Visalia plastic surgeon Alex Lechtman will be taking calls Tuesday evening – on Facebook.
Lechtman will host a two-hour live video session on the social media platform to answer questions about everything from lip enhancement to tummy tucks and breast reconstruction.
He expects the video session will give his fingers a rest. Two previous Facebook question-and-answer chats were live but not on video, and he typed responses.
“We had more people than I was expecting and it was a little bit taxing,” Lechtman said. “I was typing fast to try and keep up with the questions.”
In an increasingly Internet-connected world, social media is a way for doctors and patients to connect. Patients have shown an interest in using email, Facebook and doctor websites to communicate, and doctors who once were loath to advertise themselves more and more are exploring the marketing possibilities of social media.
There’s no shortage of tech-savvy health consumers for doctors to reach through Facebook and websites.
I was typing fast to try and keep up with the questions.
Dr. Alex Lechtman
According to the Pew Research Center, 69 percent of people in the United States use social media, and Facebook is the most popular social networking platform. Nearly 79 percent of online users were on Facebook in 2016. And the use of Facebook is increasing – up 7 percentage points since 2015.
And people are receptive to getting health information via social media. A 2015 study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found 37 percent of 2,252 respondents to a survey of retail pharmacy customers had recent contact with their doctors through email and another 18 percent communicated using Facebook.
The survey also showed that about 57 percent of patients wanted to use doctor websites to access health information and about 46 percent wanted to be able to track information by email.
Lead author of the study, Joy L. Lee, an assistant professor at Indiana University School of Medicine, said interest by consumers in accessing health information online is only likely to increase.
But there’s less known about doctors’ interest in using social media to communicate with patients.
A lot of doctors also are hesitant to use social media for fear of getting in trouble professionally, Lee said.
Social media can be a great way to disseminate new research and other health information, she said. “But it may not be the best tool for one-on-one consultations and questions.”
But enough doctors are using social media for the California Medical Association to issue a January 2016 document on “Physicians and the Use of Social Media.”
The association said doctors who have a website, social networking site or give advice over the internet or by email must comply with all federal and state privacy and security laws.
But it may not be the best tool for one-on-one consultations and questions.
Joy L. Lee, assistant professor, Indiana University School of Medicine
Lechtman, a plastic surgeon in Visalia since 1999, said he is careful not to give medical advice over Facebook. He’s aware of the rules. “Right now they’re very specific on what you can and can’t do from a medical advice standpoint.”
The Facebook chats are a way to provide credible health information to the public, Lechtman said. Social media and the internet are the way people get their information these days, but people with very little medical training can be the source, to the detriment of patients.
Lechtman, 51, said he was slow to embrace social media. “It’s been a little bit of kicking and screaming” before a public relations consultant convinced him to try a Facebook chat. He did his first in January and a second earlier this month.
The reaction was unexpected, he said. The January chat reached 974 people and the second reached 1,090.
The one scheduled for 5:30-7:30 p.m. Tuesday could have a bigger audience still. A “video teaser” posted March 14 had 746 views and 10 questions posted for him to answer, according to consultant Nancy Lockwood of the Lockwood Agency.
More doctors, clinics and hospitals are turning to Facebook for marketing their practices. Several websites offer advice to doctors who want to set up a Facebook marketing tool.
Lechtman, a member of the Visalia Medical Group, said he got a few patients directly from the Facebook chats, and if they drum up business “that’s always very nice.”
But in the end, patients are gained the old-fashioned way – by word of mouth. Most of his patients are referrals from patients or friends and family of patients, he said.
“It’s that kind of experience that makes patients come into the office.”
To participate in Dr. Alex Lechtman Facebook chat: