Recently, I came across a provocative article by Dr. Kevin Pho of KevinMD.com. The article states that physicians without a presence on the various social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, and blogs, risk irrelevancy. Dr. Pho represents the leading physician authority on healthcare social media and when he makes such a bold and public statement regarding the importance of online engagement for physicians, people take notice.
The Doctor-Patient Communication Disconnect
In another piece, written by Dr. Pho, he cites a study that reported 50 percent of patients do not understand what their physician communicated to them in the course of an office visit. Not surprisingly, over 75 percent of patients visiting the emergency room do not comprehend the diagnoses and instructions their care provider team gives to them. Reasons for this may include health illiteracy, duress, distractions, or time constraints that prevent the patients from asking questions. Regardless of the reason, this communication disconnect does not serve either the patient or doctor well.
The Internet Stands in the Gap
The number of Americans who use the Internet as a health information resource is steadily rising. People would rather surf the Web for answers to their health and medical questions than brave the frustration and inconvenience of a doctor’s office visit. This presents a real and present issue, since a considerable number of sites provide faulty or downright dangerous information. Still, people Google their symptoms and often act based on the information gleaned from the search results.
Most physicians encourage their patients to become engaged in their own healthcare by becoming informed, or health literate. One way patients can do this is to use the Internet as an education tool. The problem arises when patients unilaterally act on this information without the input of their healthcare provider.
Physicians can use the Internet, by building an online presence, to engage in meaningful ways with patients and help determine whether information these patients have found is credible.
Social Media Can Make a Great Physician Even Better
According to Nicola Ziady, an expert on interactive marketing and social media in healthcare at Case Western Reserve University, Dr. Pho is right when he says doctors avoid involvement in social media at their own peril. She says that the rapidly growing movement toward mobile health and the use of electronic medical and health records will cause those refusing to embrace technology in a meaningful way, to quickly fall behind. In a recent article on her Web site, Ziady cites a May 2011 study called Taking the Pulse in which researchers found that 7 percent of U.S. physicians communicate with patients using video conferencing. The study, conducted by Manhattan Research, surveyed 2,000 physicians about their use of technology within their practices, including their use of electronic health records, e-prescribing, and patient communications.
Ziady believes that physician blogs provide a safe, controlled opportunity for physicians to publicize their opinions and engage with patients. Blogs can include video, guest contributions, and links to other sites of note. Ziady has this to say about incorporating video into a blog, ’Video chat is a great way for physicians to communicate with patients.’
Twitter and Facebook also offer a great way for doctors to strengthen their relationships with patients. These platforms do not offer the controlled environment of a blog or website; their real-time format requires that participating physicians pay careful attention to professional guidelines and avoiding HIPPA concerns. Ziady points out that doctors can visit the guidelines on the CDC and NIH Web sites relating to proper professional behavior for healthcare professionals participating in social media. Her experience with these sites is that they are very conservative, regarding social media, and offer amazing support for doctors wanting to create a professional online presence.
Will Social Media Have the Final Word?
Doctors without an online presence do indeed risk becoming irrelevant in regards to the networking platforms available on the Internet; physicians who still reject cultivating a presence, whatever the reason, should talk to a trusted friend, mentor, or colleague to get a fresh perspective on their reasoning and concerns about the consequences of remaining out of this popular communication platform. Becoming irrelevant because you don’t have a social media presence doesn’t mean you’re not a good physician in the traditional sense, but maybe it’s your rigid tradition that holds you back from being a great one.
Author Note about Nicola Ziady: Nicola Ziady has over a decade of experience building marketing strategy and solutions in academic medicine and healthcare environments. Read her compelling articles and strategy advice on her website. Ziady’s knowledge and experience will keep regular readers informed and ahead of the game when it comes to social media healthcare.