If you associate blogging with political rants or funny cat videos, it’s not surprising that you might question the need for doctors to blog. After all, in today’s busier-than-ever health care environment, how many health care providers have time to write blog posts on top of seeing patients and promoting their practices’ services? But what you might not realize is that doctors who blog and engage with other forms of social media have several advantages over those who ignore it altogether.

Doctors who blog say they do so for a number of reasons: to educate patients, to market their practices, and to humanize themselves. “Quite simply stated, social media matters to your practice because it allows you to connect with more people,” wrote registered nurse Audrey McLaughlin in a recent article titled “Why Social Media Matters to Your Medical Practice.”

In addition to getting your name out there, blogging can allow doctors to be a source of reputable health info for patients. While lots of patient education programs come with ready-made materials for doctors to share with patients, a blog allows you to personalize your message with anecdotes from your own experiences practicing medicine or a particular patient case study (in compliance with HIPAA guidelines, of course).

If you’re a doctor thinking about blogging, here are four things to consider.

1. A blog can increase your visibility.

Studies show that 72 percent of people searched for health information online in the past year, and that eight out of 10 of them started at a search engine. Yet the majority of Internet users don’t scroll past the first page of search results. So it’s important that your web site shows up high on the page. While results vary every time Google changes its algorithm, evidence shows that regularly posting to a blog and other social media sites like Google+ can make pages rank higher in Google search results.

Sharing pages on social media also improves your reach, so make sure you include social sharing buttons at the bottom of all your blog posts for readers who want to send the post to their networks. This is as easy as installing a widget or plugin, like ShareThis or AddThis, in WordPress or Blogger.

2. Blogs and social media can help attract new patients.

A Pew Research study found that among those Internet users looking for health information online, researching doctors was one of the most common topics. One pediatrician who committed to testing out social media for a year to see if it made any difference in her practice found the results were life-changing. She estimated that she attracted one new patient or family a week as a result of her blog or Facebook page, which translated to an additional $70,000 of average billable income per year.

3. Blogging takes time, but can also save you time.

That same doctor found that blogging actually helped patients and saved her time in the exam room because she could answer routine questions such as “When do we start solid foods?” by referring patients to a relevant and timely blog post she’d written herself.

But what about the time it takes to write a blog? Some doctors share the workload with other practitioners and staff, while others hire a ghostwriter. And once you’ve built up a body of content, you can go back to previous posts and update or repackage them instead of writing brand-new posts every time. McLaughlin recommends aiming for two blog posts per week, or at least no less than one a month to see results.

4. Blogging offers an outlet for connection and expression.

Many doctors who blog started for marketing reasons but soon found they enjoyed additional benefits beyond improved search results and new patients, like this cardiologist. Blogging provides an opportunity for self-expression and connection with patients and peers that time-crunched doctors don’t always have outside the exam room.

In addition, having a published body of work available online, as well as a professional diary of sorts, can give doctors a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction separate from patient care. And building your network through blogging can also help you professionally, by increasing your contacts and even referrals. A recent survey found that 31 percent of health care professionals use social media for professional networking.

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