6 Ways Ob/Gyns Can Use Social Media


Social media can help a physician market their practice, build their brand, land a new job and more. Here's how.

Chances are, you’re already part of the social media scene. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, podcasting, and webcasts all fall under the social media umbrella. A September, 2011 survey and report by QuantiaMD and the Care Continuum Alliance, showed that more than 65% of doctors use at least one social media site for professional purposes, and almost 90% for personal use.
While hospitals and medical practices frequently use these tools for marketing and promotion, Ob/Gyns are finding them helpful for other professional purposes.

“They’re a great way to stay on top of the news, to see what our patients are reading, and what our colleagues are reading,” said Christina Han, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, division of maternal-fetal medicine at Yale Medical School.

The heaviest users might be early career doctors, however plenty of experienced physicians find it invaluable.

“I’m a middle-aged chair,” said Vivian E. von Gruenigen, MD, chair, obstetrics and gynecology at Akron City and St. Thomas Hospitals, and system medical director for women's health at Summa Health System. Von Guenigen is active on Twitter, the Summa Health System’s blog and webcast. “I’m older than the average physician. Social media isn’t going away.”

The good news is the financial barrier to entry is low (and usually free), though there is a time investment to learn. Where to start? First, figure out what your goals are. Second, learn the tools.

“When you have a framework about what you’re trying to accomplish in life and your work, then you need to understand the nature of these tools so you can adapt them and use them to accomplish your goals,” said Lee Aase, director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media.

Here are six social media tools and how they can help you:


Best if you want to: Keep up with research and news; network with other physicians; build a brand

Von Gruenigen (@DoctorViv) uses Twitter mostly for networking with physicians, and for staying abreast of national issues. How long does she spend on it each day? “It depends on how boring my meetings are!” she joked. “I used to turn on the TV in the morning. Now as soon as I get up, I go through the Twitter feed for the news of the day as I walk over to brush my teeth, and I tweet periodically throughout the day.”

“I’m aware of HIPAA issues. I choose not to tweet during clinical hours, or about clinical issues from that day. I don’t think it’s polite, and I don’t want my patients to think I’m tweeting about them.”
Han (@Chris_S_Han) uses her Twitter account to stay in touch with other physicians, mostly through her role on the communications committee of the Society of Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM). She said she makes it purposefully difficult for patients to find her on Twitter, because she’s using it for more personal reasons, though some patients follow the division’s Twitter feed.
“One of the main uses of Twitter for us (SMFM) is at the annual meeting, because at every annual medical meeting there are multiple rooms and abstracts, and it’s a way to call attention to different interesting things going on, to share the information.”

Han also finds it a useful way to keep up with the most interesting news and research.

“If I read an article I’m interested in, I’ll post that up, because I have other physicians linked to me,” she said. “That’s how word spreads.”

Aase (@LeeAase) recommends using Twitter to stay abreast of the latest medical news. Start by just listening and following others, winnowing down what you read by paying attention to hash (#) tags.

“Then you can share your perspective, build your personal brand. A small investment of time could have a significant impact.”


Best if you want to: Look for a job; make a new hire

This professional networking site, which allows you to post your CV and “link” to others, is helpful for anyone who wants to land a new job or hire a physician.

“Have yourself represented well, so when an organization looks to hire, they may stumble across your profile,” said Aase. “[You can also] use it as part of the interviewing process, to get to know more about the organization, to do some background [research].”

For example, LinkedIn makes it possible to look up other physicians who currently or have previously worked at the organization and see how long they stayed. Is it a revolving door or are most of the physicians lifers?

Von Gruenigen approaches LinkedIn from the opposite angle.

“As a chair, when I interview faculty for positions I Google them,” she said. “In the old days, we used PubMed for publications, to check their CV. Now, I also check Linkedin and Google. I’m looking for professionalism. I don’t want any nonprofessional outliers. Sometimes the traditional CV may be considered antiquated. Now, all your social media is referenceable. If you do a guest blog, you can reference that on your CV. If I’m looking for a faculty member to have more of a teaching position, engaging our residents, that may play a role more than someone who has governmental funded research.”


Best if you want to: Teach; learn or brush up on a topic

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video may be worth $1,000 dollars.

“There are certain things I can’t write about and really need to show,” said von Gruenigen. “I’m going to a Gynecological Oncology Group meeting and I’m going to (learn how to measure lymphedema) and put it on my Flipcam and post it. It’s antiquated to fly out, watch something and fly home. YouTube is a wonderful educational mechanism for that. … Can you imagine the cost savings if we can learn (how to do this by video)?”


Best if you want to: Market your practice; build a brand, educate patients

Von Gruenigen spends about two hours a week blogging at SummaFlourish.org, in addition to four to six hours of her staff’s time, but she feels it’s time well spent. 

“I use it for our community of women. We have a fair amount of male followers to our blog and Twitter, and we continue to grow an international base. Our goal and intent was to cover our five county region, and now it’s gone throughout the state, region, nation and the world. Our target is to educate women. They’re not reading pamphlets any more – they’re going to the internet. Women are the drivers of their family health. It’s important for us to not only engage them on their own health but on their family’s health, like on prostate health.”

“Our site is unique in that we don’t use it primarily as a marketing tool, but to build relationships. I blog usually every week. I also recruit other bloggers, physician, community, and patient bloggers. It’s a good use of time. We get about 1,500 hits a month and we continue to grow.”


Best if you want to: Educate patients; teach; build a brand

“The SMFM has a monthly webinar for fellows or trainees but now it’s open to the general public,” said Han. “The fellows are really happy with that format. I’ve participated in a few of the webinars. Oftentimes it’s the latest research that these experts are working on, or to see how other institutions do things. It’s interesting to get a broader global perspective.”

Summa Health Systems runs several webchats a month, allowing patients to ask about sensitive or embarrassing health issues in an anonymous way. “If they can chat online and ask in an anonymous fashion, they’re more open,” von Gruenigen said. 


Best if you want to: Market your practice, educate patients

“At the SMFM, we use Facebook to get out information to our members, who are physicians, midwives and patients,” said Han.

Be careful with personal profiles, however, because Facebook can is rife with opportunities to land in hot water.

“I can see that people use Facebook as a way to vent, and even though no sensitive patient information is being shared, it’s something we have to take extra care to prevent any accidental sharing or oversharing. We need to think of the ramifications of what you post and who you friend, for example, patients.”

This fall at Yale, Han will lead a session for residents on the ethics of social media in medicine.


How do you use social media? Do you have any tips that aren’t listed here? Tell us in the ‘Comments’ section below.

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