Must Physicians Engage In Social Media?

The latter half of September 12th’s #hcsm chat brought up the issue of what value social media (SM) can provide to physicians.  In particular, the discussion focused on whether the group felt SM involvement was necessary for physicians–what would one say if their physician indicated they had no interest in SM communication, and would physicians who declined to become involved in SM find themselves obsolete?  It is is worth noting at the outset that the group’s opinions and thoughts were not conclusive, though general trends were apparent.

“I’m a doctor; I don’t do social media.

Various suggestions were made as to how patients could broach the topic of SM engagement with their physician.  One option I presented was to point skeptical or uncertain physicians toward doctors with strong online presences.  This way physicians could see how their peers use SM and can determine how they might use the technology and techniques themselves.  @JanelleBowden had a similar approach: “I would Q further what doc perceptions of SM are, so they can be addressed. Not everyone well informed of potential of SM yet”; after physicians learned more about SM capabilities they could make their own decisions as to what extent they would like to use SM.  One option, presented by @Julian_Bond, would not try to push physicians beyond their comfort level: “Think if docs dont want to use SM as tool for comm, they should at least be aware of HC discussions going on there”.  Another option, separate from physicians being personally involved in SM, would be to leverage this method of communication: “for starters, instead of all the snail mail and reminder calls, you first figure out where pts want to be reached?” (@mcbennett6).   @MacObGYN felt that “Social media extends the doctor patient relationship beyond the four walls of the office” and that one way to get doctors to consider SM would be to explain that “SM is an opportunity to spread info in your specialty to lots of people, increase education, build loyalty and increase connection.”  @MHoskins2179’s opinion reflected that feelings I suspect are shared by many patients: “We have too little time in office, Dr. SM will help us better utilize the little time we have, save u time, & lead to better care.”

However, not all participants felt that physician involvement in SM is necessary: @CureT1Diabetes noted “not every doctor has time 2talk to people online – I just want a brilliant physician who keeps up w/medicine.”  @RAWarrior replied to @MacOBGYN’s by noting that not all patients or doctors are ready to have the doctor/patient relationship extended beyond the office visit.  In each case, the comments focus on the need to keep current with information and to determine when and how patients wish to engage with physicians.

SM and obsolescence: should physicians worry?

The accompanying question was whether physicians who do not engage in SM will find themselves obsolete as time moves forward.  My initial reaction to this question was to comment that as patients become more comfortable with SM as a means of communication, physicians will need to develop a level of comfort using SM.  @JanelleBowden took a broader view, writing “We all have to learn. Those that don’t will become obselete, no matter the profession.”  A number of participants felt that it would just be a matter of time before physicians used SM more readily: @joshdbrett commented “Eventually, yes. But there are still populations who won’t or can’t use those technologies. U need to know ur audience”, while @DermDoc took a more practical view that physicians “Risk losing their share of patients. Ultimately, practice marketing will drive most physicians to social media”.  @MHoskins2179 also took a pragmatic view: “Once docs can start getting reimbursed for SM/online patient interaction, I see that as motivating many.”

Again, there was not uniform demand that physicians be actively involved in SM or a sense that physicians who avoided SM would become obsolete: @CureT1Diabetes felt that physicians uninvolved in SM would not be obsolete “if they truly listen to their patients,read the literature, attend conferences”.  @pfanderson felt this question required flexibility: “Back to different strokes for different folks. Docs who don’t get/use #hcsm will likely find patients who agree”.  There was also an expressed belief that SM engagement could not take the place of in-office care: “Need a physician who is 100% present & engaged with patient in office; not one with online presence but dismissive w/10 min off. visit” (@CureT1Diabetes).

Although we can’t force doctors to engage in SM, physicians should consider getting involved.

At this point, it appears that we are still in a transition point regarding physicians using SM.  Many people active in this discussion see great value in SM involvement and would encourage physicians to become involved while noting potential issues if physicians decline to engage.  At the same time, this opinion was not uniform: doctors who do not use SM will not be hurt so long as they stay up to date on current developments, and they will still likely find patients that are comfortable working with them.  I think it is also important to realize that many of the potential benefits for physician involvement in SM are potential benefits.  There are not many actual benefits while the time needed for SM engagement is significant.

I think that reformed health care delivery and payment and more patient-focused care will lead to physicians becoming more involved in SM over time.  In the meantime, physicians should be open to considering SM as a way to be resources to their patients.  Those physicians already engaged should be willing to discuss SM with their colleagues and encourage their peers to become involved: SM isn’t going away, and it could provide significant benefits to patient care in the future.

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3 Responses to Must Physicians Engage In Social Media?

  1. Carmen says:

    In the big scheme of things, whether doctors use social media or not will likely fall away as generational shifts become more prominent. We know more and more people are going online to find health information, and that Gen-Xers and Millenials consider social media second nature, so I consider the question of physician participation to already be settled. It’s coming sooner than docs think.

  2. richmonddoc says:

    Carmen–since you feel that SM use among docs will become standard, how would you address this issue with a skeptical physician?

  3. carmen2u says:

    I wouldn’t. I would let the market speak for itself. As patients dwindle from the doctor’s roster, the physician should ask patients how to better serve them — the answer may or may not incolude social media. Without attentuion to the patient, the practice dies a natural course.

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