Last night Susannah Fox put up the Bat Signal. It seems she’s been charged with addressing the American College of Surgeons next month and she’s looking for some creative input from the medical social community. Not surprising, really. Interest in social media among physician groups is growing fast.
I thought it might be worth sharing a few random thoughts on the care and handling of the physician audience.
Doctors think in 1.0
Remember that the average physician is naïve when it comes to social media and its role in health. Most physicians see e-patients strictly as consumers. The concept of true socialization and active involvement by patients and physicians will likely be foreign to your audience.
With that said, you’ll get more mileage with a thorough, basic discussion of what this is all about and why it will change healthcare more than you will with a detailed how-to-do-it dialog.
A doctor is a doctor
Don’t sweat the audience. While you could probably come up with some tailored, specific examples for surgeons or OBs, the core social issues for physicians are not specialty-specific at the introductory level. In social terms, a doctor’s a doctor.
Raise your expectations
Based on their anemic adoption we sometimes think that doctors are resistant to the idea of social media. I remember speaking this summer to one of the local medical societies in West Texas. The audience was much older than I had expected and as I waited I prepared myself for resistance to what I had to say. But, in fact, the opposite happened. This audience of older generation physicians saw social as a way to potentially bring medicine back to its focus on connecting with patients. Who knew?
Even if slow to adopt, physicians are intrigued and increasingly interested in social media’s potential. We’re a malleable group.
Manage their expectations
It should be understood that we haven’t figured out where and how doctors should make social work for them. Let’s face it, it’s time consuming and the applications that measurably impact care are few and far between. The power lies in the potential that comes once we have the entire physician population in the loop.
And be careful of selling the fantasy: While it makes great fodder for the media, selling “live tweets from the OR” as the saving grace of the next medical generation won’t win over any physician audience.
What keeps doctors up at night
As you think about your physician audience, consider why none of them have blogs or are found on Twitter: 1) Physicians naturally have issues with transparency 2) they haven’t got time and 3) they have concerns over liability and privacy.
But transparency is generational. Time you can’t fix. And issues surrounding patient engagement in the public forum are educational.
This patient contact issue and the theoretical potential for liability is a huge preoccupation. I’ve found that a lot of physicians believe that their social entree obligates them to discuss patient issues in public. I always convey my bias (possibly a slowly evolving standard): discussion of patient-specific issues in public forums is off limits; discussion of patient non-specific issues is encouraged. Any attempt at patient-initiated discussion of specific medical issues immediately goes offline and onto the EMR for issues of record, liability and safety.
Doctor-patient dialog surrounding individual care should be limited to HIPAA compliant networks that integrate with the EMR. I like to cite HelloHealth as an early example of this model. The screen grabs always wow the crowd.
And if you can discuss an ethical dilemma or two you’ll have the academic elements of your audience drooling. Bring towels.
Physicians have an obligation to be in the online space
Maybe I get away with it because I wear a stethoscope, but I always tell doctors that they have an obligation to participate in the dialog. I always use autism and vaccines as the example. The search engines in this regard are ruled by a loud, vocal minority linking vaccines and autism. Consider that the American Academy of Pediatrics has 60,000 pediatricians. If each of them were involved in the creation of some kind of content with reliable information, we would rule the search enginges. Powerful stuff. Always has an impact.
It’s estimated that some 81% of physicians will own a smart phone next year and mobile may be the segue into soft social adoption for many MDs. Touch mobile and win your physician audience.
Tweet by example
One of the most powerful take home messages I pass to physician audiences is to study other doctors who are in the space. Spend time watching and listening before taking the leap into the public forum. I encourage people to look at what other doctors are doing and see how it applies to their setting.
Remind them to cultivate their digital footprint
I look at my role with physician audiences as one where I seek to motivate and empower. And that’s when I feel rewarded. The idea that they can potentially control their digital footprint has huge value. Ask the audience to do a vanity search and remind them that their reputation is under the control of sites like Healthgrades. Remind them that they themselves are actually in control what people see when they are searched.
I encourage them to get started with a LinkedIn profile for one thing. It’s soft social and a nice entrée into an online identity.
I’m not Joe MD
In a strange way I have to warn you to be careful of my advice. Docs like myself and Howard Luks and others see the world through a very different lens than the average internist or general surgeon in middle America (who I refer to as Joe MD). When thinking about our approach to the digitally naive physician we have to be careful about how we apply what we know about those of us who have already arrived. Keep it basic and remember where they’re at.
Finally, I should say that Susannah Fox’s willingness to reach out to the physician community is a testimony to her understanding of how this social stuff is all supposed to work. Even when we don’t know exactly how to approach something, there’s always someone who does.
I could go on all day. What else would you add?