Social media is a hot topic these days for healthcare. Opinions are all over the board whether to embrace it, stanchly oppose it, or keep it at an arm’s length. Wherever it's at, the reality is social media is everywhere and it may be time just to accept it.

Patients are going to the Web to find information, self-diagnose and look for treatment options on what ails them. What they’re finding though may not be accurate or current. This is where social media becomes a great communication tool for doctors.

In order for social media to work correctly, it must engage users on a daily basis and make them feel part of a community. Without a continual stream of new information, users will begin to drop off and turn to other sources for their fix, rendering hospital-sponsored social outlets borderline useless. Dozens of sites are breaking past this barrier by combining the interaction aspects of social media with information targeted to specific audiences like patients with cancer or diabetes. Going after different distinct groups to relay pertinent information, like patient care and newsworthy issues, is one way for doctors to focus their time and energy in getting the best message across.

To ease into social media and avoid making it a second job, the simplest way to start is by starting a blog. Here are some tips that can make the process easier to incorporate into your routine :
• Write about your specialty. Offer tips and summarize recent research. Or write about an area you’re passionate about that might be helpful to readers.
• Make time to write. Remember you’re not writing an article for a scientific journal for hours on end, just a few hundred words on your topic. Sometimes one solid blog a week is enough to keep readers coming back for more.
• Remember your audience. Blog posts should be simple, straightforward and causal.
• Expand when you’re ready. If things are going along nicely and you want to add more social aspects, Twitter might be the best place to start. It limits people's engagement with you and is simple to use. With Twitter you can inform followers what’s happening, direct them to articles or send them to your latest blog post.

However you view social media, it shouldn’t be feared or allowed to take over your life. The important thing is to strike a balance between making it useful, educational and ultimately easier to focus on your profession. Users will see you as an expert and quite possibly recommend your services.

What is your professional experience with social media? Have you found a way to make it successful and gain some sort of benefit from it?