The Benefits & Challenges of Social Media Healthcare

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Savanna Perry, PA-C, founder of The PA Platform, discusses the strategies and goals that go into building an online audience as a healthcare professional.

How does social media fit into medicine and healthcare? The question persists in debates among experts and institutions, but practically all agree there are equal benefits and pitfalls to consider with logging on. Nearly 9 in every 10 physicians and nurses reported having social media accounts as recently as 2017.

Platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok and more provide a unique set of opportunities to scientists and caregivers interested representing their field online. But as with any form of health messaging, a clear goal and informed strategy is absolutely necessary.

In an interview with HCPLive during the Society for Dermatology Physician’s Associates (SDPA) 2022 Annual Meeting last week, Savanna Perry, PA-C, creator of The PA Platform and a physician’s assistant at Evans Dermatology, discussed her meeting session on building social presence as a healthcare professional.

Perry first become interested in building an online audience when she took to blogging early into her career as a PA. Eventually her consultation business The PA Platform took off, and Perry expanded her marketing and education efforts to social media. She learned how to “incorporate my profession and what I do in dermatology” in content that’s catered to people interested in pursuing a career in her field.

Today, The PA Platform has approximately 55,0000 followers across its Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube accounts.

“I think getting started is the hardest part, because it is very overwhelming to know which platform to start with, what you should post, how to do it,” Perry said. “There’s a lot of steps involved, and everyone wants to hit the ground running. My biggest advice to anyone…is to just be consistent and persistent.”

While Perry sees the platform as a great marketing tool for her consultant work, she stressed the need for dermatology specialists and PAs alike to consider what their specific goals of creating practice-specific accounts.

“Is it bringing in patients, is it building a brand, is it influencing?” she explained. “There are a lot of different paths you can take—and you can combine those—but you have to know what direction and what you’re going for in order to know what type of content to create.”

Among her PA colleagues, Perry noted creating and fostering an online platform may be beneficial in a field that offers less stability than other medical professions. From practice to practice, providing a strong social media presence is “essentially a marketable skill.”

Acknowledging the shifting algorithms and content preferences of social media platforms, Perry said there’s been a significant push for more educational content and information-sharing from medical expert accounts. Coupled with a media-friendly field such as dermatology, as well as boosted prioritization of telemedicine following the COVID-19 pandemic, and specialists in the field could do well by serving as a trustworthy expert online.

“We are a visual specialty, and it’s just not quite as exciting to show someone’s blood pressure improving,” Perry said. “Everyone has skin but they don’t always understand their skin. There are so many products and information being thrown at us all the time, and some of it is just not correct. “

Perry cited research she included in her session at SDPA that highlighted just how many patients are relying on social media-based content to make healthcare-related decisions, as well as data suggesting misinformation spreads about 6 times faster on the internet than in other mediums. More than just a professional and personal interest, healthcare professionals going to social media may be providing a necessary service to lost patients.

“These patients are going to the internet to find providers and information, but they’re more likely to find incorrect information,” Perry said. “I think it is part of our responsibility as healthcare professionals to be putting out evidence-based medicine and accurate information with links and sources for those patients to feel more confident in the information they’re finding.”