Should doctors follow recent trends and utilize social media to grow their practices? Social media has fundamentally shifted the way people communicate with each other. Twitter users create approximately 50 million tweets each day, and Facebook has more than 500 million users worldwide. Companies are embracing social media and even making business decisions based on feedback. Recently, after launching a new logo, Gap announced on its Facebook page that it would return to the original logo. “Ok. We’ve heard loud and clear that you don’t like the new logo. We’ve learned a lot from the feedback. We only want what’s best for the brand and our customers. So instead of crowd sourcing, we’re bringing back the Blue Box tonight.”

Some in the health care industry have already embraced the trend and are utilizing social media to strengthen their brand. The Mayo Clinic has a Center for Social Media utilizing social media such as blogs to enable patients to share their stories of treatment and success. Providers who are not active online risk being increasingly marginalized. For instance, there are thousands of blogs and Facebook groups where patients discuss their experiences living with cancer, HIV or depression. Patients use Twitter to share tips on battling diseases such as diabetes or give advice on finding the right doctor or hospital. Patients utilize social media to improve their care. Some hospitals have posted emergency department wait times online.

Doctors who have chosen to embrace social media have done so with little guidance. However, as social media continues to explode, that will likely change. Recently, the Ohio State Medical Association published a guide to help doctors navigate the world of social media. According to the guide, doctors should take caution and keep personal Facebook pages separate. Only practice pages should be used to interact with patients. There’s tremendous potential for doctors and other providers to better use social media.