From allaying fears to sharing treatment options, Saba Qureshi discusses the huge potential social media has for patients – and how this benefits dental professionals too.
Even if you lived under a rock, you’d be hard pushed to ignore the impact that social media has had on our day-to-day lives.
It is reported an estimated 4.9 billion people use social media across the world. In the UK alone, at the start of 2023 there were 66.11 million internet users, with 57.10 million users accessing at least one social media platform on a daily basis. This equates to 84.4 percent of the total population.
Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, LinkedIn, Twitter and Snapchat are frequently visited by patients to access information on a whole host of dental/orthodontic queries.
With around two billion users each worldwide, Instagram, YouTube and Facebook are amongst the worlds most popular social media platforms. In the UK, these they have an estimated 28.8 million, 57.1 million and 34.4 million users respectively.
These platforms have huge potential for dental healthcare professionals to educate current and potential patients alike, as these platforms enable the sharing of health information as well as patient experiences of health-related issues.
It has been demonstrated that among orthodontic patients there is awareness, utilisation and a willingness to engage with social media to support treatment, which can be used to our advantage.
But in order to do so, we need to understand what information the general public are turning to social media to clarify. Studies have shown that the main reasons patients reported searching on social media were to obtain information about orthodontic treatment outcomes, types of appliances, and data about practical aspects of treatment.
It’s not hard to see the attraction of platforms like Instagram and Snapchat that allow access to short, engaging videos, which can be used to research information about orthodontic and dental treatments.
As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. As a profession, dentistry has fully embraced clinical photography and, as such, is ideally placed to share content which can impart dental/orthodontic information and knowledge, especially via a user friendly platform like Instagram.
One can post in a variety of ways showing clinical photographs, radiographs or even short videos. Instagram also uses carousels, which allows viewers to slide quickly between pictures revealing step-by-step procedures, such before and after Invisalign treatment pictures. This can prove to be a powerful marketing and educating tool.
So how can this benefit patients?
It has been well documented that 40-80% of medical information provided by healthcare practitioners is forgotten immediately, and nearly 50% of that which is remembered is recalled incorrectly.
With that in mind, providing a variety of methods of delivering information across different social media platforms allows our patients to interact with content they find engaging, thereby aiding retention of information, eg oral health instructions.
Social media also provides a space where dental professionals can debunk dental/orthodontic myths.
Patients can view current orthodontic treatment options available and research these prior to consultations.
This can be useful, as it can help patients focus on what aspects of braces are most important to them; aesthetics, treatment duration, comfort etc. This will allow orthodontics to tailor treatment accordingly, where possible.
However, if patients arrive with fixed ideas of what brace they want and how long they expect treatment to take based on what they have viewed on social media, but these do not align with the complexity of their case, convincing them otherwise may be somewhat of a battle.
Dentists have never been particularly popular and many patients still present with dental anxiety or phobias.
For some of these patients, viewing dental procedures beforehand, such as Invisalign attachment placement or a brace fit can act as a reworked and updated version of the old classic ‘tell, show, do’ helping them to feel more comfortable and prepared for anticipated treatment.
Access to real patient content
Social media platforms are sharing networks, enabling patients to share their treatment experiences (both positive and negative) before, during and after treatment. This gives others a unique insight into real-time orthodontic treatment.
While this may vary from person to person due to different braces choices, pain levels and individual variations, they can prove valuable for those seeking orthodontic treatment.
Take social media seriously
Of course, social media is a useful tool for dentists/orthodontists too, allowing us to display our expertise, happy patient testimonials and professional accolades. And let’s not forget about the opportunities for professional support, networking and the sharing of educational content (at no cost to the user) across the globe, that these platforms afford us.
I’m a firm believer that people buy people not services, and these platforms also allow us to show our personalities, enabling current and potential patients to feel comfortable in their interactions with us.
But a word to the wise, social media is not without it’s perils.
It is imperative that dental professionals gain valid consent from patients where they are posting patient specific information. The General Dental Council (GDC) is clear that all online discussions, images and media should be anonymised, and to ensure no patient information is included in these without consent.
There is a lot of poor quality information regarding dental and orthodontic treatment on social media platforms. As professionals, we need to counteract this with informative, evidence-based content that can benefit our patients and the wider population.
Involvement in social media is an integral part of the daily life of many of our patients – it’s time we took it seriously.
Catch up on previous Straight to the Point columns:
- Adult orthodontics: does treatment really take longer?
- Fixed retainers: are they worth the hassle?
- Buccal corridors: who cares?
- Eating disorders and orthodontics
- Orthodontic trends: fads versus facts.
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