Social Media Adoption by Physicians. It’s A Little Like Quitting Smoking

Today, Mark Britton, CEO of Avvo (a physician rating site that also provides answers to health questions), gave a presentation to our clinic regarding the role of social media in healthcare. He gave an excellent background on the evolution of social media, as well as general principles to consider when embarking on this path.

 “If you don’t have a meaningful web presence, you don’t exist.”

This quote, from Britton, is poignant and true – true, at least, to the many doctors already utilizing social media. But many doctors feel the opposite is true. They might say, “When I take care of patients, make phone calls, am physically present and working tirelessly in clinic or the operating room… that is when I exist. Social media is a fad for kids and I really don’t have the time for it.” This is the oft-referenced head-in-sand approach – never a good one. Others might feel that social media in healthcare is ALL about marketing and self-promotion. (By the way, the vast majority of physicians do the latter poorly, quite frankly. This is usually due to a fear of the impression it would make on others. In fact, for years, I deliberately did not reveal my profession to many non-healthcare acquaintances I encountered unless specifically asked. ) Some doctors feel their years of experience and employer reputation – rather than fancy web pages – should be enough to convince patient that they are good doctors.

All of these are valid concerns and points. As I have now been blogging, tweeting, and using LinkedIn and Facebook since November of 2010, I almost forgot that I was a nay-sayer once, too. It occurred to me today, as I observed the faces in the room during this social media talk, that educating physicians about social media adoption is akin to smoking cessation counseling for patients. That is to say, one will encounter differing levels of interest depending on which doctors you meet.


Typical response involves using the word Twitter with a sneer or not even recognizing it.  “I don’t do Facebook. I don’t do Twitter.” Doctors in this stage might also wonder, “Why would I change the way I practice now? I have plenty of patients. I don’t have time for this.”


An individual in this stage might be someone who already uses Facebook for personal reasons (keeping up with family, using Facebook as a photo album,  etc). He may be curious about how social media can work for him. Some doctors in this stage might want to get involved but are afraid of the time commitment. After all, EHR adoption and meaningful use requirements are eating up more of the limited time that is not spent in direct patient care.


In this stage, the doctors are ready and researching tools. They might be observing the behavior of other social-media-savvy doctors. They might get inspiration or ideas from some of the physician bloggers/tweeps that I follow most frequently: SeattleMamaDoc, 33 charts, Dr. Wes, John MD , KevinMD, Clinical Cases and Images: Casesblog and – ahem- my own blog.


Here, doctors are committed and are actively embarking on the social media path.


This is tricky because social media CAN be consuming and it is easy to get frustrated (especially if you are only looking to increase revenue quickly).  It is doable, however,  and takes a little discipline – doctors are good at that, right? – to get just the right balance so that you don’t lose steam. It helps if you receive input on topics that you find interesting and relevant.


I was thrilled to see the number of physicians from my clinic attend the presentation. I underestimated the level of interest in the topic. Ultimately, no one should feel pressured into social media for the sake of social media itself or for the sake of generating quick revenue. One thing is true with social media; motives are more apparent than we would like to think.

If a doctor is passionate about his/her work in the healthcare industry, the realm of social media is one that cannot be ignored. To expand on Mark Britton’s words, not only do you not exist if you don’t have a meaningful web presence, you might even have an inaccurate and less than favorable existence, a web portrait painted by reviews on Yelp or Angie’s List or Healthgrades and generated from very limited interactions or experience. This might come as a shock to even the most experienced and well-meaning doctor.

Furthermore – and most important, in my opinion – patients get their information from the internet. If more reputable and qualified physicians are not there to direct them, someone else – even a celebrity without any medical training– will be more than happy to “educate” them.

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How Low Can We Go? A Ten-Year-Old Models in French Vogue

I appreciate fashion – not in the sense that I buy the latest designer clothes. Rather, I enjoy the aesthetics of it. It is creative and can be glamorous, silly, subdued, over-the-top, surprising, and even emotional (as is the case with wedding dresses for some people). Watching designs come to life on a show like Project Runway is entertaining and inspiring. Runway modeling, in particular, can be mesmerizing; the models’ bodies serve as moving canvases for art. However, needless to say, I was quite disappointed with the extremely unhealthy, waif-thin days of modeling. As personified by Kate Moss during that time, in the world of fashion, limits are always being pushed.

In fact, the newest controversy in the fashion world  surrounds a provocative photo shoot of a 10-year-old posing in French Vogue. Here we have a child (younger than a teenager) photographed in adult poses and dressed up as a grown woman with sexy make-up, stilettos, stare, and all. Thylane Blondeau is without a doubt a gorgeous and striking girl (emphasis on “girl”). She clearly has the genetics for a modeling career now and in the future. If I were her mother, perhaps even I might suggest a short stint in modeling at some point. But at the age of ten, are these images pushing limits?

Some feel quite strongly about protecting all children from the modeling world. I don’t take as extreme as a stance, but I do take issue with the way some magazines portray children. Vogue is a fashion/lifestyle magazine. What lifestyle is being sold here? And to whom? If we think that only adults and teens will be reading these magazines, we would be sorely mistaken. The children of women who read these magazines have access to them, circulate the ideas, and sometimes even imitate these images at school.

See, you can’t really understand the issue here until you have heard stories of healthy seven- and eight-year-old girls asking if they are fat or if their thighs are too big, putting themselves quietly on an unforced diet. It is practically a given that a woman in Western culture will spend most of her life unhappy with her body. But we need to take note that, today, our society’s young children – so full of potential and who have been on this earth for not even a mere decade – are obsessing about their weight. Really, it has gone quite too far.

This is my own opinion, of course, and not a professional one, except for the fact that body image issues do not just lead to anorexia. There are issues and struggles related to poor self-image that can be lifelong: making food excessively complicated, giving up easily on healthy eating, and looking at health as unattainable because it is associated with certain celebrity body types. Of course, there are those who say critics should “lighten up” about Blondeau’s Vogue pictures. But they are just ignoring the glaring reality that body image issues are starting younger and younger.

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**photo by BlackHawkTraffic (Flickr Creative Commons)

“The Punisher”

I recently met someone whom I will name “The Punisher” in my life right now. This person is pushing me beyond my perceived abilities. He says, “Ok. I know you can do that already, but can you do this?” He doesn’t care where I came from (and, in fact, he has not yet asked me anything at all about my past), only where I am going. He is forcing me to reveal goals that I didn’t want to utter out loud for fear of having to realize them. I call him “The Punisher” because the process of thinking outside of my usual pattern is painful, as is being forced to admit that I am not at my best right now. “Come on,” he says. “You can do better.” Everyone needs someone like this. (The movie, “Good Will Hunting” comes to mind).

We tend to surround ourselves with people who are complimentary and accept us for who we are and we easily dismiss those who criticize us. There are good reasons for this. But the person who is most likely to help you realize your true potential is often neither of these. Rather, it’s the person who says, “Stop your grumbling. Move forward.” I had an amazing band conductor, a great chemistry teacher, and a senior resident during medical training who did this.  These are unforgettable individuals who made an impact on my life not just by helping me improve my performance in the respective subjects, but by also reshaping my perception of what I can conquer in life.

Who is your “Punisher”? Who motivates you to improve yourself? It might have been your parents or a teacher when you were a child. Who is it now that you’ve grown into a stubborn adult? Have you ever had a doctor or a nurse who made you feel that way? It is important for us to feel we are loved for who we are and to not feel like we are being forced to be someone else. But it is also important to find and hold on to people who push you to realize that you are ever-evolving and have great potential. They might just know you better than you do yourself.

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