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Published 12/1/2016
Jason S. Mazza, MSc, OA-C, CSA, SA-C, OTC, CCRC; John H. Shim, MD, MBA

Building and Managing Your Online Presence

Increase your ability to reach tech-savvy patients and members of the public
According to a recent survey, 72 percent of Americans have used the Internet to search for health information within the past year. In addition, current statistics show that more than 2.3 billion people worldwide use social networks, and 78 percent of the U.S. population have a social network profile. Based on these numbers, it seems clear that having a strong presence on the web and across social media networks can create an effective platform for you, as an orthopaedist, to provide patient education that extends well beyond your local area.

The concepts outlined here may help you and your practice increase your social media engagement and manage your online reputation, thus making it easier to reach the huge segment of patients and members of the public for whom technology is a major part of everyday life.

Building a social media presence
What might be a good starting point for you or your practice to build a social media presence? First, define your goals and the intended audience. Are you looking to increase market share and drive revenue, to build your brand, or simply to become a hub for patient education? The goals you set must be realistic and should be measurable in terms of financial value and/or key performance indicators—such as shares, impressions, or positive reviews—on platforms such as Twitter. 

Next, strategic planning comes into play. You must determine which social media platforms to become proficient using, how much time you will commit to social media, and the level of financial commitment (and commitment of other kinds of resources) you will make to social media efforts. You must decide whether you will build your social media program on your own, use an outside consultant, or have a hybrid system. If you fail to set your goals and expectations before doing this, you may expend significant financial resources and time on developing your online presence while receiving little return on your investment. A social media consultant or firm with proven expertise in healthcare applications can be of great value in helping you get started.

After your goals and strategic plan have been set, you can begin creating and posting content on a regular basis to develop your web presence and build your brand. One approach would be to start slow—perhaps by creating a simple blog on your practice website—and then gradually expand. You, as the physician, should be the one creating this original content, not a consultant. However, consultants can be very helpful in helping with search engine optimization strategies to increase site accessibility and garner more attention for your brand.

Consultants can also help guide you to the right social media platforms for your target audience. Presently, Facebook is by far the most popular social media site—which makes it a great potential conduit for patient education—with YouTube in second place and Twitter a distant third. Of course, there are many more social media sites and apps you may consider using. Your choice of specific social media platforms should be based on your unique goals and target audience.

Being able to measure the impact of posts, as well as things such as shares and website hits, requires tracking of performance. Website analytics can provide users with many different useful metrics that can serve as key performance indicators. In most cases, analytics data can be obtained for little or no financial cost. However, because pulling this information together can be time consuming, working with a social media consultant can be helpful.

Note that you must be mindful of privacy and HIPAA regulations when building and engaging with patients and the public across social media platforms. Organizations such as the American Medical Association offer guidelines for appropriate physician and staff usage of social media.

Managing your online reputation
In addition to becoming proficient at social media, you may also want to learn more about how to manage your online reputation, considering that technology now makes it possible for word of mouth to travel faster than ever before. Today, as patients sit in your practice's waiting room, they may be tweeting or using some other social media platform to communicate with their friends and family about their experience. Tweets and posts can potentially be seen by a great number of other users.

In addition, many patients now consult physician rating sites before seeing a physician for the first time., which is the most widely used physician rating site, had more than 18.2 million visits in the last 6 months. Many users make healthcare decisions based on the information these sites provide. Some potential patients will avoid making an appointment with a physician who has a lower rating or poor feedback, which is why you simply cannot ignore what is being said about you online. It is imperative that all of your staff members are aware that their actions can greatly affect the comments left about you and your practice.

In summary, the world of digital technology and social media has transformed and continues to transform the ways in which patients behave when searching for information and seeking treatment on their health. If you take an active role in creating, developing, and maintaining a web presence, you are better able to maintain and protect your online reputation, gain new patients, and provide them with valuable information about their musculoskeletal health.

Jason S. Mazza, MSc, OA-C, CSA, SA-C, OTC, CCRC, is the director of orthopaedic & spine care at ShimSpine in Tampa, Fla. John H. Shim, MD, MBA, is a spine surgeon and president of ShimSpine in Tampa, Fla.