Navigating Online Resources for Patient Care and Follow Up

| April 12, 2013

Part 2
21st Century Tools for Patient Acquisition and Referrals: Social Media and Blogging

by Lesley Ranft

Ms. Ranft is the founder of Lesley & Assoc., a Public Relations, Content Delivery, and Internet Development Firm based in San Diego, California, specializing in Social Media and Blogging for Bariatric Surgeons.

Bariatric Times. 2013;10(4):12–14.

Introduction
Social media and blogging offer revolutionary ways to acquire quality patients, obtain referrals, and optimize your practice website today. Social media and blogging have become increasingly popular as consumer demand for information in these forms has grown in great numbers over the past several years. Not to be confused with providing a diagnosis or treatment plan, social media and blogging communications appear to be in response to more than 145 million consumers using the internet to seek healthcare information annually, according to Manhattan Research.[1]

The Research
Much research has been conducted on social media and blog usage. The following lists statistics and results.
•    Sixty-three percent of consumers indicate they would switch their healthcare provider if they found credible content online, e-mail communication capability, and online scheduling.[2]
•    Across a sample of 10 global markets, social networks and blogs are the top online destination in each country, accounting for the majority of time spent online and reaching at least 60 percent of active internet users.[3]
•    Social media sites and blogs reach 80 percent of all internet users in the United States.[4]
•    A social media report published in 2011,[3] states that 850 million people were on Facebook worldwide. The report also found that Americans spend more time on Facebook than any other website.
•    The average Facebook user has 130 friends and “likes” 80 pages.[4] As “likes” show up on friends’ pages, every “like” reported for a page (click) equates to exposure for the practice with each of a user’s average 130 friends that do not have blocks on this option.
•    Fifty-six percent of consumers say that they are more likely to recommend a brand after becoming a fan of it.[4]
•    Thirty-four percent of marketers have generated leads using Twitter, and 55 percent of Twitter users accessed the platform via their mobile phone in 2012.[4]
•    Pinterest reported 10 million monthly unique visitors from the United States, more than any independent site in history.[5]
•    Over 80 percent of “pins” on Pinterest are repins from friend networks.[6]
•    The Google +1 button is used five billion times per day.[7]
•    Over 60 million United States adults are reported to use health blogs, online support groups, prescription rating sites, and other health-related social media applications.[8]
•    The support group forum called Experience Project has helped create two million friendships and 80 percent of users report that the support group forum alone has positively influenced their life.[9] Experience Project is only one of numerous support group forums with a large number of users.

Whether it is a mobile website, social media outlet, social network (support forum), or a blog, it appears that the public demand for credible information online is high. The word-of-mouth referral arm has extended its potential power through social networks, social media, and blogs. Interactive internet platforms offer anywhere, anytime information and this is important for consumers today.[1] Interactive platforms allow for content to be viewed by people interested in bariatric surgery on the internet via computers, tablets, and phones with the inclusion of audio, video, website links, and support forum access. Individuals interested in bariatric surgery can take surveys, make appointments, and process product orders through links provided in the comments section of Facebook, Twitter, and blog posts.

There are many social networks that offer support forums. In some cases, users can remain anonymous at different levels, which may help to promote deeper, more genuine personal stories. Some forums include a physician locator tool in which individuals can search for bariatric surgeons in their area. Easy access offers convenience, and this is what consumers want today more than ever before.

Just as the public demand for bariatric services has pushed the field to new heights, so too has the public demand for bariatric information on the internet increased. According to Manhattan Research 7th ePharma Consumer Survey in 2008, nearly half (47%) of online consumers report that user-generated content has at least some impact on their health or prescription treatment decisions.10 With so much information on the web, it is important that individuals seek credible information in researching health decisions, such as bariatric surgery. Many bariatric surgeons find the internet, including websites, mobile apps, blogging, Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Pinterest, and other social networks with support forums, to be valuable tools in bringing patients into the practice. These services can enhance the patient-physician relationship. In addition to patient acquisition and patient referrals, these tools have become popular for search engine optimization to potentially leverage your practice website into higher ranking positions and to control more internet real estate. While blogging offers the greatest opportunity to enhance patient education and optimize a website, social media has been the most recent wave in marketing and advertising for bariatric surgeons, including Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. Some of the most popular options and their offerings are as follows:
•    LinkedIn—offers a means to build on business relationships.
•    Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and Pinterest—offer ways to build on relationships with current clients, obtain new clients, and to receive positive feedback about products and services; can be linked to your blog for more meaningful patient education and website optimization.
•    Blogs—linked to your website to act as the fuel to power your site for higher ranking positions. Blog stories may also appear independently on the Internet for select search results, allowing your practice to control more Internet real estate.
•    Social Networks, such as, support forums, including Obesity Help and Experience Project—offer a physician locator tool where your practice can be listed for patient acquisition.

The Target Audience
The target audience profile for the services mentioned previously are as follows:
•    Facebook users are typically between 18 and 35 years of age. The most active Facebook users are single mothers.[7]
•    Ninety-seven percent of Facebook page users are women.
•    Pinterest drives more referral traffic than Google Plus, Linkedin, and You Tube combined.[7]
•    Support forums can help prospective patients release social pressures and lifestyle struggles by offering a means to connect with others that have the prospective patient’s specific condition. In this way, these types of patients may be able to receive support to help set reasonable expectations for the outcome of the procedure they are interested in and ongoing support helps to reach their goals.

There are also websites in which bariatric surgeons can post remarks, some of which may be beneficial to the prospective or active bariatric surgery patient; however, surgeons and other caregivers should cautiously approach social media.

Do’s and Don’ts
Do’s. Do consider hiring an established internet development firm with a strong social media and blogging background, specializing in the field of bariatrics. The work of content development and uploading posts can be time consuming for a practice on a weekly basis, but much simpler for an experienced, dedicated bariatric social media and blogging company. In the end, fees for outsourcing may be less costly when compared to fees associated with in-house management, offering the opportunity for a greater ROI.

Do request samples of work to help ensure that the content posted is in line with your credible reputation.

Do request that the content be prepared one month in advance for your review and ensure that you can send additional content relating to specific practice promotions, such as videos, seminar announcements, products, and discounts.

Do consider selecting an educated consumer journalist in the field of bariatrics to write your content to help ensure that you will only have minor or no changes to content. This person should also be capable in writing social media and blog content, which is different than traditional writing. It is also wise to mix up your content with variations, such as entertainment, motivation, and education. For truly optimized content, especially for blogs, investigate the services of an internet development firm that focuses on bariatric blog content development so the content is written in a way that is search-engine friendly.

Do find out about the specifications for the number of words in content for specific sites and how posts should link to your website. Every social media outlet and blog has different ideals about the number of words in content to promote the best possible response. For example, blog posts may be up to 300 words and should link to other related articles in your website, while Facebook posts should not be more than three sentences and should link to your website page or blog that relates to the specific content. Contact a company that offers bariatric practices free value-added information about such specifications like signing up for a newsletter. Just as the news is fluid, so is the social media market in terms of demands. It is good to have a company on your side to meet those demands.

Do find out how you plan to maintain a leading edge in identifying up-to-date topics that will prompt users to visit your website. The more clicks to your website, the greater the chance your website will be optimized and the greater the chance the user will contact your practice.
Do ensure that you add images to posts and are able to locate videos to add to your posts where applicable. If hiring a company, ensure that the company will do this for you.

Do make sure your content is posted during high-traffic times to help promote the best response. For example, we find in my company that Sundays are great days for Facebook when my average client sees that between 50 and 75 fans view their post. This means that the intro for the post viewed by the fan is seen by each of the fan’s network of friends, providing friends do not have a block on this option. With an average of 130 friends per fan, this potentially extends the post reach to between 6,500 and 9,750 Facebook friends for one post alone.

Do post consistently. Depending upon how aggressive your practice needs to be in your market, the right number of posts ranges between one and three times per week.

Do research and heed the laws in your state regarding creating the unintended impression that you have a virtual office and have established a doctor-patient relationship. Using terms like “prospective candidate for surgery” or “person” instead of “patient” can be helpful in clarifying communications with prospective patients.

Do monitor the search results that consumers find when they type your name into Google and Yahoo, particularly. For example, there are numerous review sites that may negatively influence prospective patient decisions. These sites often appear in search results when typing in a bariatric surgeon’s name.

Sites like healthgrades.com, ucompare.com, and yelp.com may alter a five-star rating when one individual posts a negative review or a less than “five-star review” about you or your practice.
Your blogs and social media outlets can serve as positive review portals when your fans post positive comments about your page or posts. In your portals, you can choose to approve or disapprove comments, giving you more control.

The website realself.com allows for reviews and appears less likely that consumers will post negative comments. This makes realself.com a potentially worthwhile investment because review sites are very powerful influencers for consumers on the internet. According to a survey conducted by Deloitte & Touche, 82 percent of those who read reviews said that their purchasing decisions have been directly influenced by reviews.[11]

Your social media sites and blogs may eventually appear independently under your name, allowing your practice to control more internet real estate, and potentially bumping negative review sites onto the next page where consumers are less likely to visit.

Do look into creating a mobile website. These social sites are accessed through mobile applications on many occasions.

Do investigate comprehensive cyber insurance that offers a broad range of coverage to protect bariatric surgeons against regulatory and liability claims arising from the theft, loss, or accidental transmission of confidential patient or financial information, as well as the cost of data recovery.

Don’ts. Don’t copy content from other internet sources. You can create content that offers another angle on current internet content, but your content should be unique.

Don’t post content without an image. According to my own company findings, users are 30-percent more likely to click on a website or blog link in a post when there is an image. Clicking signifies that a call to action has been made and may be visible to the user’s network members.

Don’t let anyone from an internet development firm open your practice’s messages. Inform the company that messages must remain closed for practice management.

Don’t offer “canned responses” to internet inquires. Expressing that you are honored that the prospective patient would write the office directly is welcoming and conveys a sense of comfort, which may motivate a prospective patient to come into your office for consultation.

Don’t conduct or set the stage for online consultations. In using the internet within the healthcare setting, it is important to keep in mind the following:
•    Internet-savvy consumers may e-mail several bariatric surgeons, send photos, shop for price, and crosscheck references.
•    It is best to refrain from providing a diagnosis involving a medical history intake, an online examination, and/or a proposed treatment plan. There may be an alternative treatment option that is more appropriate. It is also wise to steer away from interactions about benefits, risks, and recovery times. Not every prospective patient is a good candidate for bariatric surgery.
•    Informed consent cannot be accomplished through the internet. There may be gray areas when it involves legalities in e-communications, including federal and state regulatory concerns, secure website issues, and HIPAA (The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) compliancy.
•    It is always best to follow gold standard language in bariatrics when delivering and exchanging information in social media outlets and blogs.
•    It is wise to explain to inquires that fine details are not visible in photographs and Skype.
•    It is also important to let people know that face-to-face follow-up appointments are the proper time and place to discuss the diagnosis and treatment plan options.

Don’t forget to document interactions with users. Details of this recommendation are as follows:
•    Calls and video conferencing. It is wise to document the conversation and have a staff member with you or record the conversation. If you plan to do so, secure a hold harmless agreement from the person being recorded.
•    Consider call tracking. It might also be important to have a separate voicemail set up in which all calls from your website, Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Pinterest, social networks, and videos can be documented. This task will also help your practice monitor the results of campaigns.
•    Set up guidelines with internal staff. Train staff about your guidelines for e-communications and calls.
•    Speak with your attorney. Ask about e-communications if you have any concerns. Firms that develop e-communications solutions may have insight as well.

Don’t forget to post website and e-mail security disclaimers. Consider the following:
•    Explain that internet-based communication is never really completely “secure” because there may be attemps from hackers to break into servers.
•    There are investments you can make to help ensure you take every precaution to prevent a break-in, such as, firewall protection for your servers.
•    Let your website visitors know the terms and conditions associated with using your website, including the investments you have made to prevent hacker break-ins.
•    For email communication, be certain to have a confidentiality notice at the bottom of all e-mail communications and retain copies of communications.

Don’t include image or video links on your sites that you do not endorse.
Don’t post before and after photos online that allow consumers to scroll over the link to find the patient’s name and be certain that the patient has signed a specific hold harmless agreement, granting permission for the practice to post before and after photos in specifically named outlets.

Conclusion
In essence, social media outlets, networks and blogging offer a way for you to create your own community, enhance patient relationships, help manage your reputation, generate referrals, and attract more visitors to your website for higher ranking positions. One thing is certain—interactive platforms are here to stay.

References
1.    Manhattan Research. Products and Services. ePharma Consumer. The New eHealth Consumers. http://manhattanresearch.com/Products-and-Services/Consumer/Cybercitizen-Health-U-S
2.    Mohammad Anas Wahaj. Ignorance, Knowledge, Internet and Health: Collaborative Role of Healthcare, Pharmaceutical and Technology Companies in the Society’s Future- World is the Market, Align Profits with Care. Ilmeps. 2003. http://www.ilmeps.com/reada1.html. Accessed January 18, 2013.
3.    Social Media Report Spending Time, Money and Going Mobile. Neilson Newswire. September 12, 2011. http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/newswire/2011/social-media-report-spending-time-money-and-going-mobile.html. Accessed January 18, 2013.
4.    MindJumpers. Social Media Stats [Infographic]. http://www.mindjumpers.com/blog/2012/01/social-media-stats-infographic/. Accessed January 18, 2013.
5.    Boorstin J. Pinterest’s growth comes back to earth. USA Today. March 30, 2012. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/tech/news/story/2012-03-30/cnbc-pinterest-growth/53893824/1. Accessed March 29, 2013.
6.    RJ Metrics. Pinterest Data Analysis: An Inside Look. February 15, 2012. http://blog.rjmetrics.com/pinterest-data-analysis-an-inside-look/. Accessed March 29, 2013.
7.    Bennett S. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram – Social Media Statistics And Facts 2012 [INFOGRAPHIC]. Mediabistro. November 1, 2012. http://www.mediabistro.com/alltwitter/social-media-stats-2012_b30651
8.    Manhattan Research. News and Events. Over 60 Million US Adults Engaging in Health 2.0. http://manhattanresearch.com/News-and-Events/Press-Releases/over-60-million-health-20-consumers. Accessed March 29, 2013.
9.    Kanjoya. Experience Project: A Social Discovery Network. http://www.kanjoya.com/what-we-do/experience-project/. Accessed March 29, 2013.
10.    http://www.doseofdigital.com/pharma-healthcare-digital-data-bank/
11.    http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/new-deloitte-study-shows-inflection-point-for-consumer-products-industry-companies-must-learn-to-compete-in-a-more-transparent-age-58235327.html

Funding: No funding was provided.

Disclosures: Lesley Ranft is the founder of Lesley & Assoc., A Public Relations, Content Delivery, and Internet Development Firm based in San Diego, California, specializing in Social Media and Blogging for Bariatric Surgeons. This article may include forward-thinking statements, which may include, among other things, plans, objectives, projections, and anticipated future economic performance based on assumptions and the like that are subject to risks and uncertainties. As such, actual results or outcomes may differ materially from those discussed in the forward-looking statements due to several possible factors, such as, shifts in industry, overall level of economic activity in media markets, governmental changes, etc. In light of these and other uncertainties, the forward-looking statements included in this document should not be regarded as a representation by the Company. The Company undertakes no obligation to update or revise any such forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events, or otherwise.

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