Using Social Media to Educate and Empower Patients

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Social Media in HealthcareMany people have a working knowledge of social media but don’t truly understand what a powerful tool it can be when it comes to boosting your business’s reputation. This is especially true when it comes to the medical profession. Because people in the medical profession are faced with the added challenge of helping other humans in a profound way, they have the added responsibility of educating and empowering their patients while increasing their own online exposure at the same time. Social media can make all of the difference.

This article is a reprint of Chapter 2 from the Special Report Social Media In Healthcare; The Modern Link to Effective Patient Engagement 2012. © 2012 Access Intelligence, LLC.

When it comes to achieving those goals, there are several approaches that can be taken. The first obstacle to overcome is identifying how medical professionals can build and boost their online reputation so that they can more easily successfully educate and empower their patients. Interestingly, the three are closely tied together. 

When it comes to building and boosting your reputation, the following advice should help: 

  • Be focused: Identify your specialty and concentrate your social media efforts on discussions and content that is related to your area of expertise. Focusing on that is very important to the ultimate success of your professional reputation. Make sure that your content and your discussions have a consistent thread running through them.
     
  • Pay attention:  Make sure to pay close attention to discussions that are related to your practice. You will learn a great deal from what you read and from what you participate in. One of the main keys to social media success is listening. 
     
  • Show that you can be trusted: If you want to build a solid reputation online, honesty is a very large and important part of it. It is absolutely imperative that you demonstrate transparency at all times in business (and in life). Of course, this also applies to your involvement with social media.
     
  • Be genuine: Your content should reflect who you are as a human being. If you write canned jargon, people will not buy into what you are offering or into you as a person. People need to relate to you on a human level. 
     
  • Make sure that your content has meaning: When you are sharing your content with others, it must be valuable to them. Otherwise, there is no reason for them to read it. Additionally, if you don’t offer valuable content, your readers will not share it with other people whom they know. Of course, word of mouth will have a great deal to do with successfully boosting your reputation. 
     
  • Respond in a timely fashion: A very large part of building your online reputation successfully is your interactions with other people. You will never be able to build your reputation without other people. You are not in a silo. This is especially true when it comes to the medical profession. 
     
  • Share other people’s content: Of course, a very large part of your successful reputation depends on how much people are willing to share with others what you are sharing with them. Along with that goes the idea that you are also expected to share their content with people you know. One hand definitely washes the other in this case. 
     
  • Get as involved as possible: Remember that you should not be spending all of the time that you devote to social media on one social media channel. The more involved you get with social media communities on various appropriate websites, the stronger your reputation will be. 

 

Establishing a Web Presence 

If you want to become professionally successful online, first and foremost, you need to have an established web presence for your practice. A web presence consists of many different parts. A website is one part and your connection to the various social media channels is another very important part of your web presence. It is critical that you not only join the different social media channels that you feel are appropriate for your practice but that you also fill out your profiles on those social media channels and try to establish a consistent schedule for interacting with other people online. You don’t really have to be a computer genius in order to take advantage on some of the amazing online tools that will truly help you to strengthen what you have to offer. 

There are certain principles that you should keep in mind when it comes to your web presence. 

  • Choose quality over quantity: When you engage through social media, you are building relationships. Building strong and significant relationships doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, nurturing and a great deal of effort. You will see that the effort is well worth what you will get in return. Those relationships will last for a very long time and you will be engaging with people whom you can count on and whom you can educate and be educated by. An extremely important principle is WIIFM (What’s In It For Me). Your objective must be about solving the problems of the other people. Other people are only concerned about what you can do for them to make their life better. 
     
  • Choose your social media channels care-fully: The social networks of your choosing should be used as communication tools (one-on-one) with people with whom you already have an established connection. 
     
  • Engage as much and as often as possible: When it comes to interacting through social media, your goal is to build relationships. People need to trust you and find you to be credible. It takes a great deal of engagement and a great deal of time to get other people to the point where they will trust you. A great way to strengthen engagement with other people is by giving them valuable information in the form of newsletters or blog posts. That is a very important first step that your followers have taken. Social media is an extremely important part of your overall strategy. 
     
  • Gently lead your followers to the point where they will buy from you: Once you have built a strong relationship with your followers, you should feel comfortable about encouraging them to buy from you. At this point, there is mutual trust and respect. Make sure that you include your call-to-action in your communications, which will help to get them to connect with you even more.
     
  • Consider the purpose of social media to be to develop relationships: When one of your on¬line connections interacts with you, instead of simply thanking them, communicate with them more deeply and actually have a discussion with them. This will go a long way and serve you well. They will soon start to regard you as an expert and a person whom they wish to follow in order to learn more and more from you. 
     
  • Make sure that what you are offering is something that they want to share with others: If you don’t offer people something that they need or want they won’t come back to you. You need to make it clear to them that your purpose is to solve their problems. After you have developed the relation¬ship and have given a great deal to them, if they still are not willing to buy from you, they are not the right customers for you. 
     
  • Show your followers what they are missing: If you want to entice your followers to engage with you, you need to tease them with enough information that will make them want more. Prove to them why they can’t possibly live without you and your practice. 
     
  • Encourage as many top-quality interactions as possible: Your interactions with others should be meaningful and fruitful. Relationships (if they are worth anything) take a lot of time and a lot of love. The stronger your relationships, the more the other people will be willing to share what you have given to them with other people with whom they share a relationship. Before you know it, you will have gone viral! 

 

Empowering Patients Through Your Online Presence 

As a healthcare provider, once you have established a strong online presence, it is important for you to use that presence to empower your patients. If you are able to accomplish that, you will be bringing your success as a physician and the success of your practice to a new level. The days when patients had no involvement in their own care are over. Not only do patients want to have more knowledge about what is going on with their health but they also want to be involved to a great extent in the decisions that are being made for them. In many cases, it is not difficult to get your patients to have enough technological knowledge to be able to successfully obtain the information that they are looking for.

Many healthcare professionals engage in social media activities (in the form of interactions on the various social media channels, blogs, etc), which opens up the door for their patients to interact with them. The healthcare professionals are not interacting with other healthcare professionals nearly as much as they are interacting with patients. Social media interactions are tailor made for perpetuating those types of relationships. It is much more sensible (not to mention much safer) for patients to interact with people who actually have knowledge of the subject than for them to consult with websites, etc, where there is no human on the other end of the line. All sorts of misinformation can be obtained if it isn’t done the right way. Just because you and your patients have started to interact online doesn’t in any way diminish the human connection that must remain intact. In fact, it is the opposite. Technology has been able to bring many different people together so that they can benefit from their new-found relationship and thus realize a substantial improvement in their lives. 
 
New information is being made available at an extremely rapid pace all of the time and its popularity (that is, the information that is of the human kind) is increasing on a regular basis. The more top-quality information that becomes available, the better the quality of care will become. Of course, at the very beginning of time, there was definitely room for improvement and tremendous advances have been made and will only increase even more with the level of technology that is at people’s fingertips. That expression “Knowledge is power” is especially true when it comes to the healthcare pro-fession. Patients have become much more savvy about a lot of things when it comes to their health. It is un-doubtedly the case that the more informed patients are about their healthcare, the more streamlined the entire process will be when they are at the point of visiting the healthcare professionals in the office. 
 
It is a common belief that if patients are going to be truly healthy, they must affect changes in their situations as well as in the environment that influences their lives. It isn’t enough to merely affect a change in their behav¬ior. Another part of that philosophy is that the patients must follow a lifestyle that feels natural to them and they should practice preventive medicine in all ways that are possible. The patients have every right to make their own choices and to act upon those choices as they see fit. That is empowerment.
 
Striking a Balance of Empowerment
 
When it comes to empowerment, of course, it is very important to understand that empowerment, while very powerful for those individual patients who have achieved it, is not possible in certain situations. Empowerment is often not possible in people who are critically or chronically ill. In fact, there is a direct relationship between the seriousness of the patient’s condition and the amount of empowerment that can be achieved by that patient. The ability to achieve empowerment lies both in the physical as well as the mental. If both sides are able to come together, empowerment can be had. The balance is necessary for it to work. 
 
Another critical thing that must be understood clearly is that patient empowerment should never be regarded as a substitute for the healthcare professional’s ability and expertise. When it comes to knowledge that makes a positive difference in the patient’s life, the knowledge that he or she acquires online must work in tandem with the knowledge that the healthcare professional imparts to the patient. The physician and the patient both have an obligation to respect each other and to try to work together in the most effective manner possible. 
 
In Conclusion 
 
Social media and the way in which people interact online and in person are very powerful indeed. However, it is essential that everyone understand how to use the tool effectively and to ensure that the outcome is safe. On the side of the patient, he or she needs to realize that the knowledge that is acquired online can never be a substitute for the information that the healthcare professional can and will give to the patient. On the side of the healthcare professional, it is important to understand that the patient has a right to whatever degree of empowerment is possible and reasonable. If they work together, the results will be very positive. The patient will gain important knowledge and the health-care professional will acquire a greater understanding of the patient and will thus have an easier time of treating whatever comes up. The relationship in both sides will be more substantial and more meaningful. It is important of both sides to understand the importance and effectiveness of adding social media interactions and to continue to deepen their relationship because of it.
 
If you found this article informative and would like to learn more about using social media to increase your online exposure, boost your reputation online and to become empowered through online interactions, please visit CompuKol Communications at www.compukol.com.

Dorland HealthReprinted from the Special Report Social Media In Healthcare; The Modern Link to Effective Patient Engagement 2012. © 2012 Access Intelligence, LLC. To learn about other Special Reports published by Dorland Health, visit our Special Report Website at http://www.dorlandhealth.com/continuing-education/specialreports/ as well as the Case In Point Learning Network http://www.dorlandhealth.com/subscriptions/

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Carolyn Cohn

Co-Founder and Chief Editor at CompuKol Communications LLC

Carolyn Cohn is the Chief Editor of CompuKol Communications LLC. Mrs. Cohn has a wealth of experience in business writing as well as having a strong editorial background. She manages all of the company’s writers, journalists and editors as well as writing, editing and publishing several business articles a week on a consistent basis, which are syndicated globally.

Mrs. Cohn has run several editorial departments for other companies. She has over 25 years of editorial experience and her expertise covers a wide range of media, such as online editing, and editing books, journal articles, abstracts, and promotional and educational materials.

Throughout her career, Mrs. Cohn has established and maintained strong relationships with professionals from a wide variety of companies. The principle that governs her work is that all words need to be edited.

Mrs. Cohn earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo.

Mrs. Cohn is a member of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA).

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