Social media has opened more channels of communication between companies and consumers than ever before. For physicians, social media can allow them to connect with their patients, develop their business, and establish a strong online reputation. However, there should always be guidelines in place to ensure the professionalism and legality of every post you and your employees make on behalf of your practice.

The following tips will serve as a basic guideline for a social media policy, which ultimately, will be different for every medical practice. In addition to these tips, the Federation of State Medical Boards has written a short model policy for the professional and appropriate use of social media. With these resources, you should be able to create a policy that can help you connect with patients in a comfortable and productive way.

Always Separate Personal And Professional Profiles

Once you’ve decided to take your practice online, you should start completely from scratch. Don’t use your personal Facebook profile or your personal Twitter for communicating with patients, advertising specials, or marketing your clinic. First and foremost, such conduct is unprofessional. Secondly, you don’t want your personal life influencing any potential patients, taken as medical advice, or ruining your reputation as a professional.

Create completely new profiles on all of the appropriate social media platforms and name them for your practice, not after yourself. If patients would like to connect with you, have them Like your Facebook page and follow you on Twitter. By no means should you ever personally contact a patient through your personal accounts (or even your professional ones for that matter), as your behavior can result in legal consequences. Your online social presence is just as important as your offline reputation, so don’t confuse your personal life with your professional one.

Respect Patient Privacy

You would never discuss the private details of a patient’s file at a cocktail party, so don’t do so on your Facebook. Anything that can be used to identify a patient would be wrong and illegal. Keep their names, photographs, and any personal details out of every message you post.

It wouldn’t be ethically wrong to talk about your experiences, comment on issues you’ve had in the past, or anything else that you’re professional opinion would influence. However, keep the specifics out of the picture. Your patients will appreciate your discretion, as would your lawyers.

Disclose Sponsorships

If you choose to review a product, offer recommendations, or discuss treatments, you should always disclose whether or not someone has sponsored you in some way. For instance, a dermatologist who gets sent a new clinical skin care line for free can review it on her website and post comments on her Facebook. However, forgetting to mention that the products are courtesy of a certain company would be unethical and illegal.

Keep in mind that as a professional, your followers will take your word as gospel sometimes. Meaning that if you say a product cleared up your oily skin in one night, many of your readers will want to go out and try that product. But they have a right to know that you were given this product, as opposed to you choosing the product on your own accord. There’s nothing wrong with accepting sponsorships; in fact, it can boost your online reputation. But your readers deserve to know why you’ve chosen to review a particular product.

Act Professionally

If you wouldn’t say it in person, then don’t say it online. Your online presence can have a serious impact on your reputation, practice, and patients, so don’t besmirch your good name or even that of your co-workers and the organization you work for by using inappropriate language, posting unsuitable content, and conducting yourself in an immature way. If you’re using social media to develop your business, always keep your reputation in mind when posting anything.

On that same note, your content should be truthful and helpful. If people write on your Facebook page or tweet you a question regarding their health, answer it to the best of your ability. Refrain from being vague because your words can be taken out of context and you can be held liable. If possible, refrain from offering any virtual advice since mistakes can easily be made when you’re only basing your diagnosis off of a tweet.

Social media policy should be taken seriously, as what you say online can affect what happens offline. Adhering to a guideline that keeps your online presence professional and appropriate can help you stay out of legal trouble while continuing to grow your business through Internet marketing efforts.

By keeping your personal profiles away from your professional ones, respecting patient privacy, disclosing sponsorships, and acting in a professional manner, your social media efforts should be safe and ethical.

This article was writtten by Pete Wise, a Copywriter working for Carter Eye Center, a provider of LASIK in Dallas. Contact them to see if LASIK is right for you.