Physicians shouldn’t shy away from social media

Aug 14, 2014, 4:00am

In a recent article by David Shaywitz, M.D., Ph.D., he describes four reasons why physicians are concerned about the increase in popularity of social media and online search. After reading these concerns it occurred to me, that there may be a significant gap on the part of the medical community surrounding the potential benefits associated with online search and social media.

In a recent article by David Shaywitz, M.D., Ph.D., he describes four reasons why physicians are concerned about the increase in popularity of social media and online search. The information used in the article was gathered from a group of physicians attending a breakout session during a medical conference.

After reading these concerns it occurred to me, that there may be a significant gap - or lack of understanding - on the part of the medical community surrounding the potential benefits associated with online search and social media. Which is typically the basis for unfounded fear and a reluctance to participate.

The following four central themes emerged:

Concern 1: Patients receiving “bad” information

“Many physicians described the challenges of dealing with patients who had retrieved wrong or incomplete information from the Internet. This turns out to be a remarkably common problem; doctors reported spending a lot of time undoing bad information.”

Is it realistic to assume that medical consumers use of online search and social media is going to increase? I think we can all agree this is not a passing fad and barring significant legislative/regulatory intervention this trend will continue.

Solution: Evaluate. Embrace. Engage.

Your medical practice has a big decision to make. Embrace or disgrace. In other words, embrace the reality of this trend or express dissatisfaction and live with the outcome. Knowing the proactive innovative spirit of the modern medical professional, most will choose to embrace the situation and turn this challenge into a golden opportunity.

How? Become part of the discussion. Create a viable online presence with up-to-date accurate information. Consistently create and distribute engaging and informational content that provides patients with up-to-date information on treatments, procedures and recent discoveries.

In other words, become a trusted source of information for new and existing patients. Encourage patients to visit your virtual medical community for important information related to their diagnosis.

Bottom line: Do your best to increase connectivity with your patient population and control the content.

Concern 2: Patients transmitting “bad” information

“Many doctors in the audience were also visibly troubled by the ease with which patients could share “misleading” information, whether about medicine or the doctors themselves.”

Solution: Evaluate. Embrace. Engage.

First, practitioners must familiarize themselves with the various outlets, directories and forums where reviews may appear. Many times the internal view of the practice’s reputation may not be consistent with the perceived (virtual) reputation of the practice. Why? What is out of synch and what internal steps can be taken to create alignment with the perceived reputation and the desired reputation of the practice?

The practice must do everything it can to control its online reputation. Use technology to the advantage of the practice. A mobile device placed in the reception area would allow satisfied patients to access their email accounts and share their positive experience. Practice personnel should encourage patients to share their positive experiences online and avoid a victim mentality.

Next: Doctors receiving info badly

 

 

Concern 3: Physicians receiving information badly

“While some senior physicians worried that young doctors might start to rely on tweets rather than peer-reviewed articles, it seemed that the most significant concern raised was the impact that the “Internet culture” was having on the practice of medicine.”

Solution: Evaluate. Embrace. Engage.

The digital culture we find ourselves in may not be everyone’s cup of tea. That said, there’s an old saying: “It is what it is.” Innovation has always been and will always be an important part of the advancement of modern medicine. We cannot pick and choose which emerging technologies to embrace and which ones to ignore. By that I mean, we live in a digital age. There are no time machines by which we can pick the decade or era we wish to practice in.

The question is how to we practice and promote responsible use of the technologies available to us. Yes, it is my opinion that doctors will increasingly rely on faster access to health-related data in diagnoses, treatment and follow-up (the Internet). It is also my opinion that the same technology will make it easier and more reliable to collaborate and more effectively and efficiently treat all types of conditions. 

Dermatologist patients both clinical and cosmetic will play a role in the responsible integration of the digital culture. How? By using the same information channels that senior physicians are concerned about. The Internet and social media are the ultimate check and balance medium. Healthcare consumers (social patients) will quickly share negative outcomes or bad experiences over the Web and social media. With this in mind, practitioners (both new and experienced) will continue to provide premier healthcare (or else).

Concern 4: Physicians transmitting information badly

“The ability afforded by social media to share information rapidly and broadly was another source of concern. Many senior physicians worried young doctors might use social media in unprofessional ways - sharing things they shouldn’t, saying things they shouldn’t - potentially placing themselves and their institutions at risk.”

Solution: Get over it.

This is not to trivialize the concern but to put it in a more realistic light. Every industry is going through this. Small groups of doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, stockbrokers, etc., have been making bad choices since the dawn of humanity. There is no way to stop it. We must all focus on the things we can control.

What we can do is embrace the fact that online search and social media are powerful mediums and they are here to stay. So the real multibillion dollar question is what are you going to do about it?

Medicine could be fun again. I am not a doctor. But that sounds like great advice to me.