Online Communications for Dentistry and Healthcare
At this point, no business can operate effectively without some kind of online communication strategy, which includes content marketing and social media. This goes for medical and dental practices too.
While ads in the Yellow Pages and local paper may have worked fine in the past, it’s not enough today. And that’s not just for medical and dental offices – it’s true for every business out there.
What Is an Online Communication Strategy?
Not every business owner has heard of content marketing yet. And, frankly, most business owners still don’t know how to use social media properly (not their fault, really).
An online communication strategy consists of social media presence and content marketing.
Social media presence means getting on social media – most likely Facebook and Twitter – and engaging in the conversation. You can share your thoughts (content marketing) or have one-one-one conversations with your patients.
Content marketing includes blogs, articles, links to articles, helpful or insightful tweets, pictures of perfect teeth, videos of newborn babies – almost anything that might interest your patients.
Ideally, content marketing is the dissemination of your expertise in healthcare. Any information that your patients will find useful is perfect for content marketing. For dentists, it could instructions are caring for your teeth at home. For physicians, it could be tips on eating healthfully.
Whatever the content is, you simply put it out there into the online stratosphere so your patients can find it. Mostly, that means publishing it on your website and providing links to it on social media. (For more information, here’s A Brief Tutorial on Google and SEO Marketing.)
Why Implement an Online Communications Strategy
Again, there’s the obvious – because content marketing is the new marketing and almost every other business out there is coming to understand this.
But specifically for healthcare providers…
In today’s competitive and challenging economic environment, the success of your practice depends on your ability to be discovered by new patients (in addition to staying connected with existing patients) in ways you may not have previously considered.
Your practice now requires an effective online communication strategy to encompass the complete patient life cycle, from acquiring new patients to treatment completion and referral creation.
These core elements include providing an optimized website, social media, and online patient login functionality. Combined, these tools afford your practice a 360˚ connection to your existing and potential patient population.
How Healthcare Professionals Are Using Social Media
According to U.S. News and World Report, healthcare providers are slowly but steadily turning to social media as a way to engage with their patients outside of the office.
While not all physicians and dentists are on social media yet, it’s becoming more and more common and may soon be the norm. And, in fact, it’s more of a reflection on society in general than anything else.
“It’s the evolution of how we communicate with each other,” Thomas Lee, an orthopedic surgeon, told U.S. News and World Report.” And I have to remind physicians that if they think they don’t have time for this—and if they don’t have instant access to mobile communications—they may be behind the learning curve and behind the times.”
Lee says he includes his Facebook page on his business cards and is also active on Twitter, FourSquare and Google+ accounts. He says it creates and extends dialogues with patients. And it’s not just conversations.
Some physicians are latching onto social media to issue real-time alerts and reminders, an unarguably valuable service for time-pressed patients. Stream cites colleagues who tweet when they’re running late for appointments, for instance, so patients know they needn’t rush to the office. Others post hours for flu shot clinics and encourage patients not to overlook the vaccine.
…[Healthcare providers who do turn to social media] should find a receptive audience. About 20 percent of patients already use social media to glean healthcare information, according to an April survey by the National Research Corporation, a healthcare research firm based in Lincoln, Neb. Facebook tops the list of sites that survey respondents use for such purposes, followed by YouTube, Twitter, MySpace, and FourSquare.
—U.S. News and World Report
Concerns Healthcare Professionals Have About Social Media
It’s not all smiles and roses. There are some legitimate concerns that physicians, dentists and other healthcare providers have about social media that have many hesitant to engage at this juncture. The concerns revolve mostly around the accuracy of information and messages.
Healthcare providers worry about the accuracy of information that patients and even healthcare providers themselves are getting online. If you’ve ever done a search for anything online, you’ll know why – many of the answers provide worst-case scenarios (i.e., tumors, cancers, et cetera).
There’s also concern about patients passing on the inaccurate information they’ve found somewhere online. A patient may believe wholeheartedly in an assessment and communicate the assessment as if it was set in stone.
And there’s the fear of healthcare providers either passing bad information to patients or inappropriate information that could land their practice or facility in legal trouble. (Say, a link to a questionable study or information protected by HIPAA.)
A Valuable Tool
While questions still exist over the efficacy and ethicality of using social media for sharing certain healthcare information, there’s no doubt that online communications are the way of the future and that every medical or dental practice out there should have a strategy in place.
Whether it’s informative and useful content, alerts regarding appointments or follow-up conversations after treatment, online communications are becoming a valuable tool for healthcare providers.