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Physicians and Facebook: Use Caution and Common Sense

by Dr. Vicki Rackner

Here are three steps for physicians who want to use Facebook in a responsible way.

1. Consider what you want to accomplish with Facebook.  Do you want to connect with people in your personal life, your professional life, or both?

Facebook can help you:

  • Keep up with friends and family
  • Attract more referrals
  • Position yourself as a thought leader.

Clarity in your purpose will guide your Facebook activity.

2. Protect your privacy and your reputation. Think of Facebook as a whispered conversation on a public elevator. The privacy settings give the illusion that you choose who listens to what you’re saying; however, conduct yourself as if Facebook were a public space where anyone could be listening.

Before you post anything, ask yourself, “What would happen if this information were on the front page of the newspaper?”  If it does not pass the front page test, pass on posting.

3. Decide if you want to use “lumper“ or “splitter” approach.  A lumper creates one Facebook fan page that is read by all; a splitter creates separate pages that deliver different messages to different groups of people.

At the minimum, split personal and professional pages.  You share different thing with your brother-in-law than you do with patients.

I use the “splitter” strategy with my professional Facebook presence. It’s a bit more work, but much more powerful.  Here’s why.

Let’s say, for example, you’re hosting a webinar for your pain clinic.

If you’re a lumper, your Facebook update might say, “Have you ever wondered what to say or what to do when someone you care about is in pain?  Join us to learn 7 tips to help in the most helpful way.  Here’s a link to the registration page.”

If you’re a splitter, you could multiple postings on separate pages.

The post for the patient page could be as above.

The referring physician page post could say, “We’re hosting a seminar to empower family caregivers to respond to loved ones in pain.  You are welcome to invite your patients and their families.  Here’s a link to an invitation you can put on your web site.  Let us know if you would like a link to the replay.’’

The visiting nurse page could say, “Join us for a webinar in which you can learn a simple system that will help you coach family caregivers who want to respond to loved ones in pain.”

If you’re leaning toward the splitting strategy, consider creating a different page for the groups of people who refer patients to you:  former patients, physician colleagues, web-savvy health care consumers, nurses or eldercare providers.

Use your common sense and honor professional standards.   Whether in the exam room, an elevator or a Facebook page, first, do no harm.

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