Alaina ChiapponeAlaina Chiappone

As a medical professional, your reputation is critical. In the past, people typically judged physicians by their medical degree or bedside manner. In the age of social media, however, consumers tend to look more at your online persona. That persona is formed by what you post about yourself online and what your patients say about you as a result of the content you share.

Like it or not, your online presence impacts how people evaluate your professional reputation. Reports reveal online reviews are a significant factor in patients choosing a healthcare provider. When reviews give patients a reason to doubt your professional reputation, they take their business elsewhere. In addition, patients draw conclusions about your professional competence based on your private social media.

Whether or not you’re trying to grow your brand with healthcare-related content on social media, it’s crucial to audit your online persona regularly and curate it in a way that best showcases your expertise as a medical professional. Taking charge of your personal and professional social media branding is a weighty responsibility, but one that every healthcare professional must accept.

Weighing the benefits, pitfalls of social media for physicians

Social media platforms are powerful tools for professionals in the healthcare industry, so don’t take them lightly. Through social feeds, you can share valuable information with thousands. You can alert your patients and the community at large to current health concerns, confront societal stigmas in areas such as mental health and addiction and even inspire hope by sharing stories of recovery.

This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Jan. '23 Crisis Communications & PR Buyer's Guide Magazine
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You can also leverage the power of social media to grow your medical practice. When you post medical information online, you open yourself open to a wide range of risks. As a medical professional, be careful not to offer medical advice over social media. Within the walls of your office, you prescribe medical action based on what you know about your patient. On social media, you’re talking to thousands of people, and you do not always have the same luxury to provide medical recommendations.

Because comments on social media can so easily be taken out of context, consider everything you say from a variety of angles before posting. If you’re in doubt about how any medical information you offer will be interpreted on social media, it’s always better to err on the side of caution.

In addition, posting content to social media opens you to the risk of violating patient privacy. Medical standards and laws prevent you from revealing information about your patients’ conditions and procedures which, if violated, will result in one or more HIPAA violations.

For this reason, you must always obtain permission directly from patients before posting a photo of them on social media. That permission has to come via written consent on a legal document. Before you take a picture, explain honestly to the patient why you want the photo and where you plan to share it. If your patient says “no,” leave it at that.

Consult your practice’s legal department before posting pictures or videos portraying a patient’s condition. They should either have consent forms drafted for this purpose or will be able to point you toward an attorney who can help. If your patients provide written consent, remember to mention personal information such as names or birthdates on the content you share.

Tips to guide medical professionals as they approach social media

Your posts on social media both have the potential to build your practice or cause long-lasting damage. To protect your online reputation as a medical professional, I recommend the following three tips:

When in doubt, keep it professional. Treat every post—even those on your personal channels—with the highest professional standards. As a healthcare professional, you don’t have the luxury of casually clicking “submit” on a social media platform. Before making a post, ensure that it adheres to your practice’s social media guidelines, as well as the professional standards set by regulatory bodies like the FTC. Your personal Facebook page and Instagram feed aren’t the places to rant about patients, colleagues, supervisors or the medical profession in general.

Also, try to view your post in the light of your patients. Remember that your patients come from a wide range of backgrounds and all have their own unique perspectives. Pictures on your personal social media of you drinking alcohol, goofing off with friends or venting about current events could be seen by the public, even if you have tighter privacy settings. Once something is posted on the Internet, it should be considered permanent. Even personal posts without any medical content have the power to impact your professional career.

Verify all medical information before sharing it online. As a medical professional, be sure to always vet information carefully and avoid sharing any facts you cannot confirm. We all witnessed the flood of medical information churned out by social media during the pandemic. These posts garnered millions of views, even though the treatments and recommendations were unsupported by medical research. A media backlash will be more damaging to your online reputation than any immediate boost in engagement or views. Rather than rushing to post medical information, personally verify everything you share.

Whether professional or personal, consistency is key. Always weigh the risks of posting content to social media. If you’re posting personal content to private channels, bear in mind that there’s always a very real possibility of that content going public. Consider how each personal post aligns with your professional brand. If you’re posting professional content to brand yourself and grow your practice, clearly define your strategy and consider every post in light of this strategy. Consistency will help you build a strong online reputation over time.

How to manage an online crisis

No plan is foolproof when it comes to social media. If you see signs of a reputation management crisis brewing, you need to act quickly. Reports show that just one negative online article costs a brand 22 percent of its clients on average.

When things go wrong on social media, they go wrong quickly. Just as patients come to you for medical expertise when they’re sick or injured, ask a public relations specialist for assistance when your online reputation suffers. A PR firm can help you accumulate positive reviews and leverage them to find new patients, enable you to overcome negative press and strategize to mitigate the damage.


Alaina Chiappone is a publicist with Otter PR in St. Petersburg, Florida.