As a family medicine resident, Rose Marie Leslie is no stranger to long shifts. Yet each day, the University of Minnesota physician finds ten or so minutes to post on TikTok, a video-sharing social networking service where the 30-year-old is a viral star. With peppy videos on topics like teen vaping, the inner workings of the spleen and her choice of breakfast, Leslie’s posts have gotten millions of views. And she’s establishing strong connections with the adolescents she sees as her true audience.
That’s because she is meeting them on their platform of choice. And that, Leslie says, “is the best way to advance public health. They [the teens] crave knowledge. And I want to give it to them in a way that’s fun and creative.”
Physicians are not always social media stars and it’s not an easy status to achieve but having a presence and connecting with others is relatively simple. The best way to approach making connections, Leslie says is to “be true to yourself.”
For this viral star, it’s crucial that her posts are personal. “I want people to know that they can go to the doctor and talk to an actual person.” Meeting her dog or watching her skincare struggles help reduce the power differential that exists between a physician and patient.
Of course, not every doctor can, or should, be on the Gen Z-focused TikTok. But there are plenty of platforms to choose from—including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter—and experts agree that no matter one’s choice, having a clear intention is the best starting point.
Doctors looking to build a local practice, for example, will have very different goals and tactics than those wanting to join a national dialog, says Janet Kennedy of Get Social Health, a social media consultancy for healthcare in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her advice to providers mulling a first dive into social media or just looking to clean up their act is to follow a few simple guidelines.
Know the rules
Most professional associations and specialties offer social media guidelines (and often training) to smooth the way, with clear guidelines about protecting patient confidentiality and maintaining professional boundaries.
Understand that privacy doesn’t exist
Many providers avoid social media because they don’t want their private opinions made public. Those that take the plunge, however, need to understand that “even if you don’t put your professional information on the profile, people who disagree with you can find you, and where you work,” Kennedy cautions.
Harness hashtag power
Hashtags are what help amplify messages on social media, so finding the most commonly-searched metadata tags is essential. (Kennedy likes The Healthcare Hashtag Project at Symplur, a free platform that aids in finding relevant hashtags.)
Get on board
While healthcare’s digital shift has been going on for decades, COVID-19 kicked the use of Telehealth and electronic communication into high gear. “There’s no going back,” Kennedy says. “Providers have to be where the people are.”
What’s more, avoiding social media does genuine harm. Many of Leslie’s posts, for example, focus on accurate information about pandemic precautions, and many providers use social media to disseminate facts about COVID-19, especially when messaging from the top has been unclear.
If healthcare providers don’t deal with scientific and factual accuracies online, Kennedy says, “they’re going to have to deal with it in the office.”