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Retooling Your Practice with Social Media


Social media doesn't create a physician's positive image, but it provides a channel for consumers to talk about their positive experiences.

It’s easy to think of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter as just being tools with which to socialize online with friends and family. As such, they might seem to be of little use to a small business like a medical practice. But according to Anthony Pannozzo, MD, who specializes in sports medicine, if people are talking, you want them to be talking about you — and in positive terms.

“One of the most important aspects of social media is that you’re connected to people you know,” Pannozzo explains. “If they say, ‘I went to the best doctor ever,’ that’s like going to a coffee shop to meet a friend and he says, ‘I went to the best doctor ever.’ Testimony from someone you know weighs heavier than an advertisement.”

And, adds Pannozzo, consumers don’t even realize they’re advertising for the medical practice.

“That’s the best, most organic form of publicity that any person could want,” he says.

Changing image

For Pannozzo, getting people talking about his Florida-based practice wasn’t an issue. It was what some of them were saying that was creating a problem. The name of the practice was Pain Centers Nationwide, and according to Pannozzo, Florida is the number one state for pain clinics. The state is also number one for people abusing pain medication and dying from overdoses.

As such, just having the word “pain” in the practice’s name took on a negative connotation and meant that the authorities would have their eyes on the practice. They became a target because of the name.

“We picked the name out 10 years ago,” Pannozzo says. “We use it in Arizona without a problem, but in Florida, a lot of people think that if the name is Pain Centers Nationwide that we prescribe narcotics, which we do not.”

Pannozzo turned to an outside firm to rebrand his practice, moving the focus away from the pain aspect. Not surprisingly, the rebranding strategy centers on using social media tools.

“We started a Facebook page for the Pannozzo Institute,” explains Staci Garcia, vice president of public relations for TransMedia Group. “We’re going to have patients, real patients who have already been featured on traditional media, stream their interviews right to the Facebook page. And we’re creating a new website.”

Garcia points out that Pannozzo has a great reputation as a doctor. The problem was the name of the practice.

“If he was a store, we’d be completely overhauling the front of the store, but in the back of the store, everything has stayed the same,” she says.

Developing the brand

Lyra Caluag, of Practice Builders, helps physicians create and develop their brands through social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

“Consumers are using technology to find doctors to whom they can entrust their health care,” she says. “Social media is a very powerful and popular way to find those practitioners.”

Social media doesn’t create a physician’s positive image, but it provides a channel for consumers to talk about their positive experiences. When consumers say they had a wonderful experience at a medical practice, that the wait time was only five minutes or that they experienced customer service that was through the roof, potential new patients will gravitate toward the practice.

Caluag says that, with regard to social media, it’s good for physicians to stand by the sideline and see what people are writing about the practice.

“It’s also a good way to improve the practice infrastructure,” she says. “Somebody might comment that there was a particular procedure they were uncomfortable with, or that their wait time was particularly long. Physicians, if they’re busy with patients, may not always be aware of these things, so [watching from the sidelines] is a good way to view their practice externally as well as internally.”

Of course, anything published on the web is considered public, so Practice Builders creates best practice resources for physicians that serve as guides for using tools like Facebook and Twitter.

Caluag reminds physicians that they have to be HIPAA compliant. Since social media sites are public, they have to be sure they aren’t posting any information that might be confidential to their patients. Pannozzo is also very mindful about what he posts on his social media pages.

“Social media is wonderful,” he says. “It gets your name out, but no medical advice should be given in that context.”

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