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Social media marketing has evolved into a highly effective tactic for deepening relationships with patients and continuing the communication after they leave the office. Yet when healthcare providers communicate with patients on public sites such as Facebook they run the risk of violating patient privacy. Rather than fearing social media and holding back on communicating with patients online, get social media savvy with the following five tips.

Add a social media policy and procedures guideline
One of the first things savvy healthcare organizations can do is create a social media policy and procedures guideline. This is not only for patients, but also for employees. The guideline should clearly state that the social media page is public and can be seen by anyone indefinitely. An internal policy should also be created so employees know how to appropriately respond to patients online.

Respect Anonymity
Never discuss patients on a public forum. If you want to share outcomes, avoid using patient names. If you do want to mention a patient, as in a testimonial or case study, be sure to have written authorization before posting.

Avoid Providing Online Advice
Many providers find that patients reach out to them on social media seeking advice on issues they or a family member are experiencing. When someone asks a medical question on a public site, invite him or her to call the office to schedule an appointment or to discuss his or her concern offline. Conversely, social media allows you to publish medical related articles written by you on topics that are important to your audience. Do use social media as a way to share accurate medical information with others.

Use Caution When Posting Pictures
Many medical specialties can benefit from showing their before and after results but use caution. Never publish a patient’s photograph on a social media site (or really anywhere) without their written authorization.

Keep Responses General
As much as providers would love to thank patients for the raving review they received, responses should be kept professional and predominately general. Patients do assume some risk when posting on your site and there is no way to control what they say. You can, however, control how you respond. It is best to err on the side of caution and not acknowledge that they are patients of the practice. Always thank patients for taking the time to post, but an open forum is not the place to tell them you love them as patients and think their son is the sweetest baby, so keep responses short and sweet.

Professional social media pages should be handled in the same way you would handle a patient interaction in the office. Keeping aware that the potential amount of people who can “hear” what you say online is infinite. Social media marketing provides an excellent foundation for information sharing and relationship building. Don’t let anxiety about what could happen prevent you from utilizing such an important part of business in this day and age.