March 21, 2022 Guest Blogger

Should Medical Professionals Also Be Influencers?

As more aspects of modern life become as much about what you do online as offline, social media influencers are popping up in all professions and industries. Social media can be an excellent way to promote your medical practice while increasing scientific and medical literacy among the general public. Still, it can also raise questions of ethics and increase the public’s distrust in the industry, especially with so many differing opinions available online. Navigating this minefield is as much a personal question as it is a professional one, so what do you need to keep in mind as a medical professional on the internet, and where do you draw the line in your own social media presence?

Doctor Influencers vs. Medical Professional on Social Media

It is essential to distinguish between a medical professional who is a paid influencer and one with a large social media following who is not paid for product promotions. Influencers in other industries often spend significant time building a marketable image and a sizable online audience to sell their influence to companies by producing paid reviews, promotions, and un-boxings for various social media platforms. In other words, a paid influencer is someone who makes advertisements for their sponsors and presents them to their followers for a set fee, free products or a percentage of sales using a promotional code.

A medical professional on social media can influence their followers without being a paid influencer. Most digital marketing strategies for clinics, hospitals and private practitioners will include social media accounts that post health tips, opinions and company promotions. Being affiliated with a medical company both online and off is not generally considered a paid influencer, even if you are paid to put up a specific number of blogs or social media posts a week. Digital marketing professionals and medical reputation management strategies can help you determine where the line is in your situation.

Marketing and Ethics for Medical Professional as Influencers

Weighing the balance between marketing your healthcare company with the online presence of medical professionals and the ethics involved with profiting from influencing large audiences is not as easy as declaring all profits as unethical. Most experts agree that how you use your online influence is much more critical to the question of ethics than whether or not you profit from it. Sharing new research or opinions on current health trends can often be a marketing strategy to keep your practice ranking high in search engine results lists. Your posts can often remind your followers to make needed appointments. However, suppose you are paid to promote a product without mentioning or considering potential health risks. In that case, you are compromising your ethical standing and the wellbeing of your followers for a profit.

Battling Misinformation

One of the most critical questions to ask yourself when deciding whether you should leverage the power of your social media accounts is if you are using your platform to battle misinformation, ignore it or promote it. In the past, celebrity medical professionals have faced ethical challenges and lawsuits or other legal action for what they have said and done on television and the internet. More modern medical professional influencers have gained audiences by posting some of the real joys and frustrations of their careers and have positioned themselves as directly as possible between those audiences and the misinformation found in the media. It is unnecessary to debunk everything you see in the media as an ethical and online professional in the medical industry. Still, you should ask yourself whether what you post can harm those who follow you.

Confidentiality Concerns

No matter how else you use your online presence, it is crucial to keep confidentiality concerns in mind before publishing a social media post, writing a blog update or giving an opinion to media outlets. Confidentiality is about more than just refraining from using patients’ names when talking or writing about your job. It is about considering whether the details you are giving are enough to identify someone, whether you have permission to share patient stories even in vague forms, and whether you violate any rules from your employer. Remember that your patients and colleagues are likely to see your posts and may be able to identify the subject of stories with less presented detail than you may think.

Determining whether medical professionals should also be influencers is complex, with many ethical and practical questions. For instance, you will have to draw a line between posts that breach confidentiality or promote potentially dangerous products and those which help your facility market valuable healthcare information and services. You will also have to determine whether your social media content counters, ignores or spreads misinformation which can affect your future as a medical professional and as an online influencer. Rules and guidelines put into place by your employer and governing bodies can help inform these decisions.

Freelance contribution especially written for Find Your Influence by Lindsey Patterson.