Last week we talked about why social media is a valuable health resource for patients. But what about the health care provider? The all-consuming prevalence of social media has permeated every corner of business, including healthcare, which has helped spawn the digital health movement. The social media healthcare connection is inevitable, so it’s time to get on board.

In an article on amednews.com, Pamela Lewis Dolan lists four ways medical professionals can use social media to improve their practice:

1.) Discover needed services.

“Through social media, physicians can gain insight into what patients are willing to do to improve their health and what obstacles stand in their way,” Dolan reports. For example, Strive Physical Therapy and Sports Rehabilitation in New Jersey uses Facebook to learn what services and events (like screenings) interest people. Another instance: Jessica Logan, social media and online content specialist for the University of California, San Diego Health Sciences marketing and communications department, uses Twitter to watch developing health trends and needs within the community.

2.) Improve customer service.

Because social media sites like Facebook and Twitter allow for instant, two-way dialogue, practices can easily address complaints and compliments. And while specific patient details must remain offline, you can still have an instant conversation, showing your followers how important they are to your clinic. How easy of an improvement to your customer service is that? Plus, the conversation is public, allowing all your followers to see how responsive and open you are to your customers and partners. 

Just make sure you take advantage of the instantaneousness: According to an article on GSW, “research shows that 70% of consumers expect healthcare companies to reply to requests for information made via social media within a day of the inquiry being posted. Even more so, 40% of them expect a reply within a few hours.”

3.) Gather feedback on treatment.

According to Dolan, “Jared Rhoads, senior research analyst with CSC’s Global Institute for Emerging Healthcare Practices, said feedback on therapies is one of the most valuable uses for social media—and possibly one of the easiest to facilitate.” Use Twitter to learn about patients’ opinions on treatment plans or alternative therapies. You can also use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social sites to stay current on research and published studies supporting evidence-based practice.

In an article on KevinMD, Lauren Chasin, MD, encourages medical professionals to use social to talk to each other: “With forums such as Twitter, physicians can communicate [in] real time with each other to discuss current practices and share experiences. To me, this is invaluable in a time where the amount of useful information is inversely proportional to the amount of actual information available.”

4.) Compare and improve quality.

Want to make your clinic a cut above the rest? Scope out others’ social media sites. In addition to gauging patient satisfaction and seeing what works and what doesn’t, you can also check out what they’re offering and advertising. Then, rather than imitating your competition, you can map out what your clinic can do to set itself apart and innovate the field. Consumers love finding special offers and valuable knowledge on social, so you can start there.

New to the therapy field? First time clinic owner? Then monitoring other clinic’s social sites can help you get an idea of how to navigate the waters. For some inspiration, check out this list of 20 hospitals getting it right on social.

Finally, use YouTube, Vimeo, or other social video sites to provide brief, educational videos. You can improve the quality and intensify the reach of your care by educating your patients and community on best practices and general health advice―just be sure to avoid patient-specific information or medical advice.

Now I know these tips may seem time consuming, but in the grand scheme of things, they really don’t take much. Plus, these efforts will pay off. In fact, many rehab community members are already using—and loving—social media (case in point: #solvePT). Still, if social media ain’t your thang, or you really just don’t have the time, you can still reap the benefits by using a marketing firm that specializes in social marketing for PTs. Or, perhaps someone else in your clinic would love to take the social reins.

Either way, hop to it! You’re a technological trailblazer. Set the social media stage for the rest of the health care industry. And while you’re at it, tell us what you think! What advice or questions do you have about social networking through your clinic? What is your practice doing to set itself apart online?