September 14, 2016
15 min read

Orthopedic surgeons utilize social media to engage with patient, health care communities

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Physicians have recognized the growth of social media during the last few years and have begun utilizing different social media platforms to connect and interact with patients and other health care entities. However, there is a lack of orthopedic surgeons using social media, which could lower their chances of gaining new patients.

“People are passionate about their health and their physicians, and they are curious about who is going to provide their medical care,” Howard J. Luks, MD, chief of sports medicine at New York Medical College, told Orthopedics Today. “They need to be able to find you, they need to be able to send questions your way, they need to be able to interact with you or at least feel that they can, and the only way to do so is if you have some form of actionable digital media or new media presence. Patients will judge your authority by what your digital presence says about you.”

Steve A. Mora, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon who specializes in sports medicine, noted that despite some people’s best efforts to stay off social media, it is hard for an orthopedist not to be involved because patients will leave reviews about their experience at the practice.

Howard J. Luks, MD
Howard J. Luks, MD, chief of sports medicine at New York Medical College, said it is important for orthopedic surgeons to foster their relevance and authority on social media by providing information patients seek.

Image: Luks HJ

“If you are treating patients, someone is going to turn around, go on Yelp and [write] a review on you, or they are going to go on Vitals or HealthGrades and [write] a review on you,” Mora said. “Someone is going to go on Facebook and tell all their friends that you did a good job or you did a bad job, and if you did a bad job, you are definitely going to be on social media whether you want to or not. You might as well balance things out by being active and getting correct information out there about who you are.”

Social media platforms

Before opening a social media account, Luks noted orthopedists should have a specific goal in mind for what they want to accomplish on social media, whether it is to promote their practice or educate the public.

“You sort of have to have an idea as to why you are doing this, because this is not a sprint, this is an ultra-marathon,” he said. “I have been building my news media presence, my digital media presence for upward of 9 years.”

According to Luks, 65% of his monthly website visitors are using a mobile device. Orthopedic surgeons should have a website that renders well on both computer and mobile applications, so patients can easily find and learn about them prior to their appointment. He noted it should include directions to their practice, as well as a way to electronically schedule appointments.

“In order for you to have information that is shareable so people can find you, you simply have to have a responsive contemporary website,” Luks said. “It does not have to be deep, but it has to be there.”

According to Jeffrey H. Berg, MD, a sports medicine surgeon in Reston, Va., websites are a central location that can connect all social networks while providing more information, such as times of availability and any documents and forms the patient needs to fill out prior to their appointment.

“I think it is critical to have that central site, but you know the social networks are more like outreach,” Berg said. “They go out further than your site can.”


For orthopedists unsure of how to start a website, Mora recommended to make sure their contact information on rating sites is accurate.

“It is a good idea to go on social media, at least on the rating sites and on Yelp, and fix your profile because a lot of profiles are not complete and missing information,” he said. “The least people should do is go on some of these sites, claim [their] profile for free, maybe include a picture of themselves, but definitely include their address, business phone number and webpage, so patients have some correct basic information when they do a search.”

Next to a website, blogs can come in handy by providing information on different conditions and treatments patients can read either before or after their appointment, Mora added.

When looking at social media platforms, Facebook is one widely used by orthopedists due to its popularity among people of all ages, especially among women who usually make health care decisions for their family, according to Berg.

“More people get their news from Facebook than all other major news networks combined,” J. Martin Leland, MD, medical director of sports medicine at University Hospitals Geauga Medical Center, chairman of the Social Media Task Force for the Arthroscopy Association of North America and associate editor of technology for The Arthroscopy Journal, said. “People [check] Facebook on a daily basis, and I am talking about almost all Americans do this. If you want to reach the patient population, and if you want to engage with your patients and also engage with prospective new patients, you have to go where they are.”

If orthopedists already have a personal profile on Facebook that they do not want patients to have access to, Leland suggested they can create a professional fan page for their patients to view while keeping their personal profile separate and private.

J. Martin Leland, MD
J. Martin Leland

“What I explain to [orthopedists] is you can easily create a [fan] page on Facebook by going to the dropdown menu in the upper right hand corner and selecting ‘create a page,’ then you can have a page that is professional, but your account is personal, and no one will know the two pages are connected,” Leland, said.

Where Facebook is good for connecting with current and new patients, Twitter can help orthopedists connect with other health care providers while staying up to date on news and educating themselves.

“If doctors simply want to connect with other providers, they may use Twitter because with Twitter you can find other providers or people in medicine who share some of your interests, and then you can communicate with them and discuss treatment,” Mora said.

David Geier, MD
David Geier

LinkedIn is another social media platform that can help orthopedists network with other health care professionals, according to David Geier, MD, medical director of sports medicine at East Cooper Regional Medical Center. However, Instagram is often used by orthopedic surgeons to post pictures of interesting pathology they come across, Mora noted.

“What is interesting about orthopedics and what is different in orthopedics compared to other specialties is that we do have or we do see interesting pathology,” Mora said. “We see it on MRIs, we see it on X-rays or we see live surgical procedures like arthroscopy, so we have pictures that we can post. So it seems like Instagram is popular among some orthopedic surgeons because they like to post pictures, such as before and after pictures.”

Users of social media

It may be more common to see younger orthopedists utilizing social media than experienced orthopedists because they are more comfortable with using the different platforms in their personal life, according to Geier. However, Luks and Mora noted younger orthopedists may not know how to use social media in a business sense.


“I see younger doctors who are opening accounts on Twitter and posting pictures of interesting cases, but what I have also seen is more seasoned doctors using social media in a way that I think is more optimized,” Mora said. “Meaning, they are not just posting pictures, but they are posting blog articles and educational information that is probably more effective than just posting pictures of fractures or gory, bloody surgical procedures.”

More experienced orthopedic surgeons “recognize the importance of staying engaged and staying involved and are more willing to try something new than younger orthopedic surgeons who already feel they are engaged,” Leland said. But not enough orthopedists are utilizing social media in a way that will eventually help their current or future patients, according to Berg.

“I do not know that everybody has caught on, but I do think it is a great way to communicate with patients or prospective patients who are just looking for information on the web,” he said. “[Doctors] have a lot of information or knowledge about an area that patients do not have. In the past, you had to come see me to get my information, but now you can just go to my website, my Twitter account or my Facebook, and there is some information that is free of charge.”

Benefits, drawbacks

One of the many benefits of orthopedic surgeons using social media is that social media a good way for physicians to attract patients, Berg said.

“The traditional ways of referrals are changing,” Berg said. “A lot of primary care doctors [are] in networks, so they may work for a hospital chain and that hospital chain expects them to refer within that hospital network. If you are a doctor who is outside of that hospital network, then you would no longer have access to any of those people, and they would not have access to you. [Social media] is a way [for] patients to find other doctors and doctors find other patients.”

He added having accounts on different social media platforms can help patients to learn more about their orthopedic surgeon’s personality, experience and philosophy on patient care, which can help build their comfort level. Geier noted providing information on conditions and treatments can help educate patients.

“The main benefit to being active in social media is and should be to educate the public,” Geier said. “I think that it helps us reach people in a bigger scale than we can in our practices.”

However, Leland stated orthopedists need to be careful about what they post online, being sure not to breach patient confidentiality or make controversial statements.

“When you are about to send something [on social media], read it over and recognize you cannot necessarily get that back again,” Leland said. “You need to be deliberate, especially when it comes to [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] HIPPA and patient confidentiality. You need to be deliberate of what you post and make sure that nothing you talk about could be seen as controversial by someone else.”

According to Berg, orthopedists should stick to the message they want to portray and avoid discussing political issues or religion on social media.

“If you are trying to just put information out to the public, then that should be your goal and that is what you should limit it to — putting accurate, proper information out there,” Berg said. “I think you should not argue with patients. [I] would recommend not talking poorly about any colleagues or any forms of medicine. I would keep all of that to yourself. If it is something you would not say in a business meeting, you probably should not say it on Facebook.”


Advice for orthopedists

Not only are some orthopedists nervous about what is acceptable to post online, but they are also nervous about the negative feedback that might come with being on the internet.

“Some doctors [feel] if they are diving into social media it might [increase] their exposure to negativity, such as negative reviews because [they] are out there, so [they] are potentially a bigger, brighter target, and that is possible, but at the same time because [they] are out there [they] should have ways to balance any negative reviews,” Mora said.

Orthopedists who are new to social media can start slow by following other people, reading the posts they make and discovering what can make a post successful, Leland said. In the end, orthopedists should “own their name” by having a professional website, Facebook page, LinkedIn, Doximity and Twitter account, which can help outrank any bad news or reviews on the internet, Luks said.

However, according to Geier, orthopedists need to be aware that sustaining a social media account takes time and effort.

“Social media is not something that is a quick win,” he said. “It takes a sustained effort over a long period of time. I see way too many people start, not see the benefits and then quit. So you have to be patient.”

Although orthopedists can hire a marketing firm to run their social media accounts for them, Luks recommended against it unless their goal is to use their social media profiles as a marketing tool.

“If your goal is for your digital media presence to be utilized as a marketing tool, then you need to be willing to produce content,” Luks said. “You cannot scrape content or steal content from someone else because Google will penalize you for that. You cannot purchase content from another website that sells it because once Google sees the same article on more than two websites, it is going to penalize you.”

He added, “It is easy to get started with a simple website. When you decide to make this a true marketing initiative, then there are professionals who can help you, but you have to research them carefully, and you have to be ready to put in the effort and the money to get going when you start.”

Leland noted staying active by posting relevant information on social media at least once a day can help orthopedists gain followers, which can help increase their reach and engage with other health care entities with similar interests. But Geier stated the number of Twitter followers or Facebook fans you have can be somewhat superficial and may not matter in the long run.

“I think it would be more important to make a difference in the lives of 1,000 people rather than have 10,000 Twitter followers who do not even read your tweets,” Geier said.

At the end of the day, Luks noted it is important for orthopedic surgeons to foster their relevance and authority on social media by providing information patients seek.

“You can choose not to be part of the conversation, but the conversation is still taking place and if you have a digital media presence, then you can help craft that conversation and certainly contribute to it. If you are not contributing to it, somebody else is,” Luks said. – by Casey Tingle

Disclosures: Luks reports he is a partner at Symplur. Berg, Geier, Leland and Mora report no relevant financial disclosures.



Should orthopedic surgeons be involved in social media to help boost their practice?


Social media not a fad

Social media is ubiquitous. Newspapers write articles citing what people say on Twitter. Facebook has more than a billion users. One article recently estimated people check their social media accounts an average of 17 times a day. I believe that with the scope of this medium, orthopedic surgeons should be involved.

Derek H. Ochiai, MD
Derek H. Ochiai

Social media is “free” advertising. Sending out a tweet or updating a post on Facebook requires no capital. Practices can use this media to attract attention to potential patients, which can increase their website traffic. You can write a blog on a topic of particular interest, and instead of being viewed by people already visiting your practice’s website, it can be viewed and passed along exponentially via social media. In my practice, 25% of my patients have mentioned the internet as the primary reason they chose to make an appointment. While there is no monetary commitment to social media, there is a time cost. Original content links and photos will improve the chances of retweeting and increasing the reach of your content, and more frequent posting to social media will increase your followers, but this takes more time and effort.

Social media is an outlet to give people the right information. The internet is filled with quasi-medical advice. Being involved in social media is a chance to give potential patients and the world access to sound medical evidence, improving the population’s health through education.

Social media posts help control your presence on search engines. For instance, Twitter posts show up on Google searches. High-activity tweets will show up highly on Google searches. Make content that you control be content that shows up on the first page of a Google search of your practice.

Social media can show the nonclinical side to your practice. Not every post has to be about orthopedics. Practices can post pictures of a Habitat for Humanity volunteer day on Instagram, their staff wearing pink for breast cancer awareness on Twitter or any other number of positive messages. This allows potential patients to see a more well-rounded side to your practice, as opposed to thinking your practice is solely an orthopedic factory.

Caveats: When using social media for a practice, timely posts that bring an orthopedic expert’s perspective to news events are appreciated by viewers hungry for expert opinion. However, what goes on social media stays on social media, so one must be sure that your messages are professional and positive. When in doubt, do not hit send! Negative social media posts will also stay with your practice on Google searches, just like the positive searches can.

In conclusion, social media is not a fad. There is no doubt the internet has a far higher yield for advertising than the phone book. I have truly enjoyed the interaction and vibrancy of social media. I encourage practices to test the waters and slowly build in social media to help with the development and maintenance of their brand.

Derek H. Ochiai, MD, is an orthopedic surgeon at the Nirschl Orthopaedic Center, Arlington, Va.
Disclosure: Ochiai reports no relevant financial disclosures.



Gradual change

The simple answer is: Yes. The complex answer is: Yes, but only after determining how (based on the practice type, number of surgeons in the practice, budget, etc.) and when (based on specialty, location and patient demographics). Social media is a key tool for orthopedic surgeons who want to be successful in their communications, public relations, reputation management and marketing endeavors. If surgeons do not want to waste a lot of time, energy and money, they need to understand the basic principles and overall trends related to social media. They can then use that understanding to set specific, realistic goals for the integration of social media into the practice.

Jeffrey M. Smith, MD
Jeffrey M. Smith

When it comes to integration, take small steps — not everyone in a practice needs to be social media savvy. Let those most interested get involved first and then set weekly limits to cap the amount of worktime spent on social-media platforms. Also, keep the messaging simple. Social media is a means to start conversations with prospective patients. The follow-up conversations that create mutual understanding and trust come from office visits, phone consultations and patient education content like a monthly e-newsletter for your practice.

Maintain a positive attitude both in original social messaging and replies to inbound social messages like tweets. Remember, the objective of social media in orthopedic surgery is to inspire potential patients to pursue the goals of physical wellness and restored function.

Just like learning a new surgical technique, performance improvement in social media comes from practice. Invest small quantities of time, energy and money into better adapting social media to your practice. As that adoption gradually improves, so too will your practice’s ability to secure new patients and keep existing ones happy.

Jeffrey M. Smith, MD, is an orthopedic traumatologist and consultant, surgical practice specialist in San Diego, Calif.
Disclosure: Smith reports no relevant financial disclosures.


Potential misrepresentation

Those who know me would never accuse me of being techno-savvy. However, as I have recently transitioned from an HMO (Kaiser) model to private practice, I have been introduced to an aspect of marketing from which I was in many ways sheltered for my initial 26 years of medical practice.

Dean K. Matsuda, MD
Dean K. Matsuda

When recently asked to opine on this topic, I did my due diligence and reviewed online reasons for and against physicians using social media. Aside from the oft-mentioned cons of potential privacy issues with protected health information, sapping of time to update and manage social media posts and control issues (where media conversations may spiral out of control), I will mention my personal reasons for agreeing to take the con position on this timely topic.

For something as important as one’s health and well-being, the personal relationship and interaction between patient and physician is as important now as in the “Marcus Welby, MD” era. I believe this important relationship may be compromised by over-reliance upon social media.

I am concerned that social media encourages a potential misrepresentation or misinterpretation of reality. We have seen the ads in airline magazines of the top physicians or surgeons in numerous specialties. Acknowledging that all of us want to put our best foot forward, my first and lasting impression is that one’s reputation may be bought by the highest bidder, or perhaps the one with the most attention-grabbing creation. As surgeons, we know that just because one is well-published and/or well-marketed does not necessarily reflect on the surgeon’s competence, care or compassion. But do the patients know this?

Social media encourages patients to make important decisions to visit and potentially have surgery performed by one that is attractive in terms of quality, value or appearance (their own, their staff or their website). Online reviews are interpreted as gospel; some excellent physicians/surgeons may be under-rated and subsequently disregarded because of a dissatisfied or disgruntled patient who has severely punished that provider. Whether merited or not, those who are not constantly monitoring social media sites may not respond to potentially false allegations, giving the appearance he/she just does not care. Moreover, it is human nature to positively bias our ratings by asking patients who seem delighted with their outcomes to post reviews.

I have a Facebook ad for marketing purposes. I do not monitor it or check to see if it is generating referrals. My staff believes it is advantageous to participate in marketing via social media and by not doing so, I am putting myself at a disadvantage. All I have left to say is I am satisfied with my patient referrals, believe my patients value the personal interaction and responsiveness I provide, and have no desire to add a publicist to my overhead.

Dean K. Matsuda, MD, is the director of the Hip Arthroscopy Center of Excellence at DISC Sports and Spine, Marina del Ray, Calif.
Disclosure: Matsuda reports no relevant financial disclosures.