Medicine on Instagram - A Step-by-Step Guide for the Healthcare Industry
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Medicine on Instagram

Medicine on Instagram – A Step-by-Step Guide for the Healthcare Industry

The medical industry was originally slow to embrace social media, but healthcare professionals spanning academia, non-profit organizations, federal agencies, hospital groups, and private practices are now deploying aggressive social media strategies. This blog describes the nature of medical content currently found on Instagram and provides simple tips on how anyone in medicine – from individual healthcare providers to large medical centers and corporations – can use Instagram to achieve their goals.

Here’s a comprehensive list of high performing medical hashtags on Instagram. 

How to succeed with healthcare social media

I’ve spent a lot of time investigating the nature and impact of medical content across different social media platforms. Here are three major things I’ve observed:

Using social media can benefit those in both private and academic medicine. Social media can be a cost effective tool to achieve several different objectives in medicine, including:

  • improving physician-patient relationships
  • increasing revenue
  • advancing health literacy
  • educating healthcare professionals
  • advocating for distinct constituencies
  • promoting specific health-related behaviors


The strategies associated with social media in healthcare are improving as more private groups and scholars recognize the need to communicate digitally

Those who define an audience and develop content that’s valuable to that audience perform best on social media. Too many physicians and healthcare groups post content on social media without first developing a content strategy. For instance, several private physician practices that appear to use Instagram for marketing purposes post graphic medical images of diseases and medical procedures.

What these images lack in aesthetics they may make up for in intrigue if targeted to other healthcare professionals. However, images of unattractive sets of teeth, bloody surgeries, bad skin, or excess fat are not as likely to garner a patient following. Patients are instead attracted to the reliable health information they struggle to find online. It’s critical to develop the kind of content your targeted stakeholders will find valuable. 

Clinical expertise is not enough for success on social media. Not all top medical establishments have been successful on social media, which suggests that clinical reputation is not enough to draw interest on digital platforms. For this reason, even the most prestigious hospitals take marketing seriously. Spending a little time navigating through medical content on social media will help you appreciate how much effort certain top medical institutions put into their communications strategies and into specific marketing campaigns.

Data on the use of social media in medicine are expanding

In addition to going directly to social media to learn about how medical content is presented there, I’ve also gone to the medical literature itself. Researchers have begun to publish academic articles on the use of social media in medicine. Some of these articles help to clarify the value of social media in medicine, whereas others use social media as a tool to gather data on patient behavior.

As of this week, PubMed searches for the words ‘Facebook’ and ‘Twitter’ produce over 1,500 hits each. The term “blog’ is associated with 1,320 hits and ‘social media’ with nearly 6,500. PubMed: Social Media, Facebook, Twitter, and Blog

Even newer social media platforms and those with fewer users than Facebook and Twitter are represented on PubMed, as are other relevant keywords like ‘hashtag.

PubMed nstagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest

Instagram is gaining momentum in medicine

The number of publications involving Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram grows each year. Indeed, ‘Facebook’ and ‘Twitter’ publications are on pace in 2017 to outperform the volume of publications in 2016. ‘Instagram’ publications in 2017, on the other hand, have already matched the number of publications in all of 2016 (approximately halfway through the year).

Though there are more publications on Facebook and Twitter, the growth rate in publications about Instagram is higher than the current rate for the other two platforms. Here are the numbers of publications for each of these platforms in recent years.

Social media coverage on PubMed

Here’s what the publication rate looks like if we assume that there will be the same number of publications for each search term in the 2nd half of 2017 as there was in the 1st half. 

Projected 2017 Social Media on PubMed

*Note the founding years of each of these platforms. PubMed doesn’t produce any hits for ‘Facebook,’ ‘Twitter,’ or ‘Instagram’ prior to 2008.

Social Media Founding Years

Despite the explosion of growth in Instagram (as of April 2017, Instagram boasted 700 million users, more than twice that of Twitter) and the enhanced interest in the platform among the medical community, the healthcare industry generally fumbles in its use of Instagram. Top medical schools are just beginning to capitalize on the platform.

Of the top medical schools, Harvard has by far the most followers on Instagram. However, these other top ranking medical school are investing more resources into their Instagram management and are gaining a following as a result: Top Medical School Instagram Accounts

One of the biggest hurdles with utilizing a new platform is familiarizing yourself with its technical aspects. It’s common for people to wait to see to what extent a platform is relied upon by those in their networks before taking the time to learn how to use it. Instagram appears not only to be sticking around but to be growing in the healthcare industry. Luckily, it’s relatively simple to navigate.

How to set up your Instagram account

You can download the Instagram app on your phone, or you can sign up on your computer. Here’s what looks like:

Instagram Home Page

Once you sign up, you’ll be directed to a page that looks like this:

Instagram Profile page

Follow these simple steps to complete your set-up:

  • Add a clear profile photo of your face or logo.
  • Click the top right image of a person, which will take you to your profile page.
  • Click ‘Edit Profile.’
  • Fill in all the information (including a clear bio). 
  • Hit “Submit.”

Your success on Instagram hinges on 2 key things: how easily your target audience finds you, and how much they value your content.

How to get found on Instagram

The best ways to ensure that your target audience will find you are to:

Post frequently.

When people search hashtags, there are 9 “top posts” and the rest of the posts are displayed based on how recently they were posted. Thus the more frequently you post, the more likely you are to show toward the top of people’s searches at any given time.

Use all the tagging functions. 

Like Twitter, Instagram organizes content with hashtags. Instagram also organizes content based on geotags and people tags.

Geotags and people tags are simple: tag the location where you’re posting and the accounts of others in the post. Doing so will enable people who search those locations or accounts to find you. People also search for content using hashtags, so if you use the hashtags that your target audience searches, they will more readily stumble upon your material. You can use up to 30 hashtags per post.

Strategic use of hashtags can also help you earn a “top post” ranking, even if you don’t have an enormous following or a high volume of likes. For instance, my CureComms Instagram account currently has 495 followers. An image I posted a few days ago had earned “top post” status on multiple hashtag searches (including #medcomms #healthcaremarketing and #medical marketing), when it had only about 30 likes. 

#medcomms top posts on Instagram


Follow others in your industry.

Following other accounts in your industry can be helpful because other users can find you through these connections. What’s even more valuable about following influencers in your space, however, is the research that it enables. Determining which hashtags to use and the type of content that inspires engagement is much easier to do when you have examples in your feed. 

How can you post frequently without spending all of your time on Instagram?

The biggest challenge for posting frequently on Instagram is that you can only post from mobile devices. This limitation makes frequent use of Instagram time consuming. Allowing multiple team members to access Instagram is one way to minimize the posting burden.

There are applications, such as Buffer, that support automation. The problem with automation for Instagram is that there’s no way to avoid having to manually open your Instagram account on a mobile device. The apps do not execute the posts on your behalf. The automation app therefore acts simply as a place to store your posts and as a reminder tool to alert you that it’s time to post.

In my opinion, a simpler method is to save drafts of posts within your Instagram account. I currently have 68 posts ready in my drafts. Each day I choose one and post it in a matter of seconds. For groups with communications teams, storing drafts is also an effective means for quality control. 

Which hashtags will help you gain ‘top post’ status?

On Instagram, top posts are determined by a combination of factors. How recently you posted matters, as does the proportion of your followers who like your post. It’s hard to gain a “top post” spot for the most popular hashtags. Using hashtags that are specific to your niche makes it easier. The hashtags I mentioned above (#medcomms, #healthcaremarketing, and #medicalmarketing) each have between 436 and 3,801 total posts. It was therefore much easier to rank with those hashtags than with something more general like #medicine (which has over 3 million posts). At the same time, these hashtags are popular enough within my niche that members of my target audience are still likely to search them.

So which specific hashtags should you use on Instagram?

Symplur Healthcare is a fantastic resource for identifying healthcare hashtags related to medical conditions, conferences, and chats. The one caveat is that their Hashtag Project is based on data from Twitter and so not all of their suggestions work for Instagram. For instance, two of the trending Tweet chat hashtags this week, #CureChat17 and #MEQAPI had 0 and 3 posts on Instagram, respectively, as of June 26th. The trending disease hashtag #gerionc also had no representation on Instagram.

There does not seem to be a good resource devoted to the use of healthcare hashtags for Instagram. I’ve therefore compiled information on the use of medical hashtags on Instagram. Here’s a comprehensive list organized by medical specialty. 

Unsurprisingly, not all specialties are equally represented on Instagram. Hashtag searches for the names of specialties themselves provide some insight into the relative abundance of different types of medial information on Instagram. #Surgery, #PlasticSurgery, and #Dentistry are particularly popular with near or more than a million posts each.Surgery and Dentistry HashtagsAlso highly popular are #Allergy, #Dermatology, #Orthodontics, #Pathology, and #Pediatrics, each with over 100,000 posts.Popular medical hashtagsThe majority of other medical specialties are also significantly represented on Instagram, each with somewhere between 20,000 and 100,000 posts. 


Well Represented Specialties

Hashtags for these specialties can be seen on 5,000-20,000 posts.Somewhat popular medical hashtagsEven the specialties whose names are ‘hashtagged’ the least on Instagram have a number of posts.

Less frequent medical hashtags

See our complete list of popular Instagram hashtags for each medical specialty.

What medically relevant accounts should you follow on Instagram?

You should search for accounts that are relevant to your specific area of medicine. These accounts could be other experts in your area in both the public and private sectors, patients, advocates, or other stakeholders. Here are 30 Instagram accounts that may be valuable for anyone generally interested in healthcare and medicine: 

Healthcare Accounts to Follow on Instagram

How to be valued on Instagram

To gain a loyal following on Instagram, you should: 

Identify your audience. 

An often overlooked key to creating value for your audience is to characterize that audience as narrowly as possible. If you want to target distinct audiences – e.g. both patients and physicians – it may be worth creating multiple Instagram accounts. Otherwise, content that provides value for one of your audiences will likely dilute the value your Instagram account brings for your other audience. This challenge has led universities to manage different accounts for their different schools and departments and some international corporations to manage different accounts based on customer segment or location.

Define your objectives.

Once you know who your audience is, you need to determine what influence you hope you have over that audience. For instance, if you want to reach patients, you may want to increase the chances that patients will come to you, trust your advice, and be satisfied with your communication. 

Determine what type of content will help you achieve your goals.

Right now, most of the medical content on Instagram falls into one of the following categories.

  • medical condition or intervention photos
  • inspirational quotes
  • photos of medical professionals
  • testimonials
  • promotions

Each of these types of posts may  help to achieve certain objectives within a specific context. However, many medical accounts on Instagram use a combination of posts that do not convey consistent messages. My last post has more information on how to create effective medical content

Always ask yourself: ‘Why am I doing this?’

Whether creating your overall social media strategy or putting together an individual Instagram post, you should be able to provide a precise answer for why you’re doing what you’re doing. In the case of posting content on Instagram, who are you hoping will view your post? What do you want the post to make them think or do? How do you think the post will reach them? Once the post reaches them, what about it facilitates the reaction you want? 


To learn more about how to use social media to achieve goals related to healthcare, subscribe to the CureComms blog.

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Nisha Cooch
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