ‘Thanks for visiting my website. I appreciate you leaving comments here. However, all comments will be reviewed, and inappropriate or offensive comments will be removed. Thanks for sharing and contributing’.
  • Don’t give up. As Steve Jobs said, ‘I am convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the nonsuccessful ones is pure perseverance’.
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