So why is a doctor’s online presence important? Here are nine points that make the case:
A doctor’s online presence is inevitable
When I discuss social networks many of my colleagues believe that they can opt-out of any kind of online presence. But can you avoid an online presence?
Absolutely not. Your online presence is inevitable.
You don’t have to say anything or do anything in order to have an online presence. The patients and the public will do it for you. The moment you treat someone, it’s likely you’ll become part of the public dialogue. People are passionate about their health, and they are just as passionate about the people who provide it.
So while some of us are more visible than others, we are all out there, like it or not.
Here’s a wake-up call: Google will always deliver a first page about you.
Every doctor is a publisher
It’s not just what patients are saying; it’s what we intentionally and unintentionally publish that makes us public. The minute a medical graduate crosses that stage with her diploma and updates her Facebook profile, she becomes a public physician. Every Instagram post and every Tweet thread has a potential global reach. These things shape your online presence and make you public.
So as doctors, we’re publishers. There’s no way around it.
Sure, your communication may consist of conversations, but they’re public conversations. And in the eyes of the law, your peers, and your patients, your public conversations are publications.
Publishing was once a big, complicated process, but now, as New York University professor and internet scholar Clay Shirky put it, publishing is just a button.
You can create your story of someone else will
Perhaps the most compelling argument for an intentional public presence is the fact that, if we don’t create our story the way we want it told, there’s someone else more than happy to do it on our behalf.
Following on the fact that Google always will produce a first page about you: You can control what’s found there or leave it to someone else.
Visibility creates opportunity. When people see your ideas, they want to talk to you. When people talk to you, things happen. Unless you have no interest in opportunity, you need to think about how people find you and think about you.
Rather than thinking of our publicness as an option, we should look at it as an opportunity.
The public space is where knowledge, information and conversation collide
Social networks are where knowledge, information, and conversation collide. Our twentieth-century mindset has us thinking about learning, sharing, and talking as separate activities.
As described by David Weinberger of the Harvard Berkman Center, information, communication, and sociality are now intertwined. The way we engage in dialogue and the way we learn and share information is all happening in a common space. If we are to exchange information and share ideas, being present among open collections of people is unavoidable.
So asking why understanding new media is important is like asking why you should care about your cell phone or email account—they represent a new responsibility. Tools for connecting doctor-to-doctor, doctor-to-patient, and doctor-to-world represent new accessories for communication and relevance.
It’s where the patients are
Perhaps most importantly, the public space is where the patients are.
Just as doctors have gone public, so, too, have the patients. In fact, they were creating a dialogue long before most physicians knew there was a conversation taking place. Connecting with patients in non-clinical spaces will give you insight into what they think, what they believe, and, most importantly, how they live every day. Many doctors don’t connect with patients and that’s your choice. If you do, the rules are pretty simple. And we’ve got you covered in the pages ahead.
This is where the health conversation is taking place. It’s where we should be as physicians.
In his book, The New Digital Age, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said, “With greater connectivity will come greater expectations.” This is definitely the case in health care, where patient expectations of their doctors are changing quickly. A doctor’s online presence is a patient’s expectation.
The market no longer supports the invisible. Public presence will confer a market advantage for those who recognize its power. Perhaps more importantly absence in the marketplace won’t be sustainable for individuals or organizations. To search and not find out anything about your subject has reached a point where it is considered creepy.
While participation in the public conversation may be considered optional, so is relevance.
Doctors have an obligation to participate in online dialog. Sound reason, good judgment, and evidence-based thinking need to be part of the information stream. I first raised this question of our ethical obligation in 2009 and the response was dramatic. Until that time public engagement on social platforms was considered optional and even trivial.
And doctors could change the way the world thinks if they would only get together and work with the online conversation. I like to remind audiences that there are 65,000 members of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Every pediatrician fights vaccine misinformation, especially as they relate to autism. Consider the fact that the first page of a Google search for vaccines and autism are cluttered with anti-vaccine propaganda driven by a vocal minority. If every AAP member wrote a myth-dispelling post or posted a simple video concerning immunization just once a year, Google would be ruled by reason.
Tomorrow’s leaders will be public
For medical students, I make the case that the public space is where leaders are. In fact, it is giving rise to a new type of thought leader.
It used to be that influence in medicine was determined by traditional, industrial-age measures: publication in medical journals, institutional affiliation, and presence within the medical establishment. Back then, a few physicians spoke and the rest listened, but as doctors collect in new spaces, new rules of influence apply.
Expect to see doctors emerge as influential not based on their connections within the society, but on the strength and novelty of their ideas, global reach, and their ability to utilize new tools.
The leaders of tomorrow will be outward-facing. In fact, a defining feature of a leader in the networked age will be the capacity and will to look beyond what they can see and touch. The leaders of tomorrow will be those who have mastered the role of public physician.
So while we can no longer choose whether or not to be public, we can choose how to handle our public presence. We can choose how we intentionally build and shape our presence.
This page on a doctor’s online presence is part of The Public Physician, a field guide for life online. To read more check out the Public Physician landing page.