Social Media ROI for Doctors

I’m a huge fan of social media and the power that it has for people to connect with other people. What I haven’t quite figured out is how doctors should best use social media for their practice. Although, this article about the ROI of Social Media for Doctors has me thinking. Here’s some relevant quotes they posted about the subject:
“As many as a third of my patients are coming from social media,” Jerath said. (Source: 9News)

“[Dr. Zaid] estimates that his “digital footprint” — his online presence — adds $125,000 to his annual practice revenue.”(Source: Physicians Practice)
“The percent of new patients reporting that they “found” [Dr. Faust] online now varies between 30 percent and 50 percent.” (Source: Physicans Practice)

“I average 1 new patient family per week who came because of our social media presence (equals $140k added income per year)” – Dr. Burgert (Source: KevinMD.com)

“Investing time in relevant and complete posts actually saves me time in the long run.” -Dr. Burgert (Source: KevinMD.com)

One thing I’m certain of: There is a potential ROI available for physicians using social media. The above quotes remind me of this possibility.

The problem is that there are at least two major challenges to use of social media: The Social Media Black Hole and Privacy-Security.

The Social Media Black Hole
While there’s great potential in using social media to drive patients to your practice, there’s also great potential that you’ll pump a bunch of time and/or money into social media and get nothing in return. The social media black hole will open up and take whatever time and money you are willing to put into it and may or may not yield results.

One challenge I see is that most doctors are willing to spend money, but not time on social media. While this can work if done correctly, most social media is best done by having an authentic voice. Paying someone to be an authentic voice for you is quite a challenge. So, for a clinical practice to do well in social media, I argue that you need to have you and your staff carve out time to engage with it. Once you’re engaging with it, then there are some paid social media opportunities that can benefit you.

How then do you avoid spending a bunch of time on social media which ends up in the social media black hole with no results?

My biggest suggestion is to start off with smaller, more reasonable expectations. Instead of diving into social media with the expectation of finding more patients, choose a lesser goal which will lead you to the larger goal. For example, just start by interacting with other people from your area on Twitter. That’s right, just start by being social with people that you find interesting in the space that you care about. If you want more patients down the road, then talk with people about the local sports team or local news. If you want to learn more, find doctors from the specialty you serve and interact with them. If your Twitter account is @VegasDoc or @VegasChiropractor, then you have a built in advertisement every time you tweet regardless of what you tweet. Add in a short description of what you do in your profile and you have another ad.

I’m sure many of you are wondering how you find people in your local area or that tweet about topics you care about. That’s simple. Twitter has this great Advanced Search feature (although many don’t know how to get to it) where you can search and find people. Search by location and/or search term and start engaging people. Don’t start with the sales pitch. Start with adding value to the person you find that’s interesting on Twitter. Answer their question. Give them a compliment for something good they offer. Ask them a question. Just be authentic in your interactions. Relationship first! Sale second!

I, nor any other social media person, can really tell you what serendipitous occurrences will happen that will bring patients to your office. However, the same could be said for how half of your patients found your office. By starting off with just interacting with people that you find interesting, whether you get patients from it or not doesn’t matter since you’re just having a good time online. Although, over time, don’t be surprised by the unexpected benefits you receive from those interactions.

Healthcare Social Media Privacy and Security
Yes, I’m already bracing for the privacy and security people to come knocking on this post. That’s fine with me. I appreciate people who make us aware of possible privacy and security issues. No doubt there are serious potential HIPAA risks related to the use of social media in healthcare. My best advice is: Be Careful and Don’t Be Stupd (This is an example of Healthcare Social Media Stupid in case you missed it).

However, if you read my suggestions above, you’ll notice that I didn’t suggest really talking about healthcare on social media. If you find someone from your local area talking about the local sports team and you talk about your local sports team with them, where’s the privacy and security risk? If they ask you medical questions, then they’re the ones that put that information on there and consented for it to be on there. Just create a pat answer, “I don’t discuss healthcare issues on social media, but I’d be happy to talk with you about them in my office. Call for an appt: 555-5555” You could even include something like it in your profile description if you wanted.

My point is that there are a lot of ways to use social media without violating privacy. Be careful and thoughtful about what you do.

Social Media Discovery
Of course, these are just a couple suggestions off the top of my head. What’s so great about social media is that as you use it and interact with people regularly, you’ll discover untold ways to benefit from social media. Plus, you’ll find new ways to accomplish things you never would have thought possible. That’s part of why you have to dive in and start interacting. Until you do, you won’t learn which parts are most valuable.

Social Media Not For Everyone
I’m not going to sit here and argue that everyone should be part of social media. Everyone isn’t social in their daily life, so there are certainly many that won’t want to be social online either. Although, I bet in every office there’s someone who would enjoy being the social face for your office.

Certainly there were plenty of practices that did just fine without advertising on TV, the newspaper, the yellow pages, etc. Many practices will do just fine without social media. However, you can be sure that many practices of the future will find tremendous benefit and advantages from their use of social media.

I can speak from this personally. Once you’ve built a social media following. It’s amazing the number of unique ways you can use it for good. My only regret has been that I sometimes wished I’d used it more and earlier.

About the author

John Lynn

John Lynn

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com, a network of leading Healthcare IT resources. The flagship blog, Healthcare IT Today, contains over 13,000 articles with over half of the articles written by John. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 20 million times.

John manages Healthcare IT Central, the leading career Health IT job board. He also organizes the first of its kind conference and community focused on healthcare marketing, Healthcare and IT Marketing Conference, and a healthcare IT conference, EXPO.health, focused on practical healthcare IT innovation. John is an advisor to multiple healthcare IT companies. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can be found on Twitter: @techguy.

10 Comments

  • I think it’s a great medium for physicians, (and I’m one of those “privacy and security” guys). Doctors need to de-mystify their profession, and act more like someone you’d like to have a beer with, rather than the oracle you visit when things are bad. A perfect example is @AtlasMD, a concierge practice in Wichita, KS. They interact with everyone and just act like normal people. I’d be pretty happy to have someone like that in my area.

    The HIPAA concerns can be a bit overblown, a doctor tech-savvy enough to be using Twitter as marketing, will generally be aware of the rules. A doctor who delegates it to staff, might have a different set of problems.

  • Marketing Hat On:
    Social media is labor intensive. Yes it can be very productive. All the quotes above of ROI are here say. Asking someone how they found you is usually wrong. You need to use a tracking phone number for your online marketing to truly track traffic.

    HIPAA Hat On;
    There are plenty of smart people out there screwing up on social medical.
    The key is to have a solid policy & plan on how you’ll handle social media.

    Without this plan…chances are good you too will screw up at some point.

  • Ghosting of social media is a huge problem. Many doctors are using India-based IT companies to set up their websites and social media campaigns… it’s unbelievable how many broken laws you can find, and FYI those companies are not liable for them, the doctors are.

    But even though I even pointed out the major flaws to the doctors with ghosted accounts, they have still not changed their ways. Perhaps they do social media just like anything else … because “I have to be there”, not necessarily “I want to learn how to best use this for my practice and the benefit of my patients”

    There are plenty of medical practice marketing companies with actual doctors running them that can help you manage social media campaigns, websites, and internet advertising.

  • In regards to Simon’s comment, I cannot imagine a doctor risking fines and his reputation to a 3rd party. I know doctors are busy people (those in our family remind us often), but that’s just a huge risk. I think social media has an “all-in” aspect to it. If you want to use it to engage both patients and prospective patients, you have to spend time with it. If you post an ad for your practice once a week, nobody will pay attention.

  • John, great article! What you suggest is quintessential inbound marketing, which is the best, most natural way to attract friends, colleagues and customers for the LONG TERM on social media (or anywhere, for that matter). I completely agree with your strategy and it’s one that we adopt at CadenceMed (my company, which posted the article that got you talking – and I’m glad it did). Unfortunately many practices are using social media in a completely incorrect way (being “salesy” and not conversing with others). These practices are likely to be those who complain of not experiencing any ROI because their motives are backwards.

    Best,
    Matt

  • Should the industry have a chat about Social Media ROI without a serious mention of risk management and the cost of Social Networking? Evidence proves this will get ugly with a claim from all of technical ignorance. Shhh…let the audits begin!
    “3 Ways Social Media Can Put Enterprises at Risk”
    http://tinyurl.com/7vquuks

  • Dear Emrandhipaa,
    This might be off topic, however, Business owners are used to tracking their results when it comes to marketing, whether online or off.  There are certain methods for calculating your return on investment which are usually rather straightforward.
    Nice One!

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