Social media: Pros outweigh cons

By Molly Merrill
12:31 PM

When it comes to using social media, fear of violating HIPAA rules is top of mind for physicians, but experts say if they can adhere to privacy regulations, the technology’s benefits are far reaching.  
First, physicians should understand and know the rules concerning HIPAA, said Glen Gilmore, principal at Gilmore Business Network, a social media marketing firm, and an adjunct Instructor at Texas A&M University (NERRTC) and Rutgers University.
“HIPPA’s privacy prohibitions not only protect the disclosure of a patient’s name and ‘individually identifiable health information,’ but also requires the safeguarding of any information where there is a ‘reasonable basis to believe it can be used to identify the individual,’” he said.
Having a social media policy in place, training physicians on social media use, and monitoring your social media sites for compliance, are some ways Gilmore says physicians can “lessen the risk of making a social media misstep.”
Another social media downfall experts cite is how much time it can zap from a day.
“I just read that the best time to Tweet was at 11 am on a Tuesday,” said Lisa Gualtieri, an adjunct clinical professor at Tufts University School of Medicine, where she teaches courses on Online Consumer Health, Social Media and Health, and Web Strategies for Health Communication. Gualtieri says it’s not just about keeping up with the posts that is time consuming, but the changes/updates to the technology as well. Like ‘how do I change my privacy settings?’ she says.
And time is something physicians usually don’t have to spare.
… “If you want readership, you have to post often to your blog,” said Westby Fisher, MD, in a guest post on KevinMD called ‘Twitter for doctors, a guide for health care professionals.” Fisher, a board certified internist, cardiologist, and cardiac electrophysiologist practicing at NorthShore University HealthSystem in Evanston, Ill., has his own blog called Dr. Wes
“Most doctors tell me they feel they are too busy to devote significant time to such an endeavor,” he says.
The solution says Fisher, is Twitter … “I have grown to appreciate Twitter with time. Not as a panacea to all that ails medicine, cardiology, or my social life, but as a means to transmit information publicly VERY fast and keep up with the constant stream of ideas emanating from others with similar interests to me,” Fisher wrote.
 “It is critical that doctors, who have the best healthcare information to share, be part of the online healthcare conversation,” adds Gilmore. “In the process, they have the benefit of creating brand awareness, developing online authority, inspiring brand loyalty – and contributing to the sharing of reliable healthcare information in real-time that may improve public health, with a global reach.”
But most physicians will tell you the greatest benefit of using social media is when you are able to see that what you are writing about has an impact. Kevin Pho, MD, founder of the blog KevinMD, shared one of his most memorable blogging moments.
“Early on in my blogging journey a patient brought in a print-out from the Web, and it was something that I had posted on my blog. It was then that I realized I could make a difference.”
Pho said he also realized that doctors could embrace social media “to amplify their voice and connect with patients in a way that they couldn’t before.”