UNC Health Talk

Your Digital Footprint: 5 Tips for Health Care Professionals

“Like it or not, the internet is a rapidly growing repository of indelible information about you,” writes Dr. Stiegler. “Patients, professional colleagues, future employers, and many others are reading about you online. Ignore your digital footprint, and you’re missing opportunities to learn from others, share your expertise, grow your practice, network with colleagues, and influence your own online reputation.” If you aren’t already taking charge of your online presence, get started today with these tips from Dr. Stiegler, who can be found on twitter @drmstiegler:

“Like it or not, the internet is a rapidly growing repository of indelible information about you.”

Give yourself a checkup

Especially if you are not active on the web with a blog, website, or social media, most content about you will not have been written or posted by you. Routinely check your own internet presence to ensure that information about you is accurate and appropriate. A search of your name is likely to lead to pages of health care rating sites (there are more than 75 such websites, and counting), including healthgrades.com, vitals.com, doximity.com, betterdoctor.com, and so on. While they could contain a negative review, most often these sites are nothing more than a sparse profile of publicly available information. However, this kind of digital clutter obscures content you might prefer to showcase, such as your departmental or hospital profile page, presentations, manuscripts, and press releases.

Share your expertise

Patients find an abundance of both information and misinformation online. If patients are searching for answers, shouldn’t you be providing them? As a physician or other health care provider, you have unique expertise. You also have the ability to translate sophisticated material and years of experience into easy-to-understand language. You can help only one patient at a time in the hospital or clinic, but you can help thousands by disseminating education online and improving health literacy. When the Mayo Clinic tweets, for example, over one million followers listen. Social media outreach is a key strategic initiative for many major medical centers.

Be professional, always

Regardless of your intention for online content to be private, anything has the potential to become public and permanent. This is true for private Facebook or Instagram accounts, just as it is with email. Privacy policies are continually evolving, and a simple click of a button is all that is needed to “forward” or “share” your content to a public domain. Select your words and photos carefully; even in casual settings, there is a professional standard expected of healthcare professionals. Be aware of family and friends who “tag” you in photos and posts on their own accounts, and how that information may be more public than you wish. And of course…

Don’t post about patients

Never post any content about patients, and certainly do not post any identifying information. HIPPA violations, whether egregious or unintentional, can have serious professional consequences. As well, health care professionals sometimes use dark humor as a way of coping with stress, and to some degree, may become desensitized to illness and injury. Cases that are “great” for trainees and conferences are often linked to really bad news for patients. Consider seriously how you present content online, including your tone, use of slang, use of humor, and controversial or private topics.

Influence your web presence

Just as inappropriate posts can portray you unfavorably, the right kind of posts put your best image forward. Start with a short biosketch and professional photo on your departmental or hospital website. Use videos to tell your personal story, and that of your institution. Provide educational content. Link to awards, press releases, faculty CVs, and current activities. Finally, consider maintaining a professional account on LinkedIn. This kind of content, as well as any blog or social media activity, is likely to outrank random healthcare ratings sites and push them to the distant pages of an online search. Therefore, by creating and publishing your own content, you can effectively curate digital search results.