Yesterday, the American College of Physicians and the Federation of State Medical Boards issued new, more comprehensive guidance and best practices for appropriate conduct for physicians using digital media in care.

As the groups urged doctors to consider all risks before “friending” or emailing their patients, they also noted the outstanding benefits attached to adopting new technologies. Dr. Kevin Pho, author of the popular blog, Kevin MD, says that doctors need to be accessible online “because that’s where the patients are.” (In fact, it’s where 85% of all Americans are!)

Clearly, we’re e-communication’s best, most spirited cheerleaders and we all know which path to take. Follow our guidelines below to make sure you’re doing it right.

  1. Support, don’t diagnose online. Give patients the information they need and lead them to credible resources. But once they attach a picture of their rash … it’s time for them to make an office visit.
  2. Keep personal and professional separate. Your patients shouldn’t see you don your hot pink Hawaiian T-shirt on your family vacation. If you want to have a presence on Facebook or Twitter, either maintain two separate pages or meet up with your hospital’s marketing team and other interested docs to make a concerted plan.We recommend posting healthy recipes, event invites and basic health tips. Know your audience, if you’re a pediatrician, post child safety and teen health information; if you’re a cardiologist, stick to posts about fitness regimens, good nutrition and heart health. Doing it as a team gives a united front and potential to reach more of your desired audience.
  3. Avoid texting. The ACB and the FSMB recommend completely avoiding communication via text because of its abbreviated format. While it’s fine for appointment reminders, the potential for missed messages and miscommunication is high.
  4. Make it mobile. More and more people are using smartphones, and using them to check email. It’s crucial to optimize your e-newsletters to be easily viewed on a smaller screen.
  5. Try your hand at blogging. There are countless blogs out there, so do some research and pinpoint a niche that will set yours apart. Not interested in creating your own? Write up some sample posts and send them out to popular healthcare blogs like Kevin MD, Ragan Healthcare Communication News or us! You’ll get your voice out there and be among some big names in healthcare blogging.

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