Social media insights from a digital strategist

By Molly Merrill
12:57 PM

Using social media as a physician isn't about filling your office with new patients, as one expert will tell you, but is more about the "moral obligation" that physicians have to provide their patients with accurate health information.

Healthcare IT News interviewed Howard J. Luks, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and an associate professor of Orthopedic Surgery at New York Medical College, about how he incorporates social media into his practice.

Luks is the chief of sports medicine and arthroscopy at University Orthopedics, PC and Westchester Medical Center. He is a digital strategist, who has been an early adopter and advocate of social media in healthcare.

Why did you start using social media professionally?

The information available to patients right now is too commercialized, frequently wrong and sometimes harmful. Physicians have a moral obligation to correct that information in the office, and it is not a big jump to make that information publicly available through social media.

[See also: Docs have an obligation to use social media.]

How do you find the time to fit social media into your busy schedule?

I usually do it in the early morning or late in the evening. If I have a break in my patients sometimes I jump on my iPad. There are some tools like HootSuite and TweetDeck that allow you to send an automatic tweet at whatever time you want. 

Do you think starting in medical school there needs to be more education around social media?
Without a doubt. Physicians are at risk to be marginalized further if they don't develop a digital footprint and manage the message. These institutions need to start with a formal media policy and find time to bring in lecturers to apprise them of what it is taking place.

Do you have a social media policy or some general rules that you adhere to?

I have my own policy through my own disclosures. But what it boils down to is: don't be stupid. You are a physician and you are always going to be held to a higher standard. You need to understand the ramifications of hitting the enter button. What is put on Twitter stays on Twitter. As the legal profession catches on to social media they are going to start looking there and using if for or against you in the courtroom. Docs don't understand de-identification. Physicians can't mention any personal health information and shouldn't assume they are capable of de-identifying.

[See also: Five steps docs can take to avoid 'social media missteps'.]

Would you accept a friend request on Facebook?
You simply can't. I know there are those that do it. If you talk to healthcare attorneys they will all say the same thing: You can't accept your patients as friends. I have a professional page, you can like it, but it doesn't allow you to friend.

[See also: Online health engagement growing, says Pew report.]

You can follow Luks on Twitter @hjluks