Why health professionals need to be cautious on social media

By Jeff Lagasse for Healthcare Finance

For health professionals, posting a single negative comment to their Facebook profiles may hinder their credibility with current or potential clients, a new University of Guelph study reveals.

The findings have reimbursement implications, as the healthcare industry is becoming ever more consumer-centric, and prospective patients increasingly use the internet to screen health professionals before deciding where to get care.

As the line between personal and professional can easily be confused when professionals use social media to promote themselves, U of G researchers investigated Facebook factors that may affect people’s perceptions of professionalism.

They found posting just one subtle comment expressing workplace frustration was enough for people to view someone as a less credible health professional.


Published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, the study involved more than 350 participants who viewed a mock Facebook profile and rated the profile owner’s credibility, then rated their own willingness to become a client of that profile owner.

The researchers tested factors including the identified gender of the Facebook profile owner, whether they listed their profession as a veterinarian or medical physician and whether their profile included a posting of an ambiguous workday comment or a comment expressing frustration.

The ambiguous comment posted read: “Started with new electronic patient charts today…interesting experience for sure J.”

The workday frustration comment read: “What is it with some people?? I know I only went through 9 years of university…but really, I know what I’m talking about…yeesh!!”

The only factor that influenced viewers’ perception of the profile owner’s professionalism was the single workday frustration comment. On a scale from 0 to 100, the profile with the negative workday comment was rated 11 points lower (56.7) than the one with the ambiguous workday comment (67.9).

Credibility ratings were determined based on participants’ scoring of 16 personality adjectives under the categories of competence, caring and trustworthiness. Profile owners with lower credibility ratings were also deemed by participants as less professional.

Even if a health professional refrains from posting this type of negative comment on their promotional page, potential clients can easily find their personal page online, the authors said.


Facebook isn’t the only corner of the internet that can potentially affect health consumers’ care decisions. Yelp is proving to be a considerable factor in how patients choose their care, with many online reviewers taking to the site to praise — or excoriate — providers based on things like their communication and care quality.

“Consumer centricity,” as it’s been labeled, is required to win in today’s era of active consumers. Consolidating health systems and commoditized plans and medicines means greater consumer engagement is required so that consumers select their system, their plan and their drug.

And funders of healthcare are demanding greater value of systems and drug manufacturers, requiring consumer centricity to get people to change their behavior and, in turn, drive down healthcare costs.

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