By Ron Meritt

Most physicians look at social media marketing as a luxury and not a necessary part of their business. The healthcare industry consistently sets the pace for innovative science and technology, yet at the same time struggles to keep up in marketing and patient engagement. Social media has proven to be an important and essential communication tool for community engagement and healthcare branding.

Physicians who fail to maintain an online presence risk not only their reputation, but also their business success. Current and new patients often use the internet and social media to read about physicians and make healthcare decisions based on opinions, feedback and viewpoints of other people… whether or not this information is accurate.

Social media has a very short history, however it has revolutionized the way that patients search, evaluate and choose a doctor. A simple Google search in today’s market will yield incredible results regarding a doctor’s image and reputation.

For example, if a patient were seeking a physician, a Google search would result in web pages like WebMD, Healthgrades and RateMD. While patient engagement and health evaluations are critical to the image and reputation of a physician, healthcare evaluation sites are not the key to a physician’s online presence. A physician must be proactive with their online reputation. Healthcare databases are based on patient assessment, resulting in a physician’s lack of control regarding their image. Often times a physician’s desired online reputation rarely aligns with patient evaluations.

In order to thrive in the web-based world a physician is required to maintain a branded reputation. To do so it is necessary for a physician to control the information distributed online in web-based search engines. Dr. Kevin Pho, a physician based in Nashua, New Hampshire, has yielded incredible results in online marketing. Not only does Dr. Pho maintain an active blog, but also utilizes his social media profiles to account for more than half of the search engine results when searching his name. Because of the active participation in social media, Dr. Pho controls his brand, his image and significantly expanded his practice with new patients due to his positive online presence.

While Dr. Pho’s success is impressive, many physicians have struggled to make the jump to social media due to a perceived fear of violating HIPAA regulations. Maintaining HIPAA standards in a social media environment is easy and physicians often use this as an excuse not to engage in online marketing.

It is essential to understand that social media is not a tool for personal engagement, but rather brand reputation management. Physicians should engage in social media through topics of health research, medical trends and general health information. Health professionals should engage their patients and the community by giving useful and relevant information. By maintaining a professional presence through social media, physicians brand themselves as qualified healthcare experts, which increases brand which in turn results in new business.

Another barrier physicians often struggle with is the time it takes to develop an online presence. The juggling act of balancing family, personal and professional time is at the heart of almost every physician. Reducing stress and preventing burnout is a strenuous challenge. But, you would be surprised how little effort it takes to start and maintain an online presence. It is not necessary for every physician to maintain a blog or an inordinate amount of social media profiles. It is better for a physician to start small and build a quality base of followers. To start an online presence, create a profile on the traditional methods of social media, LinkedIn and Facebook. LinkedIn is a jumping off point for physicians to add other like minded professional individuals and share knowledgeable content. By doing so a physician builds credibility, cultivates and online presence and controls their brand reputation. Many physicians hire outside marketing firms to do social media work for them. A good social media program can pay for itself in increase patients or higher price points for services. In fact, a good social media program should produce 3 to 5 times income for a physician versus the expenses.

A physician that is active on the major social media accounts such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google Plus can control content and develop their own brand. By utilizing social media, it helps you engage in deeper patient relationships.

Through web based marketing, physicians set the pace for managing their brand image. Physicians, healthcare professionals, and clinicians who maintain an online presence will increase business opportunities as well as provide access to quality healthcare information for the entire community.

About the Author:
Ron Meritt, President On Advertising Phoenix, Arizona

Ron Meritt’s background and experience includes television broadcast production, on-air talent, advertising sales, business marketing and strategic public relations. Ron spent a total of 24 years on television before retiring from broadcasting, and opened On Advertising in 1994. His keen insight into the workings of journalism and protecting reputations through strategic crisis communications strategies has combined to protect clients throughout the United States from media attacks. On Advertising customizes marketing programs and brand management for all industries, however with a particular focus on healthcare.