May 1, 2017

Healthcare Communications and Social Media (#HCSM) - Why It's Important

Jaime Friedman MD FAAP
San Diego CA
@drjaimefriedman  Facebook and Twitter

The art of communication is something that isn’t always taught in medical school (at least it wasn’t back in the day when I was a student).  Of course we are taught how to take a history, but what about communicating a diagnosis with a patient, or even with the public?  It’s not as easy as it looks.  Here’s a prime example  of the variability in how doctors communicate - my post about the phrase,  "just a virus".  The way a physician discusses a diagnosis, treatment plan, risks versus benefits and potential outcomes will be different for each doctor and can really have an impact on patients.  A patient’s trust and confidence in their physician can vary depending on how they are communicated with, or at least how they perceive that communication.  

Now that we have the digital space where anyone and everyone gives and receives information, the importance of communicating effectively and accurately is more important than ever.  Furthermore, a physician’s presence in the digital space can have a large impact on his/her reputation and practice, both positive and negative.  As I am now almost 5 years into Twitter and over 2 years into my blog, I have a lot of reflections on healthcare communications and social media  It has been an amazing learning experience, and very humbling.  My hope is that this post will help physicians young and old get into the digital space in a way that enriches their lives and helps patients.

My start in the digital world

In 2012 I was given the amazing opportunity by my company to move into a brand new office as the lead physician for that office.  The office is in a growing neighborhood much closer to my home and was a complete start-up.  I knew I needed to do some marketing, something I was never trained to do.  My company already had a Facebook page, so I wasn’t able to start a new page for my new office.  (We now have location pages for all of our offices thanks to some hard work by my marketing director, and after much pleading on my part to get it done.) 

My next stop was Twitter, since we don’t have a company account.  That is where I found a home.  It didn’t take me long to realize that Twitter was not necessarily the place to get new patients, but it certainly was a place to connect with many other physicians, scientists, nurses, nutritionists, parents and all-around awesome people from all over the world.  I also connected with journalists,  which led to exposure in both printed media and on television, and I connected with several people who run websites for parents and have asked for my contribution. This is not direct marketing, but it has definitely helped build my brand.  Having my name out there has helped prospective parents find me through a simple online search.  

As much as I love connecting on Twitter, it’s hard to relay good medical information in 140 characters.  After attending sessions on social media at the Medical Group Management Association meetings in 2014, I was convinced that I needed to blog,  and so my site was born.  This is where I really get to provide education to my patients and the internet at large.  This is my chance to seed the web with medically factual articles in a sea of…well all kinds of stuff.

The Impact and Power of Social Media

One thing I can say for doctors on Twitter, they are a powerful force.  And that’s not even coming from every doctor in the country!  Imagine if every pediatrician had blog posts and Twitter feeds giving evidence-based advice.  How much would that drown out the anecdotes and fear mongering?  

Take for example the Disneyland measles outbreak in early 2015.  My tweet was the first tweet about the cases, and you can read more about that here, but there was also a very loud and powerful outcry from many pediatricians about the importance of vaccination.  Over 650,000 tweets were sent between February 1 and March 9, 2015 mentioning vaccinations.  Furthermore, two members of the American Academy of Pediatrics decided to have a “Twitter storm on February 6, 2015 under the hashtag #MeaslesTruth to highlight how dangerous the infection is.  Symplur noted that not only were there thousands of tweets during the Twitter storm, but the impressions were through the roof.  That’s powerful!

Recently, a physician from the well-known and respected Cleveland Clinic wrote an opinion piece spouting unproven myths about vaccines.  Because he used the Cleveland Clinic name and logo in his byline, the doctors on Twitter took the Clinic to task in full force.  Several articles were written debunking the piece and calling for the Clinic to respond.  Not only can this one article ruin a physician’s reputation, but it also harms the reputation of the Cleveland Clinic.   With a tweet, We fully support vaccines to protect patients & employees. Statements made by our physician do not reflect the position of Cleveland Clinic,”  they  tried to distance themselves from the physician’s statement.  They have since promised discipline.  A public relations nightmare for them but a win for all the (other) physician voices online!


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