Managing Your Practice

Using the Internet in your practice. Part 1: Why social media are important and how to get started

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A few free or low-cost strategies can help you add new patients every day


Part 2: Generating new patients using social media (April 2014)

Part 3: Search engine optimization

Part 4: Online reputation management

(Look for Parts 2 through 4 in 2014)



Let’s rewind to the year 2000, the dawning of a new millennium. It was then that many physicians decided the time was ripe to establish a Web presence. It wasn’t that difficult, after all: Just take the practice’s three-color, trifold brochure and convert it into a Web-site template. A teenager could do it—and many did, sometimes guided by a college student in computer sciences.

These early implementers were confident that they could cruise into the 21st Century with this new technology. They had no idea how much the Internet would change…or how fast…but their basic impulse was a wise one, to harness the power of the Internet for the good of their patients and their practices.

In this four-part series, we focus on the rapidly expanding utilization of the Internet for health-related purposes. In Part 1, we focus on why it’s important to address the Web, particularly social media, and we zoom in on creating a blog for your practice. In Part 2, our focus will be the “big three”: Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. We will take up search engine optimization and online reputation management in Parts 3 and 4, respectively.

It isn’t uncommon for patients to arrive in their doctor’s office with a stack of pages downloaded from the Internet that describe their disease state or tests they are about to undergo. Many patients also are beginning to expect to interact with their physicians through Web sites, blogs, and Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Related Article: Why (and how) you should encourage your patients' search for health information on the Web Jennifer Gunter, MD (December 2011)

In fact, so much of health care is moving online that many physicians assume that everybody uses the Internet. The most recent data from the Pew Internet & American Life Project indicate that, in the United States, one in three adults have gone online to find out more about a medical condition, and 59% of all adults use the Internet to search for health information (TABLE 1).1,2 Eight in 10 people who regularly use the Internet look online for health information, making it the third most popular online pursuit tracked by the Pew project, after reading and sending email and using a search engine.

What types of health information do US adults look for online? Most people (66%) who use the Web to search for health information look for information on a specific disease or medical problem (see TABLE 2 for a list of other common health topics).3

The Pew Research Center also found that some demographic groups are more likely than others to seek health information online. They include:

  • adults who have provided unpaid care to a parent, child, friend, or other loved one in the past 12 months
  • women
  • white adults
  • adults aged 18 to 49 years
  • adults with at least some college education
  • adults in higher-income households.1

Check out the QUICK POLL on the OBG Management home page. To give your answer and see how other physicians have responded, Click Here.

Social media encompass Web sites and other online communication applications used for social networking. Three of the most widely used media are Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

When someone once asked hockey great Wayne Gretzky about his sport strategy, he replied: “I don’t skate to where the puck is or where the puck has been; I skate to where the puck is going to be.” Social media are where the puck (ie, our patients) are going to be today and tomorrow.

If we review other media launches, we discover that it took nearly 40 years for radio to attract 50 million listeners, and 13 years for television to reach 50 million viewers. But it took only 4 years for the Internet to achieve 50 million users. Facebook alone reached 100 million users in just 9 months!

Just a decade ago, the Mayo Clinic relied on standard marketing techniques using radio, TV, and print media to attract new patients. Today, the Mayo Clinic makes use of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, podcasts, and blogging. The Mayo Clinic even has developed a Center for Social Media to focus on the use of social media for its centers in Rochester, Minnesota; Jacksonville, Florida; and Phoenix, Arizona. If something is good for the Mayo Clinic, it has to be OK for the rest of us.

Social media also make it possible for smaller practices to compete with much larger practices that have huge marketing budgets. With very little expense, small practices—even solo practices—can develop a social media presence that can rival those of larger competitors.

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