The thought occurred to me the other day – are we looking at this Social Media thing wrong?

Are we missing something – is using Facebook less about promotion and more about engagement, about adding value to people and patients.

As you are probably aware by now, registered health practitioners can only post information that is not in breach of their professional obligations by:

  • complying with confidentiality and privacy obligations (such as by not discussing patients or posting pictures of procedures, case studies, patients, or sensitive material which may enable patients to be identified without having obtained consent in appropriate situations)
  • presenting information in an unbiased, evidence-based context, and
  • not making unsubstantiated claims.

If we think creatively there is a veritable wealth of information and knowledge out there which can be shared with patients that meets these requirements.

There are mild conditions ranging from the common cold, right through to terminal illnesses and palliative care options. The breadth of health information available these days and the apparent appetite for it by the public means creative practice owners, can and should, leverage social medial channels to their advantage.

 

You just need to make sure you are:

  • posting information that is factual and unbiased
  • maintaining patient confidentially
  • do not use testimonials or personal opinion; and
  • don’t encourage unnecessary use of medical services

 

To help understand this a bit more, I reached out to my network and those with backgrounds in Marketing and Social Media to get some ideas on how to best leverage Facebook in-particular for medical practices. Below is my top five.

 

1.Make sure any content you post is native to the platform it’s posted in.

Essentially, this means making sure the content suits the channel you’re posting it to. Facebook is about telling a story and engaging with people. It’s about providing some sort of interesting nugget of information that may be useful to the person reading it.

HINT: it’s not about you, it’s about your reader.

There are multiple ways in which medical practitioners can use Facebook to offer value which doesn’t contravene or go outside your professional obligations. Even as a lawyer, I need to be conscious what I can and can’t say and what might be construed as advice versus general opinion.

Here are a couple of examples from health-related service providers.

Not Native Native

According to the experts, Facebook is not a place where people buy – their intent in using the platform is to connect. It’s much less likely someone will be sitting on their couch and buy some diabetic socks,  but they will probably read an article on how to explain diabetes to children.  See the difference?

Facebook is a platform originally built on “friends” connecting with each other – it’s informal and casual. So rather then trying to get around the “AHPRA rule book” there are lots of other great options that help to build your practices’ exposure:

  • Share other people’s articles and blogs
  • Use quotes and light-hearted content and photos
  • Show photos of your clinic
  • Share relevant news and current affairs
  • Show you care about your patients

 

2.It doesn’t interrupt

Social Media is a form of entertainment – most people will scroll their Facebook news feed while half watching TV, or waiting in line at the supermarket.

Your post shouldn’t interrupt but rather flow with the context in which they are being read.  Facebook is very image driven. The image itself should tell the story.

This is a great example how use of an image conveys the story being told.

 

3.It doesn’t make demands 

Try and make your Facebook content for your audience, not yourself. If you’re going to “interrupt” someone, it better be to make their experience better.

Be funny. Be approachable. Be informative.

This example here is perfect – just a gentle reminder about skin checks. It’s easy to read and understand.

 

4.It is impartial

Posing a topic as a question keeps you impartial. Asking questions, running a poll and posting surveys are great ways to increase engagement without contravening your personal obligations.

In the example below – instead of saying “Don’t mix medications” asking the same thing as a question appears less like your telling someone off, and more in line with how people interact with Facebook. Asking a question comes across like you care and also encourages people to respond back.

5.It’s micro 

People have bite sized concentration spans, so you should provide bite sized pieces of information. Your patients and the people following you won’t know nearly as much as you do about general medical terms, procedures and services. Providing very small bite sized pieces of information could be of huge benefit to your audience.

 

What about patient feedback and testimonials:

While we know using patient testimonials to advertise your services is outside the AHPRA guidelines,  there are many other options available.

Perhaps look at it this way, while patient opinion is essential for evaluating your own service and practice, it shouldn’t be used to try and attract more business.

Consider focusing your Social Media content on:

  • good patient care
  • adding value to the relationship you have with your patients
  • engaging with the community through provision of primary health care
  • providing unbiased support, advice and information to your patients

 

Unlike other types of services, health is a very individual service. Getting a testimonial about which hotel someone stayed in, is very different to a testimonial for a doctor. Each person’s set of symptoms is different and how they build rapport is different. The legal industry is somewhat similar, no two lawyers or cases are alike and what might be a favourable outcome for one person, may not be the case for another. It is certainty a tricky issue to navigate.

 

What isn’t okay when it comes to posting on Facebook:

Just keep in mind when using social media that there are some things you can’t say or do. For example – if using pictures they need to be the same or substantially the same. Here are a couple of examples:

The profile image on the right – which is the after shot – has been edited and a lipstick sticker has been added. Although the images are largely the same, it is a fine line, but this type of editing could make it unacceptable.
This post makes promises such as “complete removal” without any disclaimers as to effectiveness, medical advice or warnings regarding side effects and recovery. Definitely not allowed.

 

AHPRA have indicated they are going to be incredibly vigilant with ANY health service provider who is contravening their regulations.

In 2017 in what was an Australian first a male hormone clinic was fined for making false ad claims, and in 2016 a Tasmanian surgeon landed himself in hot water over his opinion and advice on low-carb diets.

There was also an incident of a nurse under enquiry for posting about being anti-vaccine.

What these examples demonstrate is that staying clear of opinion, unsubstantiated claims or misleading content (or content that could potentially be mis-leading) will ensure you don’t end up on the wrong side of AHPRA.

 

What can you do to use Social Media in your practice:

Having said all that, how do you actually go about using Social Media in your practice:

 

1.Make sure you have a Social Media policy in place.  This is a written policy so that your staff understand expectations for their personal and professional social media use, what can and can’t be posted and whom they can interact with on their Social Media.

A great example I came across was staff at a rehabilitation centre, as per company policy, were not allowed to “friend” anyone on Social Media. It helps remove any doubt and stops staff getting into tricky situations.

 

2.Out-source and having someone who is expert in Social Media content and strategy to do your Social Media planning.  They will be able to write and create content in such a way that doesn’t contravene the regulations.

 

3.Pose questions instead of making a statement. So, for example – rather then saying we believe in child vaccinations, ask your followers would they like to know more about child vaccinations? You’re delivering the same content but it’s up to the individual to decide whether they read it and you’re also not taking a stance on the issue.

 

What Next?

If you would like any more information about using Social Media in your practice please feel free to get in touch.

We are happy to provide you with information and a template to help create your Social Media policy – which is a great place to start if this is something you haven’t done before.