Most healthcare practice owners recognise that healthcare’s “starting line” moved some time ago.

The typical healthcare journey now begins online, long before the first clinic appointment or practitioner-patient face-to-face encounter. Among the chief propellants of this digital shift are the:

• Increasing emphasis on wellness, prevention and healthy living.
• Empowerment of the informed patient.
• Mainstream proliferation of rapid Internet access.
• Wide adoption of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.
• Instant online availability of health and medical information.
• Strong public popularity of major social media sites.

The Internet-related communications channels have become, for most healthcare clinics, a primary means to reach, engage and attract new patients. In short, a practitioner’s marketing and new business development efforts will be most productive when “fishing where the fish are biting.”

But few healthcare practice owners embrace the social media opportunity

As a rule, practitioners tend to embrace technology, and, as users, they are often early adopters for things Internet and information resources. But when it comes to embracing social media, we continue to keep our heads down and do not dare engage in the online conversation, and believe less ownership confers less personal risk.

It is time to realise that there is more benefit and opportunity than risk. Here are five factors to consider while sitting on the fence…

1. Consider the blank-slate status of the playing field for health care social media. Beyond common sense and decency, there are few rules. If you are a Digital native, like me, and perhaps you—will make the rules. Pause for a moment here and consider that idea: making rules rather than following them. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

2. As a practitioner, you are different. People will listen to you, your voice matters. What patients really want to read is what their practitioner says.

3. Social media can be therapeutic. It is an understatement to say morale amongst caregivers is low and sinking lower. What is more, the social aspect of social media connects you with colleagues across the world, not just your colleagues within your practice or state or national professional communities.

4. Social media can make you a better practitioner. The pace of change in health care is increasing. Staying current and informed has never been more important. The micro-blogging platform Twitter allows easy curation of content from trusted sources as it comes available. Another aspect of creating content is the depth of knowledge it requires. In this way, I have no doubt that participating in social media has make you a more informed clinician.