Although it was once thought of as a fad, social media is here to stay. According to the National Small Business Association, more than 70% of small business owners have a social media account for their business. But social media creates a unique complication for medical practitioners: how to engage patients without sacrificing confidentiality.

As a result, doctors and medical staff may be reluctant to adopt social media as part of their practice. But social media can play an important role in not only finding and keeping patients, but also in increasing public awareness about medical issues. Here are some things to keep in mind when setting up social media accounts for your clinic.

Develop a Social Media Policy

For medical professionals, social media isn't the sort of thing to learn by trial and error. Before you set up social media accounts, develop a firm policy that sets out your goals for social media: why you have the accounts, and what can and can’t be published. Sure, some things you can adapt as you go, but having a policy in place will prevent you (or whoever runs your accounts) from making costly missteps along the way.

Honor Confidentiality

Above all, you must honor confidentiality. Don’t include specific cases or reveal personal identifying information in your posts. Encourage anyone seeking medical advice via social media to see a doctor personally. The rules of confidentiality apply in social media (and that includes private messages.) If you think you shouldn’t write it, don’t.

Protect Yourself

Many people use social media as a personal outlet. If you have personal social media accounts, keep them separate from your professional accounts. Don’t "friend" your patients on Facebook. Let them follow your clinic's Facebook page. Don’t post anything on your professional account that you wouldn't want patients to see during the normal course of business. And remember, once it's on Facebook—whether your personal or professional account—it's there for good. Anything you post on your personal account could have an effect on your professional life.

Use Social Media for Education, Not Diagnosis

Social media is a great way to engage your audience by sharing information. So use it to educate your followers. Did you recently read an interesting study or add new technology to your office? Do you want to raise awareness of a disease? Do you know of a useful tool that patients can use at home to monitor their health? Let them know on social media. Think of social media as a way to increase awareness and educate people so they can make informed decisions when they see their doctor.

And if the above tips are too much trouble to remember, Farris Timimi, medical director for the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media, has a fantastic 12-word rhyming policy that sums it all up: “Don't lie, don't pry; don't cheat, can't delete; don't steal, don't reveal.” It’s catchy, and it’s true.

Dylan Lake is a Demand Generation Manager at Connectivity.