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Best Social Media Practices for the Medical Industry

Health practitioners of all disciplines use social media while keeping a watchful eye on potential compliance and legal issues. Social media has completely transformed the way your patients consume information and may have already changed how they’re looking to communicate with you.

Using social media can provide a number of benefits for you and your practice including:

  • Building and reinforcing your professional reputation
  • Establishing your brand
  • Becoming more visible to the savvy patient who uses the Internet and social networks to access health information including recommendations of health practitioners.

In terms of the best social media tools and how to use them well, publishing a blog or posting status updates on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and especially LinkedIn can help you create a more human face for the public. Frequency and consistency of posts is key to attracting attention and building a following.

Publish content that showcases your expertise, and don’t limit yourself to text. Instead, look for ways to incorporate graphics, photos and video. If you produce thoughtful and informative content online, your social networks can be gateways to your website and motivate people to get in touch with you.

Use social media communications to conduct professional research and to network with your peers. If you’re not sure how to start posting publicly in an appropriate and effective way, observe how colleagues handle social media; or consult with other health practitioners for their ideas. Another resource for additional best practices is the AMA’s Code of Medical Ethics, as well as the document “Professionalism in the Use of Social Media.”

As you branch out beyond private, industry-related networks and start posting publicly, you should take the following steps:

  • Prepare internal and external written policies and guidelines. These documents should direct your online publishing and communications efforts in social networks. Documents should include a privacy policy, disclosures and disclaimers plus a Terms of Service for others interacting with you online. Make sure that your legal department or lawyer looks these documents over before you post them online.
  • Protect patient privacy. When publishing information for the general public, be careful not to include any identifying data about patients or specific cases that may violate HIPAA.
  • Be careful about imparting advice. Take care not to dispense medical advice or attempt to diagnosis online regardless of the connection.
  • Use the right tools for your purpose. Your medical practice should be represented on a Page, not a Facebook profile. Keep your Facebook profile private and limited to close family and friends using Facebook’s privacy settings.
  • Check with your insurance provider to see if they have provisions related to online communications and potential legal issues. Be careful not to engage online in any way that might put you or your practice at risk or affect your coverage.

Some practitioners use social media tools to strengthen relationships with existing patients. To do this, make sure to inform your patients properly about the guidelines for interaction and the risks involved with online communications related to health. Even if you interact in a private and secure forum, the potential for problems or legal issues to crop up is still present.

If you are bringing your practice online using social networks, provide your staff with proper education and guidelines and establish boundaries for what they can and cannot do, particularly as representatives of your practice. In addition to educating your staff, stay current yourself on the ways your industry views and manages social media tools and tactics.