A recent search for doctors on Facebook reveals more than 1,000 pages including a mixed bag of public figures like Mehmet Oz, authors (Ben Carson), and inevitably, fictitious characters like Dr. House. Scroll down a bit and you will start to see pages for physicians with everyday types of practices.
Why would a physician be on Facebook? Because this is where their patients and potential patients spend time online. According to Pew, 72% of American adults who go online use Facebook.
Doctors Must Remember Their Practice Is A Businesses
Facebook is business-friendly and easy to use. Its business pages offer templates for different kinds of businesses and lets doctors designate themselves as a local business, a community resource, or a doctor or specialist. Doctors can also give themselves a Medical & Health designation.
A personal page is not permitted for any business. This works to your benefit as there are no hard feelings when you-rightly-decline to "friend" a patient. Facebook business pages do not allow Friends, only Likes.
Facebook's business tools help businesses get information about people who visit their pages. Once you get 25 Likes for your page, you can personalize your URL and learn about your page's performance, including:
- People who visited, including gender, nation, city, language
- Page reach, including the number of people who read a post and whether it was found "organically" or by a Facebook or other paid ad; and Likes, comments, and sharing
- Post performance including information on how people engaged with a post by clicking on it, Liking, commenting, and sharing it
Target Your Ads to Specific Audiences
Facebook allows for highly targeted ads. According to a 2012 Nielson Study, its targeted advertising tool reaches 91% of its intended audience, compared to 27% of other online advertising.
You may pay for Facebook's advertising based upon the number of clicks on an ad or the number of impressions your ad gets. It offers guidance on where to place an ad (in the News feed or on the right-side column) and lets you define a target audience as small as a zip code or city or as large as a state or country, and by age, gender and more.
For example, a doctor who is trying to sell a book on men's health can choose a national audience of men ages 30-60, while one who wants to attract more patients in their 40s who live in Scottsdale, Arizona can drill down to this level. You can also decide on the days and times your ad appears.
Advertising data are provided and break down demographics of people who clicked on an ad for your page and how they interacted with it, when they visited, and for how long.
Another Way to Communicate With Patients
Posting general medical or health information on your Facebook page is a great way to reach out to current patients, potential patients, and people interested in what you have to say. The more who people who Like you, the more your page becomes visible to their network.
Let's say you want to tell people about how the American Heart Association botched its new guidelines for statin treatments. Post an article about it with a comment summarizing your opinion. Something like "Don't panic-they took it all back" can help soothe people who just learned (erroneously) they should have been taking Lipitor since middle school.
Never use your business page for personal communications. Follow HIPAA guidelines for any individual patient communication and for the management of your Facebook presence. This might mean choosing carefully who you have managing your Facebook page. Not everyone is familiar with the HIPAA guidelines.
Keep in mind too that HIPAA guidelines might influence whether a patient Likes your page. For example, I had a doctor client who was an endocrinologist specializing in Diabetes. One of her patients was hesitant to Like her Facebook page because she didn't want other people to know my client was her doctor because then people would know she had diabetes.
Facebook Influences Decisions
Facebook is a trusted resource for many people. Someone seeking out a recommendation for a physician, or wanting learn more about a particular one, may turn to Facebook and their Facebook friends.
While developing your online strategy, doctors would be wise to put Facebook in the mix and give it some thought. Many will benefit from a strong Facebook presence.