The Influence of Dermatologists’ Use of Social Media on Attracting Patients

May 2020 | Volume 19 | Issue 5 | Original Article | 532 | Copyright © May 2020

Published online April 17, 2020

Emily C. Murphy BS,a,b Kamaria Nelson MD,a and Adam J. Friedman MDa

aDepartment of Dermatology, The George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Washington, DC bGeorgetown University, School of Medicine, Washington, DC

Background: Many dermatologists consider social media to be a useful tool for building their practices and personal brands. However, limited data exists on patients’ perceptions of the value of social media in dermatology.
Objective: To examine how social media influences patients when choosing a dermatologist and which aspects of dermatologists’ sites offer the most benefit to patients.
Methods: A cross-sectional study was completed by sampling a diverse online population using a 10-question survey.
Results: The survey was sent to 1,481 individuals; of the 57.5% who qualified, 98.5% completed the survey (N=715). Of the qualified respondents, 58% were female and 42% were male. Twenty five percent were 18-29 years, 24% were 30-44 years, 33% were 45-60 years, and 19% were over 60 years. Fifty-seven percent reported that social media is only slightly important or not at all important when selecting a dermatologist. According to respondents, patient reviews (68%), years of experience (61%), and medical information written by the dermatologist (59%) were the most important aspects of dermatologists’ social media sites. Cosmetic patients (P<0.0001), younger patients (P<0.0001), and participants with fewer years of education (P=0.0006) valued social media significantly more when selecting a dermatologist compared to their counterpart populations.
Limitations: Selection bias is possible given the survey was distributed only to SurveyMonkey® users.
Conclusion: Given the majority of patients reported that social media is not important or only slightly important, dermatologists should consider means other than social media to attract new patients to their practices. For dermatologists who use social media, they should highlight patient reviews, experience level, and original medical content.

J Drugs Dermatol. 2020;19(5):   doi:10.36849/JDD.2020.4849


As of 2019, 79% of Americans have a social media profile, with the majority using platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram.1 Social media was originally created to connect with family and friends, but individuals now use it to self-promote, to disseminate information, and for activism. Physicians are even more likely to use social media than the general population, with 87% having an account in 2011.2 In the medical community, social media allows for the distribution of health information and may increase healthcare access by connecting patients and physicians.3,4 Despite these benefits, there is also concern among practitioners about the misuse of social media given its lack of regulation, which may lead to inappropriate online consultations, spread of false information, and HIPAA violations.3

Social media has a particularly large presence in dermatology, with many dermatologists asserting that social media can help build their personal brands.5,6 Some practitioners even recommend hiring social media managers to monitor online reviews and mitigate any damage.7 While the frequency of social media use by dermatologists is unknown, their utilization is likely similar to or even greater than that of other specialists given dermatology is a highly visual field, making platforms like Instagram ideal. Dermatology organizations and journals are also increasingly using social media as a way to publicize articles, meetings, and outreach opportunities. In 2017, 18% of dermatology journals had Facebook and 17% were active on Twitter,8 which represented increased use from 20129. Further, 87% of patient-centered organizations were on Facebook in 20178 and 89% of pediatric dermatology advocacy groups had a social media account as of 2015.10

Dermatology residency programs are also joining social media. One study found that as of 2019, 23% of programs had Facebook, 11% were on Twitter, 7% had Instagram, and 4% had all three platforms.11 Social media can be useful for increasing res-