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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6 thoughts on “Social Media Adoption by Physicians. It’s A Little Like Quitting Smoking

  1. Linda,

    Great post. I am constantly amazed that a lot of the people I know and love and associate with often have little knowledge of gadgets or the Internet or social media of any kind, except maybe Facebook in the context you mentioned. I have been using these tools (the technology for many years and social media for two or three years now) to organize my life, stay connected to others, learn more, and now increasingly to get a message out. Some of us are now so used to doing this that we forget how many professionals don’t even do email in this day and age! It’s an exciting time to be practicing, that’s for sure.

    I have a grandson coming into the whorl tomorrow. If he decides to pursue a medical degree one day, I can only imagine what wonders will await him as he takes that journey!

    Thanks for the post.


  2. Too funny. I’ve used the addiction analogy before as well. Just like you can’t get someone to quit any bad habit, you can’t drag a hospital/healthcare provider across the social media finish line either!

  3. Dr. P., having lectured on this topic for lawyers, I run into two general responses. The first is very similar to what you saw with physicians. Lawyers who simply don’t want to engage in it, and feel its not a vital part of a marketing strategy. The second I see, and which I’m curious about in other professions, runs along the lines of “Well, I want to do this social media because I heard it makes me money. Why is this any different than SEO key wording? Can’t I pay someone to do this for me.” Essentially, they think of it as just another thing they can pay someone to do and get large amounts of hits of low quality. They never ever learn to ACTUALLY engage their audience and make real connections with the people they’re interacting with online. These attorneys also tend to be the types to spend big money on marketing, at the expense of their clients. Any similar analogy that you’ve seen in medicine?

    • Good question. I haven’t personally seen the specific social media marketing tactics of other physician groups. However, I suspect that many healthcare companies who do venture into social media do so in the old way of marketing – that is, talking at people, rather than with people – with the goal of making money quickly and an otherwise hands-off approach.

      Personally, I think it would be ideal for a hospital or physician group to have a social-media-savvy physician on their marketing team. One who is not solely profit-motivated, cares about quality content, and has real experience with and a keen awareness of the nuances of social media and the “human-ness” required for successful interaction, in addition to an understanding HIPAA guidelines and some basic standards for professionalism.

  4. You’ve touched on the phases of social media adoption by physicians quite well. And these steps don’t only apply to physicians, but to all of those individuals who represent the larger healthcare industry.

    With that said, I’d like to stress two things in particular …

    First, I especially agree with your last paragraph. Reportedly, when asked why he robbed banks, John Dillinger famously replied, “Because that’s where the money is.” No, I’m not comparing healthcare with robbery, but the Internet IS where the patients are. And we in the healthcare profession need to be there to guide them … or false information will rule the day.

    Second, regarding the presenter’s remark, “If you don’t have a meaningful web presence, you don’t exist.” I don’t quite subscribe to that. Especially with all the physician rating sites out there today, most doctors very much “exist” on the web … for better or worse. Consequently, I prefer to tell physicians that, “Regardless if you know it or not, you DO have a web presence. What’s at question is whether or not you control it.”

    It’s time to engage.

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