The Importance of an Online Presence for Physicians

While healthcare remains a primarily offline industry with the majority of services rendered during in-person office visits, the rise of telemedicine and other advancements in digital technology are increasingly bringing the field online. As both patients and medical providers utilize the internet, smartphones, and social media regularly, research implicates an increasing value for physicians to maintain a strong online presence in order to attract patients, strengthen visibility, and share relevant medical information.

Research indicates that 80% of physicians use smartphones and medical applications, while many healthcare providers use the internet frequently to educate themselves and share information about their specialty with patients and clients. A growing number  of physicians (93% of respondents) believe health apps improve health outcomes,  with 40% of respondents agreeing  that mobile health services – including applications and social media – can reduce the number of in-person medical visits.

Similarly, a significant proportion of the patient population relies on information found online to choose healthcare practitioners and educate themselves. Paying special attention to favorable reputation and positive reviews, patients now use the web to locate providers and navigate the healthcare system. The growing importance of online reviews is highlighted by recent research which reveals that the patient journey is increasingly beginning online  – with 80% of survey respondents having conducted a health-related online search in the past year. As more patients are currently utilizing the internet to inform their healthcare decisions, it is essential for physicians to maintain a strong and positive online presence.

Patient Healthcare Decisions

According to Andrei Zimiles, CEO of healthcare marketing company Doctor.com81% of patients will read reviews about a medical provider regardless of referral source:  “Patients depend on online sources of information more so than ever and are using all of the digital tools available to inform themselves and make healthcare decisions.” 

Digital tools, such as the internet and social media, are playing a significant role in connecting patients with providers. Recent statistics reveal that two-thirds of patients will choose a provider based on their online presence, underscoring the importance of a strong online presence. According to research by Doctor.com, most respondents – even those above the age of 60 –  will select a provider over another because of their online presence. Moreover, 60% of those surveyed said they would not book an appointment with a provider who had received poor quality reviews, highlighting the tremendous significance of maintaining a favorable reputation – both on and offline.

However, having a powerful presence and positive reviews is not enough to satisfy the changing needs of a technologically savvy population. Provider biographies and reviews are not the only significant aspects of an online profile; to serve a growing patient demand for flexibility and convenience, many physicians are now including appointment scheduling opportunities online. Up to 45% of patients prefer to request or schedule appointments online, according to Doctor.com’s healthcare customer experience study.

Counteracting Misinformation Online 

An online presence may not only benefit physicians and their patient database, but it can also help protect patient health in the absence of qualified medical voices online. Research from the American Osteopathic Association reveals that expanding physician voices on social media, is both desired by patients and the industry in hopes of mitigating the cacophony of misinformation and fake medical news that can confuse and even harm the audience.

In a social media landscape marred by false and inaccurate health information, it is increasingly important for medical professionals to join the online conversation. Physicians can proactively combat the spread of false information by sharing evidence-based information on social media channels to help dispel unscientific claims and positively influence patient’s health decisions. Alongside clinicians, the healthcare industry itself needs to advocate for increased education and awareness, focusing on social media as a burgeoning global communication tool.

Meanwhile, some physicians are already paving the way toward a more reliable and trustworthy digital space. Harvard-trained gastroenterologist at Jefferson Health Hospital, Dr. Austin Chiang, recently became the organization’s first chief medical social media officer – the position itself a testament to the growing role of social media in medicine. Dr. Chiang is the president of a new nonprofit, the Association for Healthcare Social Media, which advocates for physicians and other healthcare professionals to establish an online presence and join the social media conversation.

Tips for Creating an Online Presence

Building an online presence is essential; marketing yourself and your practice can help attract clients and patients, increase social media following, and help establish a brand. Having positive reviews, interesting content, and helpful information can distinguish one provider’s profile from another, ultimately boosting their chances of being selected by patients. Moreover, the advent of digital tools, such as social media, allows clinicians an incomparable communication platform for spreading awareness and information, as well as the power to reach and influence a global audience. Medical practitioners hoping to stay current in the continuously evolving field of healthcare can apply some of the tips below to create a more compelling online presence: 

  • Make your website or profile easily accessible and navigable
  • Display positive testimonials and reviews from satisfied patients
  • Allow online appointment scheduling or appointment requesting
  • Ensure good customer service to gain patient loyalty
  • Include relevant information, a biography, and profile photograph
  • Engage with patients, online users, and the social media community
  • Share clinically relevant and interesting information
  • Maintain a professional and medically relevant presence

Currently, the field of healthcare is experiencing a gradual but imminent shift toward the digital, becoming more of an online industry than ever before. Not only can a good quality profile attract customers and patients thus, growing the medical practice, but it can also help practitioners educate their network, dispelling any false health information and sharing the latest news in their area of expertise.

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