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Top 10 Mistakes that Clinicians Make on Social Media

By Jennifer Larson, contributor

Clinicians can benefit from using social media professionally in several ways.

They can build up their own professional reputation and develop solid professional networks. They can keep their practices in the public eye, with the hope of drawing in new patients. They can provide a public service by posting solid, evidence-based information about health conditions. They can look for new job opportunities and apply for open positions.

But there’s always the potential for error.

Most clinicians are mindful of potential breaches of patient privacy and HIPAA regulations that can occur with misuse of social media, but other blunders might not be so obvious. Check out these common mistakes that physicians and other clinicians tend to make, and use these reminders to improve your own approach to using this unique and powerful form of communication.

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10 common social media mistakes made by clinical professionals

1. Not using social media at all. A few years ago, doctors and other health care providers might have shunned social media altogether. That’s a lot harder to do in this day and time. Avoiding social media can mean missing out on a lot of benefits for your career. Social media can help you stay abreast of professional issues and keep current in your field. You can also learn more about potential employers (both permanent and locum tenens), find career tips, see new job postings as soon as they become available, and even apply for positions via a social media platform. And employers can use social media to recruit potential candidates.

2. Not checking with your employer.  “Check with your hospital system. Are you allowed to have a presence on social media?” said Natasha Sriraman, MD, MPH, a practicing physician and associate professor of pediatrics in Norfolk, Virginia, and creator and blogger at  Physicians who are employed by healthcare systems or practices may find that whether or how they use social media professionally isn’t just up to them as individuals. They need to check with their employers’ public relations team or other leaders to make sure they’re abiding by their social media policies.

3. Not having a strategy. If you plan to use social media to build up your own brand or the brand of your practice, develop a strategy for your social media use, said Sarah Nadler, marketing consultant for the Silkin Management Group in Portland, Oregon. “Sit down and take a look at the next quarter, and look at your objectives,” she said. “Get strategic.” Look at other practices or physicians who are successfully using social media for inspiration.

4. Focusing too much on the limitations. Social media does have limits. But it can also provide great opportunities to interact with people. “What if we look at social media differently? What if we look at social media as a problem solver?” said Leigh Richardson, NCC, LPC, founder and clinical director of the Brain Performance Center in Dallas, Texas. “Because social media is all about giving; giving great content and information and tips that people can use for a healthier, better life.”

5. Blending the personal and the professional. It’s a good idea to keep your professional life separate from your private life online. That way, you can polish your professional reputation in the appropriate online platforms, while posting pictures of your family on summer vacation or your favorite sports team’s big victory elsewhere. (Remember, however, that no account can be 100 percent private, so carefully consider everything that you post online.)

6. Using outdated information. When was the last time that you updated your LinkedIn profile? How old is the head shot on Facebook? Do a social media self-assessment and take a good look at your profile on the various social media platforms that you use for professional purposes. If it’s been awhile since you added any new information, it might be time for an update. The same goes for any social media accounts that you may be using for a practice.

7. Being too “salesy.” Resist the temptation to make your social presence all about directly selling yourself and your services. “A common mistake that clinicians make on social media is treating their pages as if it were a place for their advertisements; they treat it as a one-way relationship,” said Ashley Kearns, social media manager for Boardroom PR in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “Let’s face it -- people aren’t going on social media to see your sales pitch. They want to be able to connect with you and your story.”

8. Forsaking professionalism. You can be conversational. You can be warm and witty. But try to always remember to be professional, too. Your reputation is on the line. According to the American Medical Association, which maintains a policy on professionalism in the use of social media, “Physicians must recognize that actions online and content posted may negatively affect their reputations among patients and colleagues, may have consequences for their medical careers (particularly for physicians-in-training and medical students) and can undermine public trust in the medical profession.”

9. Oversharing. Some people don’t share enough, but others tend to overshare on social media. “If it doesn’t add value, keep it to yourself,” said Richardson.

10. Giving medical advice. “Be sure not to give medical advice,” said Atlanta, Georgia-based family nurse practitioner Julia Eze, MSN, RN, NP-C. She posts information about healthcare issues regularly on her Instagram account, The Nurse Julia, but she includes a disclaimer that people should consult their healthcare provider for individualized care.

Still have questions or concerns? Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You might even consider working with a social media consultant, or consulting your professional association’s social media guidelines.

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