American Society of Plastic Surgeons
For Consumers

Social Media Focus: Consider this before you share your post

Everywhere I go, people are increasingly using social media for marketing – whether it be ASPS, the retail space, med spas or others in the aesthetic industry, including Allergan, Emsculpt and Miradry, to name just a few.

As Facebook and Instagram increasingly become the means through which we communicate, more traditional means of advertising have less relevance. Nevertheless, as physicians, we remain unique. Not only do we want to grow our practices and educate potential patients, we also have to maintain a level of professionalism appropriate for a physician.

How do you promote your brand, educate your patients and market your practice while not succumbing to the ever-present (and demanding) need to increase your number of followers and "likes"? The ASPS Social Media Subcommittee is composed of several Society members who have different approaches to their individual social media accounts. What I outline below is not a blanket recommendation, but rather approaches that each of us must consider as we enter this ever-changing social media landscape.

  1. Consider maintaining separate personal and professional social media accounts and avoid "friending" patients. We have different approaches to social media. However, many legal sites, including the Federation of State Medical Boards, recommend making this distinction. Alternatively, you may take the approach that the personal is professional – in other words, since everything that's posted online is ultimately public, nothing that is truly personal should be posted.
  2. Protect patient privacy and HIPAA: As physicians, we are obligated to protect patient privacy. HIPAA has 18 personal identifiers, and we must ensure that we do not reveal any information – including metadata on images – that could potentially identify a patient. In addition to not identifying patient names, and removing identifying features from photos, this can also include abstaining from "retweeting" or reposting patient posts, particularly to personal pages. You may also want to avoid posting intraoperative photos on the day of the actual surgery – in smaller communities, it may be possible for some to determine the identity of the patient.

    Also, when taking photos or videos, make sure that patient files and photos aren't inadvertently visible in your posts.
  3. ASPS Code of Ethics: Does your post follow the Society's ethical guidelines? Recently, the Code of Ethics was amended so that its guidelines apply to both written and electronic communications, including the use of social media. The guidelines regarding advertising state that physicians should avoid claiming superiority, misrepresenting results or misleading the public.
  4. Do you have patient consent? We typically obtain consent from our patients to obtain photographs. Many have suggested that we also obtain a separate consent to place photographs on social media sites such as Instagram. Any images posted on the Internet have the potential to be altered and more widely disseminated, and the ownership of those images may no longer reside with the poster.
  5. Treat others with respect: It's easy to think that we're treating others with respect with our photos. However, some concerns have been raised with the use of emojis and hashtags that may accompany a photograph. Although we may view these adjuncts as ways to obtain more views of our work, they can be interpreted as disrespectful. Ask yourself if the emojis and hashtags you use are also respectful of the patient and reflect your integrity as a physician.
  6. Remember that the pool of followers has no age limit. To my knowledge, Instagram has no minimum age for an account, which means that teenagers could follow your posts – I know that my stepsons, nieces and nephews (in addition to their mothers) follow me. This fact alone means that I make sure that all posts, including those of patients, are professional in nature.
  7. What are the guidelines for the platform, and do you understand them? For example, Facebook and Instagram will delete your post if it is explicit or has nudity.
  8. Once something is posted, it becomes permanent. Remember that archive sites can still have information or posts that you may have deleted. What this means is that nothing can be truly deleted.

In the race to attract more followers, the temptation to shock or to pander to potential patients can seem overwhelming. Rather than trying to set ourselves apart with shock value, we can distinguish ourselves by being true to our values. Identify what you are trying to achieve with each post – is it patient education, marketing your practice or reinforcing your brand? Treat patients and colleagues with respect. Maintain authenticity.