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There are a myriad of articles, posts and entire books written on this subject.  However, since the internet, social networking and social media are evolving daily, there seems to be always something new to say.  In the past few years, social media has become a standard way of communicating.  HealthCare does lag behind, mainly due to privacy issues.  It's catching up though, and physicians and providers would do well to embrace it.

Many providers are reluctant still to include social media in their repetoire of marketing activities.  Yet some of the larger, very well-known institutions have embraced it.  Note the Mayo Clinic's Center for Social Media and Cleveland Clinic's popular Facebook page.  These providers have stepped in with both feet and made social media an integral part of their marketing efforts, with social media experts, programs, wellness information, diagnostic tools and social media help for providers wanting or needing assistance.  Other providers are dipping their toes in the water of social media, starting out with a small Facebook page or in-house social networking site for patients.

Some physicians are full-time, all out advocates of using social media for healthcare.  Howard Luks, Bryan Vartabedian, Mark Ryan, Jen Dyer and many many others have written and lectured about the benefits of physicians using social media in healthcare. 

I would say that today, it is almost mandatory that a physician have a good website.  When most people look for a doctor, they turn to the web and a good website can make all the difference.  And by "good", I don't mean flashy with all sorts of buttons and interactive features and splashy photos.  I mean clear and concise, easy to read and understand, with meaningful information about the physician, his office, his staff and explanations of how he works and what he does.  A video of the surgeon introducing himself or telling about what he does could be helpful also, so the patient could virtually "meet" the doctor beforehand.

As far as Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites go, good judgement is crucial for anyone in the medical profession.  These are very public sites and you should consider that posting on them is equivalent to publishing in the world's newspaper.  David Harlow (HealthBlawg) is a great source of the legal ramifications of healthcare social media.  This is a new field and rules and regulations are being considered and written as we speak.  Many providers have handled the transition well (again, I will mention Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic as gurus here) but if you have questions, get advice from many of the healthcare social media gurus or lawyers out there and tread lightly at first.

ZocDoc has just published a very good primer on Social Media Marketing for HealthCare Providers.  This is a comprehensive guide to using social media in healthcare with quotes and tips from many experts in the field.  As Pat Salber writes in her review of the primer, "It is worth the read".

HealthCare Social Media is not a fad; this is the new way of marketing and will quickly become THE way of marketing.  You can't avoid it; it's here to stay.  So get used to it and get help, but get going!

photo: doctor/shutterstock