Reaching out to patients via social media

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Chances are that you are using social media. Social media accounts for almost 25% of time spent online—more than any other Internet destination. A Pew survey found that 72% of online adults use social media, with 67% using Facebook, the most popular site. 

Your patients are using social media, too. The same Pew survey also revealed that 72% of Internet users say they have looked online for health information in the past year. Fifty-two percent of smartphone owners have used their devices to look up health information (see the article on medical mobile apps on page 58). Young people especially are embracing this form of communication and increasingly will be getting their information from social media sites in the future.

Types of social media

New social media platforms are being developed by the minute, but currently, the most popular are Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Pinterest. APhA and Pharmacy Today are represented on all of these sites—see article on page 24 for links. 

Facebook allows users to connect with “friends,” post updates, follow groups, and start group pages, which can be for a business, a support group, or any other type of group.

Twitter is best for short, newsy posts (limited to 140 characters), as well as for posting pictures or links to articles. You “follow” people you are interested in but don’t have to mutually “friend” each other as with Facebook.

LinkedIn is most appropriate for professional networking. It hosts what amounts to an online CV and allows you to “link” with colleagues and people you’ve worked with in the past, as well as join professional groups. APhA has a LinkedIn discussion group, and other groups focus specifically on medication therapy management and other issues of interest to pharmacists.

Pinterest, a graphics-based social media site, allows members to “pin” pictures from other websites onto a collection of bulletin boards that the member can classify. For example, someone might have a “recipes” bulletin board or a “health tips” bulletin board.

Other social media sites include Instagram, YouTube, Vine, Four Square, and many more. 

Reaching out to patients

If your pharmacy is using social media, posting tips, short facts, graphics, and links is the best way to convey useful information. Use graphics to explain things such as how to use blood glucose meters, measure children’s liquid medications, or use an inhaler. Reminders about the necessity for influenza vaccinations are excellent for social media, as are reminders to get common health screenings such as blood glucose, cholesterol, and osteoporosis. 

Tips relating to disease awareness are another great way to reach out to patients—for example, for American Heart Month in February, consider posting tips about cardiovascular health. And of course, the fastest way to share information about drug recalls or withdrawals is via social media. 

Patients with chronic diseases may find comfort from online support groups. Facebook’s Managing Diabetes page, for example, has more than 217,000 “likes” and allows visitors to interact, get advice, and share tips and stories. Referring your patients to online resources that allow them to interact with others may help them feel less alone in their fight against their disease. Consider having a printout of several social media groups—such as the diabetes group—to hand out to newly diagnosed patients who may be looking for others in the same boat. 

The National Council on Patient Information and Education has many tips and resources that pharmacists can use for social media outreach. For example, www.mustforseniors.org/tips.jsp provides medication use safety tips for seniors. The page includes seven PDFs that can be posted on Facebook or tweeted via Twitter. The Be Medwise site also provides a wealth of safe medication use tips that you can share via social media.

A word of caution

Social media can be one of the most effective ways to reach out to patients and provide resources, but it’s essential to remember that HIPAA rules do still apply. Be careful about what you post. Make sure that a patient’s information can never be personally identifiable. Avoid answering patients’ specific questions publicly; rather, use social media as a platform to provide general information that most patients may find helpful. 

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