How to Market Your Physician Practice Online

Doctor Blogging

As the push toward digital and online marketing for healthcare practices continues to grow, so too grows the onset of practice websites.

In many cases, a practice website makes sense. It allows you a convenient channel to offer information about your team and your specialties and can even help make that emotional connection with prospective patients. It also provides a convenient way to allow your patients to access their patient portals.

But what about blogs? Should you have a blog for your practice? What about social media? Can you share patient case studies? How much information is too much?

Brittany Wilson, a BSN/RN and author of The Nerdy Nurse (http://thenerdynurse.com/2012/02/18-patient-identifiers-hipaa-defines-as-off-limits.html), writes that blogs are not something to be scared about.

“Hospitals and healthcare providers everywhere start shaking in their boots when they think of social media and healthcare,” she writes. “They freak out about the possibly of a HIPAA violation. But the fear that is struck in many of their hearts is really unneeded.”

Handling PHI

First, remember that there are rules regarding Protected Health Information (PHI). Anything that is considered PHI should be removed from any sort of online posts. That encompasses 18 specific identifiers including names, specific geographic locations, dates of birth, social security numbers, and biometric identifiers. If it counts as PHI, it should be removed from your posts.

So, what about blogging about specific incidents or cases you’ve worked on? Wilson writes that case studies can be extremely helpful and informative as long as they’re treated with care.

“You can actually include quite a bit of detail in your nursing or healthcare narratives about patient encounters and experiences,” she writes. “The key is to make sure that the details are never specific enough to tie back to any individual patient.”

She suggests changing any details that might make the patient identifiable, including maybe even the incident that caused the event.

Paul Levy, former CEO and President of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, says that writing a blog that included case studies as well as real-time data helped create a culture of transparency at the hospital.

“To me, what’s useful is to give people information in real time that reflects how your organization is doing,” he says in a video interview for the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.  (http://www.ihi.org/education/ihiopenschool/resources/Pages/Activities/PaulLevySocialMediainHealthCare.aspx)

Because he was proud of the work of his clinical staff, Levy began posting the real-time data of outcomes on an infection reduction initiative. Not only was the data helpful to other researchers, it made the hospital much more transparent to patients. It also unexpectedly improved morale within the organization.

“The reaction in our hospital was very positive,” he says. “People were proud of the fact that I was proud of them.”

A Resource to Others

In 2008, Levy wrote a blog post about a wrong-site case at the hospital, in which a surgeon operated on the wrong ankle of a patient.

“I felt there were lessons for other hospitals to learn from this as well,” he says. “And that turned out to be one of the more useful aspects of writing this blog. Not only was it educationally helpful to our own staff, but pretty soon I noticed that people from hospitals all around the world were reading about our experiences and learning from them.”

So, don’t be afraid of blogging about things you’re experiencing. Case study blogs can create learning experiences and change the culture within your organization.

“Just be sure you respect the rights and privacy of your patients in the process,” Wilson writes. “Don’t fear HIPAA, just be aware and be respectful.”