Social Networking: Can It Help Or Hinder Your Practice?

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Megan Lawton, DPM

   Staying on the forefront of technology in the medical field is recommended, if not required. New machines, office software and file backups are usually deemed the most important aspects of technology. However, can technology also be the downfall of your office?

   Welcome to the potential dilemmas of getting involved with social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, to name a few.

   Organizations including the Miami Dolphins, the United States Marines and even some city councils are among the increasing number of organizations putting bans on the use of these social networking sites. Organizations have banned these sites for reasons such as bad press, premature announcements and, in the Dolphins’ case, the leaking of playbooks.

   What is your office policy regarding these issues? If you do not have the answer, it might be a good time to figure out the policy and update your employee manual in a timely manner before you discover some unwanted posts on social networks. Some examples may include:

    “Dreading going to work, we are so unorganized!”
    “Such rude patients today!”
    “Time card shows extra hours, LOL”
    “Saw the ugliest pair of feet today, eeech!”

   It is a good idea to check with your attorney regarding some of these issues and where you could draw the boundaries. A good start to addressing these issues in the employee manual would be noting what kinds of posts are unacceptable and what the ramifications would be. On the other side, you would have to disclose the approach to monitoring to employees.

   If you think your employees are not using these social networking sites, think again. With more than 250 million active users on Facebook alone, every business is affected in some way or another by these sites.

   For example, take the Chicago property management company that is suing a tenant over a post made about her moldy apartment. What about the Minnesota Timberwolves player who says his coach will not be around next year, preempting the official team announcement?

   However, having a Facebook page or a Twitter following can be a big marketing strategy for your practice. Updating patients with the ongoing events of the office will reinforce that you are the DPM to call. Making posts on new office procedures, remodeling and staff updates will let folks feel as if they are already familiar with the office, even if they have never physically been there.

   It is good marketing to use a personal account to spread the word to people with whom you have lost touch that you treat foot and ankle issues. Again, one needs to exercise caution with the nature of what you post. Want some examples to avoid?
    “Surgery went awful today”
    “Saw a lot of druggies today”
    “Annoying, crying kid was a brat patient”

    Obviously, there is a potential for malpractice implications. You may not want to post pictures of party expeditions either.

   Perhaps you will not even have these temptations if you avoid these networking sites altogether. Even if you do not know what a “tweet” is or do not care, it is important to have someone else do some investigating for you.

   There are often instances of people assuming fake identities on these sites. It mostly happens with celebrities and sports players. One guy impersonated Shaquille O’Neal on Twitter and he got quite good at writing what he thought Shaq would say. He developed a following of hundreds of thousands. It was only after the impersonator said something negative about another player that the real Shaq found out about the postings after being confronted.

   It is not a bad idea to make sure a disgruntled patient is not putting out a bad name for you.

   On the positive side, being involved with these social networking sites may open up a new world of communication within the profession. The American Podiatric Medical Association has a Facebook group page up and running and many more podiatry groups are following suit. You can find contact information easily for those you may want to reach out to regarding a patient or a former classmate to see how practice is in his or her area.

   Whichever direction you choose with these social networking sites, stay ahead of the curve and be aware of the pros and cons of these Web sites. Technology is a great resource. The key is using it within appropriate parameters so it can help bring your office to the next level.

Dr. Lawton is in private practice in Naples, Fla.

Dr. McCord recently retired from practice at the Centralia Medical Center in Centralia, Wash.

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