The most common question I’m asked is, “Now that I have my website running and created my social media profiles, where do I start promoting my practice?” In my opinion, Twitter is the logical starting point for any physician or practice. Think of Twitter as your “microblog.” Your tweets allow you to highlight your brand and connect with colleagues, patients and others in an easily digestible and enjoyable form. Tweets, which are 280 characters or less, don’t require significant energy and time inputs. 

Importantly, anyone can read Tweets. Although only registered users can post Tweets and comments, anyone with an internet connection can view your Tweets. Thus, patients without Twitter accounts can still access your professional and practice message. 

Moreover, a record of all Tweets is stored on your home page which offers a summary of your practice. Whereas practice websites tend to be more formalized in structure and content, patients typically enjoy a person’s Twitter profile because it provides text, images and videos that they may find more relevant to their interests. As you grow your Twitter presence, this will be reflected in your Twitter homepage. I recommend adding web links from your Twitter account to your practice website and vice versa to facilitate easy user navigation.


What do you post?

So, what do you post on your new Twitter “microblog”? Going back to some of the fundamentals we reviewed in the first two columns, you should strive to provide value consistent with the brand you are trying to affirm. Careless posts (e.g., what you ate for breakfast) are going to dilute your overall Twitter message. Instead, look to create posts that provide information of value to potential readers. Your microblog will ideally be a resource for patients and colleagues. 

Look to communicate interesting cases, medical updates, novel research, conference attendance and continuing medical education. These will hopefully have some inherent value to patients, colleagues and others reading your Twitter feed.


Pearls and pitfalls

There are a couple of pitfalls I commonly see when physicians start to post content. First, and by far the most important, is that you may not provide specific patient information online. This violates patient privacy and has legal consequences. 

Do not, under any circumstance, use an online platform to communicate directly with a patient about a specific medical problem. In cases where a patient may want to communicate, I recommend you or your office contact that patient directly by phone and move the discussion to a private phone call or an in-office visit. 

Similarly, any interesting case you post should be anonymized with the removal of any possible identifying information. You may also want to ask the patient if they are agreeable to you posting the case. What you are trying to avoid here is having the patient come across your Twitter feed, recognize your case posting as their own, and being upset that they were not informed of this.

Second, be careful with advertising or promoting products or services on your posts. Although it’s acceptable to post any sales or events specific to your practice, you do not want to extend this to third-party companies. This has the potential for conflicts of interest, which can damage patient-physician and patient-practice relationships. This returns to our point of ensuring your Twitter feed is consistent with your brand and practice objectives. 

Good luck. I look forward to seeing what you tweet. RS