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Best Practice Social Media Use for Healthcare Professionals

Woman doctor giving thumbs up while using computer

The March 9, 2020 blog described cautionary “Don’ts” regarding physicians use of social media. “Don’ts” are so important that they bear repeating:


  • Don’t confirm Facebook friend requests from patients.
  • Don’t violate HIPAA regulations.
  • Don’t dispense medical advice to patients.
  • Don’t post unprofessional statements or material.
  • Don’t display unprofessional behavior or photos.
  • Don’t violate your employer’s regulations.

In contrast, this blog is about “Do’s.”


Get started on social media.

  • Determine your goals.
  • Get acquainted with the most active social media channels.
  • Determine how much time and energy you want to invest.


Consider your professional reputation.

Social media blurs the boundaries between personal and professional, public and private. Society holds physicians to a higher standard of conduct than the general public. Everything you post reflects on your reputation, that of your practice, and the employer of an employed physician.


You must respect copyrighted and confidential information.

Know the laws that affect your location or state, as well as your employer’s policies. Respect proprietary information and content. Always cite your sources. Maintain the confidentiality of both your patients and your practice.


Treat your personal posts as though they are public.

Consider how readers who do not know you may respond to the content. Everything you post online has the potential to be viewed by anyone. Avoid divisive topics, unless the issue is about what you stand for in your profession.


Write what you know.

Stick to your area of expertise, and you may want to provide your unique perspective on a topic. Some questions may be better answered by a specialist in another field. It is acceptable to tell your patients that you need to get more information before you answer their questions. Do not misrepresent yourself as an expert on a subject.


Be personable but professional.

Transparency builds trust. Write in the first person, with the decorum that the profession deserves.


Be friendly, but professional.

Your manner should be courteous and respectful, especially when you disagree with someone. People often feel free online to express negativity or displeasure that they would not express face-to-face, even using offensive language. Understand that your intended tone may not translate well in writing, so take care to exclude emotion from your response. You can acknowledge diverse opinions, to which you respond with constructive comments.


Mistakes happen.

One mistake will attract more attention than a hundred successes. If you make a mistake, admit it quickly. Most of the time, you can then move on.


Avoid physician rating sites.

It is best not to respond to negative reviews posted on Internet review sites. Only about 20 percent of consumers consult reviews and rankings. Only 3 to 4 percent of people post reviews. Physicians posting responses to patient reviews draw attention to them and increase the reviews’ credibility.


Avoid conflicts of interest.

Whether you are getting paid for mentioning a product or just an idea, you must disclose it. Marketing partnerships should not be hidden in a small hyperlink. Additionally, consider the ethical implications of your endorsements and statements, and make sure they are consistent with current standards of care and evidence-based medicine.


Think carefully before responding.

If you decide to respond, always add value to the exchange of messages. Avoid responding to provocative posts and redirect sensitive posts to offline communication.

The following series of steps should be taken any time you sign on to social media:

  1. Think it through first.
  2. Repeat step 1.
  3. Repeat steps 1 and 2.
  4. Use self-restraint.
  5. Repeat step 4.
  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5.


This assertion has become a maxim for me, especially in response to messages from patients: If I’m asking myself “Should I or shouldn’t I,” I shouldn’t.

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About Faith A. Coleman, MD

Dr. Coleman is a graduate of the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, and holds a BA in journalism from UNM. She completed her family practice residency at Wm. Beaumont Hospital, Troy and Royal Oak, MI, consistently ranked among the United States Top 100 Hospitals by US News and World Report. Her experience includes faculty appointments to a family practice residency and three medical schools, as well as Director of Women's and Children's Health Promotion Programs with the NE Texas Public Health District.

Dr. Coleman is the Expert on Gifted Children for the New York Times, parenting writer for Demand Media Studios, as well as health and medical writer for several online information services. She writes professional management material for health care providers and about the personal experience of being a physician. Faith treasures most the role of mother. Her passions include the well-being and education of children and families.

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