Social media: Why you need to be involved

In this article, Nick van Terheyden, MD (aka “Dr. Nick”), explains why you need to be active on social media and how to get started.

Robert A. Dowling, MDIf we asked a group of urologists today to identify the most important impact of technology on their professional lives, the vast majority would probably name the implementation and use of the electronic health record. While physicians have struggled to incorporate information technology in their offices, social media has become more pervasive in general, and more common in health care interactions.  

In this article, Nick van Terheyden, MD (aka “Dr. Nick”), explains why you need to be active on social media and how to get started. Dr. Nick is chief medical information officer at Nuance (provider of voice and language technologies for businesses and consumers) and a recognized authority on integration of social media in health care.

Majority of adults using social media

Technology is an integral part of our patients’ lives. According to Dr. Nick, 87% of adults use the Internet, including 50% over age 65; 68% of patients bring a list of questions to their physician visit; and 77% of people seeking health care begin their journey at a search engine. Many patients have formed an opinion of their health care provider before they have even met them.

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According to the Pew Research Center, 74% of online adults use social media, including Facebook (71%), Twitter (23%), Instagram (26%), and LinkedIn (28%) ( Half of all Internet users over 65 are using social media, Pew’s research showed. Yet a 2012 physician survey from Epocrates suggests that only a minority of physicians are engaging their patients in this way (

What is social media? According to Dr. Nick, a working definition is “a platform for interactions where individuals can interact, create, share, obtain, and exchange information and ideas using web-based and mobile technologies to create dialogue between organizations, communities, and individuals.” The main distinguishing feature of social media is that in its most mature form, it is collaborative and group driven.

NEXT: "Social media is used in many industries to build a brand, and health care is no different."

More from Dr. Dowling

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True informed consent bolsters patient safety

How to evaluate patient safety in your practice


Social media is used in many industries to build a brand, and health care is no different. Consider these facts: Most people are likely to trust information posted by providers on social media; about half of all consumers say social media sites would impact their decision to seek a second opinion; social media can be an educational tool working 24/7; and 41% of consumers say they would use social media to select a physician. Dr. Nick says best practices in social media for health care providers include:

  • fostering a culture of openness and listening

  • training staff on how to post, tweet, and blog

  • transparency

  • accuracy

  • creating a specific policy in your practice for social networking.

Getting started

How do you get started? According to Dr. Nick, one place to start is by “spectating”: read blogs, online forums, and reviews. See what patients and others are saying. Next, create and maintain a profile on a social media site. While many urologists may be wary of jumping into Facebook or Twitter for professional use, LinkedIn-the business version of Facebook-is a social media platform built for professionals and a great place to get your feet wet. It can be your business storefront, and allows you to link to groups, blogs, and presentations.

Read - Telemedicine: Are we reaching a tipping point?

From there, your adoption should become participatory: Join a group, vote or “like” websites or posts, tag online content, post comments on listservs or blogs, post ratings, and finally, publish your own blog or upload your own video. There is no training program-social media participants learn as they go.

NEXT: A "textbook example of social media in health care"


Mayo Clinic offers a textbook example of social media in health care, according to Dr. Nick. The organization maintains multiple Facebook properties to connect providers, patients, and even the media. With over a million followers on Twitter, Mayo Clinic reaches a broad audience instantly; faculty and patients connect with blogs; and YouTube is used extensively for education and awareness. These are the contemporary tools of mature health care organizations used to attract, retain, and build a loyal base of patients and other stakeholders.

Bottom line: Social media is growing in health care. High deductibles and consumerism in health care are likely to drive even further adoption as patients “shop” using social media. As Dr. Nick points out, social media has the potential to extend the physician-patient relationship outside the exam room, and even improve care.

For more examples of social media in mature form, follow Dr. Nick at

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