Gregory Lawton, MD, FAAP
The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
A Musing Pediatrician on Medscape
The average first time diaper changing parent is twenty six years old and will be in a preschool carpool at the age of thirty-one.
According to the Houston Chronicle, seventy-nine percent of Facebook’s 200 million North American users are between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-four.
This means that for every toddler struggling with toilet training, there is a very likely a parent with a smartphone and Facebook app nearby.
This is not a parent who surfs the web. She scrolls through a Facebook News Feed or the Twitter trends. He does not actively search for information (other than using Google). Rather, based on his likes and preferences, information is directed to him in the form of hashtag messages, birthday notifications, and alerts.
Most pediatric practices in the United States have a website that boasts practice hours, staff members, and general policies. Websites, however, are passive information repositories. They don’t reach out and engage the app-using, smartphone-touting, social media consuming parent.
The next time a high school in your area has a pertussis outbreak, consider what message you want to push out on your practice’s Facebook page. When an ice storm cuts power to both your office and the computers of your patients, perhaps a Tweet will reach more parents on their mobile devices. When an unexpected change in a clinician schedule means there are suddenly five or six extra appointment slots for those coveted physicals, maybe an announcement on social media would be the best way to fill those slots.
For these scenarios to become reality, however, three things need to take place.
First, the American Academy of Pediatrics needs to publish specific guidelines for practices enlisting social media for the purpose of communicating with families. What constitutes appropriate content? Who can post and who monitors the site? What statements are needed to mitigate liability?
Second, it is important for large healthcare organizations to recognize that an institution social media presence is not a substitute for a local office presence. In order for a practice Facebook page to reach YOUR patients, in YOUR neighborhood, it needs to be YOUR practice’s page. To be sure, it can link back to the mother ship, but it needs to be local.
Third, pediatricians need to become more adept at using social media at the practice level. This means moving beyond links to YouTube uploads or vacation pictures. Think about a post that the flu vaccine is in and you have a wide open flu clinic on Thursday. Consider a tweet when there is a local story about Lyme Disease or the uptick in driving accidents around prom season. Announce the retirement of a beloved nurse or clinician in the practice.
For the social media-savvy, communication minded pediatrician who thinks about taking care of the healthcare needs of the entire practice population, Facebook is where the patients are. Twitter is where the teens are. It’s time to enter this arena.