An Opportunity To Build Patient Loyalty In An Era Of Social Media And Fake News

Barbara Aung DPM

Developing the physician/patient relationship affords us an opportunity to fully engage, and more importantly, educate our patients regarding the conditions we are charged with treating. We can assist our patients in resolving the conditions that may be preventing them from functioning at their full capacity in their daily lives. Do not sell short this interaction between you and your patient.

There are any number of methods of interaction between you and the patient, especially in today’s electronic world. It used to be that our face-to-face encounters were the most important. However, I will have to admit that I am starting to believe that our practice’s web site and social media can play just as an impactful role in how prospective and current patients perceive us. That can lead to good or not so great interactions.

What brought this to the surface was an article I came across entitled “Facebook and Google are hotbeds for 'medical quackery.' Should they have to police it?”1 The article addresses social media algorithms from Facebook and Google that historically helped to circulate misinformation related to AIDS, autism and vaccines. It appears, however, that experts are divided on whether—and to what extent—companies should be responsible for regulating such content. I’m not sure that Facebook and Google should bear the brunt of the burden to make sure the content people post is completely factual or whether medical information or claims are backed up by scientific study.

“U.S. consumers, lawmakers and others over the past two years have raised concerns over the speed at which ‘incendiary, inaccurate, and often deliberately false content spreads on sites like Facebook and YouTube’—focusing primarily on targeting conspiracy theories, fake news, and hate speech,” notes Michael Schulson, who writes for Undark magazine.1

Patients do pose questions regarding treatment options based on what they saw or heard on a TV commercial, social media site, radio, etc. Patients often come in after they have gone to these outlets/web sites and “diagnosed” themselves.

This is where the opportunity lies for us as the professionals. With our four years of medical school education, not to mention residency training along with years of experience, we can truly assist our patients with their needs while setting the record straight, establishing ourselves as the experts of the foot and ankle by providing accurate information during the appointment, through our websites and in our social media platforms.

So even though there never seem to be enough hours in the day and demands keep growing, take those precious moments with patients, answer their concerns and be the go-to source for information that individuals can rely on without question. Also, through your social media platforms you have engaged for your practice, post information about conditions and the latest treatments you have learned about at a conference. Obviously, don’t post anything specific about a particular patient and don’t post pictures or videos of the patient.

Another result of these efforts to educate patients is that our patients sincerely appreciate such guidance. If they become confused as to their condition, they seek assistance in solidifying their decision to choose you as the person to help them through their journey to healing.

Building stronger relationships with our patients can lead to greater loyalty. In today’s immediate reward world, loyal patients not only come back to us for future podiatric issues but they also become a marketing arm of our practice. This only helps to continue to grow your practice without the cost of advertising, buying clicks on Google or paying for the services of consultants, etc. When patients feel confident with the information and care you provide, they will send their family members and friends to your office.      

Hospitals are seeing this as well in the new era of patient satisfaction as part of our new reimbursement model. Institutions that have rated the best in patient satisfaction on the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) are also some of the most profitable and financially sound hospitals.2

Could these ratings reach us in the private practice setting through social media? They can and may already be reaching us with the physician ratings posted online on sites such as WebMD, Yelp and Google. I don’t believe these ratings or complaints posted are fair as they only represent the perception of the patient during a short interaction.

These ratings do not represent the totality of care that the physician has provided but unfortunately the ratings are playing a larger role in what patients are using when considering where to go for their care so we might as well pay attention to them and do our best to meet or beat the expectation the patient has. 

References

1. Advisory Board. Facebook and Google are hotbeds for ‘medical quackery.’ Should they have to police it? Available at https://www.advisory.com/daily-briefing/2018/06/28/google-facebook .

2. Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems. Available at http://www.hcahpsonline.org/ .

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