Socially awkward

December 3, 2010

Daniel Z. Sands, MD, a practicing general internist, spoke at the American Academy of Family Physicians' Scientific Assembly about how engaging patients online can improve treatment adherence, lifestyle improvements, and outcomes.

Sands spoke at one of the plenary sessions for the American Academy of Family Physicians' Scientific Assembly about how engaging patients online can improve treatment adherence, lifestyle improvements, and outcomes. During the question-and-answer portion of his talk, I asked him how practices should approach social networking, namely the Facebook phenomenon. You may have heard of it. There's even been a movie about it called "The Social Network."

In response, Sands asked the audience: "How many of you use Facebook?" About half of the thousands in the audience raised their hands. To which Sands responded: "For those that don't, how do you talk to your kids?" The quip drew a laugh from the crowd.

As the faces got younger on Facebook, more parents created pages to supervise their children's activity. As more moms and dads signed on, they also found old high school and college friends, former coworkers, and family members. Five-hundred million members later, it is clear that Facebook is not just for kids anymore.

However, I found very few smaller (1- to 10-doctor) family and general internal medicine practices that maintain Facebook pages with multiple "fans." (With Facebook, businesses and organizations can create "fan" pages where customers, supporters, or patients click that they "Like" the organization, unlike personal pages, where one has "friends.")

That's why in this issue we're offering up how-to advice in the cover article, "Getting your patients to 'Like' your practice." The article, beginning, offers an introduction to Facebook and social media and explains why your practice should have-and maintain-its own page. I spoke to social media experts as well as practices that have robust Facebook pages and more than 100 "fans."

Facebook and other social media won't transform your practice-at least, not yet-but they are effective marketing and patient relations tools that won't cost you anything except your time, experts say.

"Connecting technology is what lowers the barriers to engagement and empowers the patient," Sands says. "But, you're all saying, what's in it for me? It empowers practices and healthcare organizations, and it empowers you, too. It empowers us: providers and doctors. It's hard to understand that until you start to embrace it."

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Getting patients to 'Like' your practice

Physicians' experience with Facebook and Twitter may be limited to what their children or other family members or friends have shown them. There are approximately 150 million Facebook members in just the United States; chances are a lot of those users are your patients or potential patients. Find out how to reach them through these free services-and why you should.

GADGET GLORY

Our annual guide to the latest and best devices, gadgets, and equipment to help manage your practice features 10 items, ranging from $100 to $7,000, primarily focused on helping you balance the paper-based and digital worlds of healthcare.

EASING DOWN THE EHR ROAD

If your practice hasn't converted its current records system to one that meets the "meaningful use" requirements defined by the federal government earlier this year, be sure to read our advice to help you make the change while minimizing the disruption to your practice.

PECOS SIGN-UP DEADLINE LOOMS

As of January 3, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will require all physicians and nonphysician practitioners to be enrolled in the Provider Enrollment, Chain, and Ownership System (PECOS) to be paid for services ordered or referred for Medicare beneficiaries.

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