Social media is not just about our personal lives anymore — it can be a useful marketing tool for your practice. When used appropriately, social media can be beneficial for business promotion, customer testimonials, reviews and more. As a dentist, you may already be using (or be interested in creating) social media for your dental practice. While the benefits of using social media may be obvious, the pitfalls of its use may not be as apparent. Below are some important risk management considerations for using social media for your dental practice.
First, what is social media? Taken broadly, it’s any online presence you or your practice has. This could be on platforms like a practice website, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube. Review sites like Google My Business and Yelp can also fall under the definition of social media as well.
Our first and most important rule of thumb is simple: Do not mix your personal and professional lives on social media. If you are active on social media in your personal life, don’t post about work; and don’t post about your personal life on your work page. And don’t use the same account for both — keep them separate!
- On Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram, you can create business pages that will clearly distinguish you from a personal account. This way, you can keep your personal information private and just focus on important business details, like the office phone number, hours of business, website URL and more. Your patients will be able to “Like” or “Follow” your page without you needing to “Friend” or “Follow” in return.
Second, do not “friend” patients from your personal or professional account. It is important not to cross that personal/professional line, especially on social media. Although you may see your patients as friends, it’s vital to remember that you are providing them a professional service. It’s possible that if a patient isn’t happy with the results of your work, the patient could turn on you publicly with disparaging remarks on social media or could use information gleaned from your profiles (like where you live and what you do in your free time) to try to discredit you as a dentist.
- “Friend”-ing looks different on different platforms. On Facebook, don’t send friend requests to patients from your personal account. On Instagram and Twitter, do not follow your patients from either your personal or business accounts. On LinkedIn, do not send a connection request to patients.
Don’t discuss personal health information on social media, publicly or privately. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s worth mentioning because of the many ways to communicate on social media. If a patient contacts you through a post, comment or direct message, resist publicly confirming that they are a patient and instead direct them to contact you through your office phone or email a secure patient portal. Similarly, you should not comment about patient care in response to a comment on a review site.
- You can use a generic response like this: “Thanks for your message. I don’t answer personal questions on social media. You can contact my office for more information.”
Have a prominent disclaimer on your social media profiles and website. The disclaimer should indicate that the social media profile or website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to create a dentist-patient relationship. Note that none of the information is intended to give a guarantee as to a specific result of a treatment. Include that, for specific complaints, a person should consult their own dentist or make an appointment with your office.
Make sure your staff is educated about social media use, as well. On their personal profiles, your staff should follow the same guidelines that you do — they shouldn’t post about work, “friend” patients or discuss health information. If your staff also contributes to or manages your dental office’s professional page, be sure to review all the posts before publication. Ultimately, you can be responsible for the information coming from your practice.
Before publishing patient photos, always get consent for photography, even if the photo isn’t identifiable. Photos can be a great way to show your dental work on social media or your website, but you must be diligent about consent. It’s recommended and essential to get consent for photography and publication or use. For minors, their parents or legal guardians can give consent. As always, be sure the consent is documented in the patient record in addition to the signed consent.
Be sure not to post anything that could be construed as misleading. The New York General Business Law says that whatever you are using in your advertising (any type of advertising) must be truthful and not misleading. Any statements you use in advertising or on social media, like an accolade or success rate, are subject to the NYS General Business Law. Edited photos could also be in violation because someone could argue that the photos aren’t truly indicative of the work done.
- If a dentist is in violation of that law, it may fall under professional misconduct, which could lead to a New York State Attorney General investigation. Additionally, the Office of Professional Discipline (OPD) could investigate for professional malpractice.
Social media can be a powerful tool for your business, but you should be aware of the pitfalls, too. If you have questions about your online presence, MLMIC policyholders can contact a team of risk management professionals 24/7 at no additional cost by calling (844) MMS-LAW1 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.