Published 10/1/2010
Michael F. Schafer, MD; Lauren L. Pearson

Social media for orthopaedic surgeons

Putting the specialty at our patients’ fingertips

A century ago, the telephone “party line” was the “social media” of choice; today, it’s the Internet that makes it possible for people to connect and contact each other easily, quickly, and inexpensively. Millions of people use social media platforms such as blogs, Facebook pages, and Twitter.

Yet we as physicians generally have not been as willing to engage in social media as our patients have.

Some of us are unsure of what social media is; others of us question how much time it will take and whether we will see a return on that investment. A few simply view it as a passing fad.

Recently, we had the opportunity to speak with Howard J. Luks, MD, about his use of social media. Dr. Luks has an active practice in Hawthorne, N.Y., and sees around 120 patients each week. Already busy with surgical cases, meetings, speaking engagements, and a wife and three children, Dr. Luks didn’t think he had the time to fit anything else into his life.

“Yet, I knew social media is a powerful and valuable tool, and I took an interest in learning more about it as a way to help patients,” he said.

Making waves online
When Dr. Luks began blogging about 3 years ago, he admits that he had no idea what the “rules” were. “I just wanted to test the waters,” he said. As he defined his online persona, however, he found that it shaped his messages and vision.

“Engaging in social media is not very labor intensive. I devote a maximum of 30 minutes each day to my various social media endeavors, and check my blog for comments twice a day,” he said.

Dr. Luks blogs, runs a Facebook Fan Page, and Tweets about general orthopaedic consumer-friendly news or questions that patients ask in the office, such as “How should I prepare for my first orthopaedic visit?” and “What questions should I ask before knee replacement surgery?”

“Medical information is just a ‘Google search’ away, and patients are then sharing that information online,” Dr. Luks said. “As patients engage with one another, it is logical for a physician to serve as a team leader. Social media enable me to help patients identify and check actionable orthopaedic information,” he explained.

“These new platforms also provide a way for me to empower my patients or other healthcare consumers to become better advocates for themselves.”

Dr. Luks’ blog (top) and his appearance on ABC television (bottom) both resulted from his social media activities.

Although many young people use social media to keep friends and family up-to-date on their latest activities, Dr. Luks believes that professionals such as orthopaedic surgeons should not simply post information about their practices or the latest procedures that they offer.

In a Web 2.0 society, “it’s about engaging, providing useful, actionable information, and discussing issues that are important to the health and well-being of our patients,” he said.

Dr. Luks was recently interviewed by ABC News for a segment on health care and social media. When asked about the role he believes physicians have in social media on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, Dr. Luks noted that some of the information patients found online was incorrect, “sometimes even dangerous.” By participating in social media, physicians have an opportunity to correct that information.

Tips for getting started
Dr. Luks offers the following tips to those who may be considering engaging in social media:

  • Define an objective. What you want to accomplish. Do you want to start a musculoskeletal health blog to get more patients, or a Twitter stream to educate and provide bone health public awareness?
  • Define your persona. Know your message and stay on point. If your blog or Facebook page is about musculoskeletal health, be sure to continually provide that type of message to your audience.
  • To save time, use social media aggregators, which auto-link many platforms together. Dr. Luks uses special software that automatically and simultaneously posts any messages on all three of his platforms—Twitter, Facebook, and his blog.
  • Engage your audience so they return to your site regularly. Don’t just continuously push out content. Encourage your followers to submit content, post comments, and ask questions. Although you can participate in a discussion, do not follow or engage with your patients online.
  • Love it. Social media is all about two-way communication. You have to have fun with it to be a success.
  • Be realistic. Don’t expect an immediate influx of new patients. But social media channels do have the potential to reach new patients over time.
  • Never acknowledge that someone is your patient, but do accept comments from your patients through Facebook, Twitter, or a blog.
  • Include a disclaimer. This may include your right to remove content and/or to acknowledge that this communication channel does not constitute a doctor-patient relationship.
  • Monitor and analyze what’s being said about you. Set up a free Google Alert with your name so you receive a notification anytime you are mentioned in the online world.
  • Take advantage of the resources on the AAOS patient education Web site, Your Orthopaedic Connection. Include links to already existing patient tip sheets and injury prevention information on your blog or practice Facebook page.

“We as physicians are much more ‘socially’ inclined than we think. We jump at the opportunity to discuss a case with a colleague or comment with our peers about healthcare reform. Social media is just another way of communicating and engaging with a potentially limitless audience,” said Dr. Luks.

For more information on starting your own social platform, contact Dr. Luks via his blog, The Orthopedic Posterous, or e-mail him at luksh@wcmc.com

Michael F. Schafer, MD, chairs the AAOS Communication Cabinet. He can be reached at mschafer@nmff.org

Lauren Pearson is manager, media relations in the AAOS public relations department. She can be reached at pearson@aaos.org

Are you already establishing a success story with a blog, Facebook, or Twitter page? We want to hear from you! Contact the AAOS public relations department at publicrelations@aaos.org or (847) 384-4031.

If you currently maintain an online social presence, be sure to Fan and Follow the AAOS at facebook.com/AAOS1 or twitter.com/AAOS1

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