Social networking poses communications, marketing challenges

Should a physician send his or her patients a "friend request" on Facebook? Social networking poses new challenges and rules for doctors and other professionals who embrace it.

Key Points

Because patient reaction to social networking efforts may vary dramatically from patient to patient and also may depend on the specialty of the physician sending the message, careful thought and some test marketing should precede any social networking activity, be it on Facebook, Twitter, or even a practice Web site.

Most of your patients most likely would appreciate your conveying important information to them. Telling them, for example, that you've received a supply of flu vaccine, and giving them your recommendation as to whether they should receive the vaccine, can be a valuable service. If you communicate about the expansion of office hours, the introduction of a new physician, or changes in the insurance plans in which you participate, such information may make your practice more attractive to some people. Telling patients about what you learned at a recent medical conference can let them know that you continue to update your knowledge base, that you work hard to stay at the leading edge of medical knowledge, and that new technologies, new drugs, or new procedures may offer benefits not previously available.

Some tips to consider:

Medical Economics Consultant Steven I. Kern, JD, is a health law attorney with Kern Augustine Conroy & Schoppmann in Bridgewater, New Jersey; Lake Success, New York; and Philadelphia. He can be reached at Malpractice Consult deals with questions on common professional liability issues. If you have a general question or a topic you'd like to see covered here, please send it to

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