By Chad Freeman
Doctors are becoming more involved in social media every day. According to separate surveys by MDSearch and Manhattan Research, approximately 70 percent of doctors are members of at least one social media site. The 2010 Statistical Abstract of the U.S. Census Bureau totals physicians and surgeons in the United States at 661, 400. So that means an estimated 462,980 American doctors are social networking on some level.
Additionally, a Manhattan Research survey showed an increase of Internet usage by United States physicians. On average, doctors spent eight hours online for professional purposes each week in 2010. That’s up from two and a half hours per week in 2002.
Despite all of this, there seems to be an overall lack of physicians that have a public presence online. To find where the bulk of the physicians are online, you yourself must be a physician. There are currently more than 20 different closed social healthcare networks. Most of those 400,000 doctors that are involved in social media seem to be participating on these sites.
Closed social healthcare networks are social media sites that are for medical professionals only. Some have extensive credential verification processes and only allow medical doctors and doctors of osteopathic medicine. The top site at the moment is Sermo, which has been around since 2006. It boasts more than 115,000 physicians in its community.
It’s understandable that physicians would like a place online where they can freely participate socially. On these closed network sites they can talk to their peers, ask questions and speak freely knowing what they say will not be seen, criticized, or released to the public.
But are physicians able to completely let their guard down and discuss anything in these communities? Not really. They still have to be relatively professional about what they say; just like public curbside consultations, physicians may still be liable for misinformation.
“With professional organizations offering little guidance on how to proceed, it’s probably best to be careful about what you post, and how you act on the information gleaned from these sites,” was advice Dr. Kevin Pho offered on his blog KevinMD.com.
Dr. Pho of Nashua, New Hampsire is one of the most influential doctors on Twitter. He is ranked second out of 1,325 on TwitterDoctors.net and has more than 20,000 Twitter followers. Television personality and alum of The Oprah Winfrey Show and Larry King Live, Dr. Mehmet Oz is ranked number one.
There is a lot of discussion about privacy issues and keeping professional relationships professional when it comes to healthcare and social networking. An article by PsychCentral.com recently suggested “physicians with a profile on Facebook may be compromising the doctor-patient relationship, because they don’t deploy sufficient privacy settings.”
Dr. Pho has a personal Facebook profile. It’s completely private. His public Facebook page has more than 5,000 fans. It is used as an outpost, just like his Twitter account, for his blog, which gets 310,000 page views per month. His Klout score, which is the measurement of his overall online influence including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, is a 71 out of 100. The average is around 50.
Understanding that security and liability are concerns for physicians, and they should be, closed social communities don’t seem to be the answer; simply being smart, like Dr. Pho, is. If there is information or situations that can’t be or shouldn’t be discussed on Facebook or Twitter, they probably don’t belong in a closed social community either.
With his public presence in the social media world, Dr. Pho provides his perspective on breaking medical news, guides readers to reputable medical sources, helps make the public aware of issues in the healthcare world, manages his professional reputation, markets himself and boosts his sites SEO. None of which can be done from a closed social media community.
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