Innovation in Medicine and Social Media: An Interview with KevinMD
Since 2004, Kevin Pho, MD has been a health care social media leader. He is also a practicing, board-certified internal medicine physician, a national media commentator and co-author of the book Establishing, Managing, and Protecting Your Online Reputation: A Social Media Guide for Physicians and Medical Practices. He is also the founder and editor of KevinMD.com, a popular website visited by medical professionals. Alison Dye recently interviewed him for AANS Neurosurgeon.
Alison Dye (AD): How did you get your start in social media?
Kevin Pho, MD (KP): I started back in 2004, by developing a blog on the advice of one of my family members who suggested I had a lot to say about medicine and health care. He said I should start a blog and write about these topics. At that time, I didn’t know what a blog was, but I took his advice and started on Blogger. I wrote an article about Vioxx, a medicine that was recalled around that time. A few days after I wrote that article, I remember talking to a patient and he told me that after reading my article, he felt better about the alternatives he had to using Vioxx. That’s when I realized that we could use blogs to communicate with patients outside of the exam room. That’s how I started and discovered that blogs and social media could be used to engage, connect with and educate patients, rather than one-on-one in the exam room. Doctors have tools that can reach many patients, which is a tremendously powerful tool.
AD: How has social media affected those working in the health care field? What are some trends you have noticed in recent years?
KP: There are three things social media has done for medical professionals.
1. Education. We touched upon how social media can educate patients and how patients are going online to google about their health and learn online. To this end, I think physicians can use social media to share reputable health information, create that information through a blog or creating videos on YouTube.
2. Reputation. More than half of patients are googling their doctors and by using social media tools we can control the information about ourselves online. Before, if physicians didn’t have an online presence, they would be defined online by physician rating websites like Healthgrades, Vitals or RateMDs. Frankly, a lot of doctors may not like what they find out about themselves when they google their name. Now, we have social media like Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and we can create that content and proactively define ourselves online. This allows physicians to have better control of that information online when patients google us.
3. Advocacy. Social media allows medical professionals to have a voice. Right now, health reform is really big in the news and physicians do not necessarily make a lot of the decisions about health reform. That’s a huge mistake! If physicians are not involved with health policy and health reform, there’s a good chance we are not going to like the decisions that are made on our behalf. So, with blogs and social media platforms, physicians now have a powerful platform to share their voice and have influence on the direction that health reform is taking.
AD: What advice can you give to a neurosurgeon who would like to begin using social media to manage their online reputation?
1. A physician should generate a great headshot and introductory bio. No matter what social media platform they plan to use, both of these are needed. When people Google them online, they will find this information.
2. Claim your profile from existing physician rating cites. If you go to Healthgrades, Vitals, RateMDs or Yelp there is an option to claim it and once you do that you can personalize that page by uploading your bio and headshot, which gives you control over how you are presented on all of these websites.
3. I recommend creating a profile on a professional social network, like LinkedIn or Doximity. Both of these websites are really digital translations of a physician’s CV and when names are googled chances are these platforms will appear at the top of Google search results.
All of these items take no more than a few hours to do and I recommend that all physicians set up this basic online presence. In terms of going forward, it really depends on what a physician’s goals are. Some physicians, who don’t have time, can just stop with the basic online presence. Doctors who want to be more active on social media platforms will have a great way connect with patients, learn from colleagues, debate health policy or advocate for a cause. However, it’s important for a physician to do this by using the appropriate social media channel that aligns with their goals.
AD: In what ways could social media be used to improve a neurosurgical practice’s relationship with its patients?
KP: Earlier we discussed how medical practices can use social media to create or guide patients to reputable health content to combat the overwhelming amount of pseudoscience and false medical information online. For example, there is the autism vaccine link and a lot of people think there’s a false connection, because of the readily available bad information online. So, medical practices can provide a credible source of health information. In addition, social media can also humanize medical practices. Most patients don’t see what goes on behind closed doors and they have a little bit of a faceless approach to medicine and health care. Due to this, I have seen some medical practices use social media and offer a behind the scenes peek at what the staff members are like and what doctors like to do outside of the clinic. This really allows the human side of the medical professionals to show and helps to facilitate that bond between doctors and patients. Those are probably the two ways practices can best use social media to improve their relationship with patients.
AD: Given that HIPAA prevents doctors from revealing identifiable personal details of their patients’ cases, what types of information can neurosurgeons communicate through social media?
KP: Social media is a great way to talk to patients collectively, but never individually. That concept alone will keep doctors out of trouble. Don’t give one on one advice! Don’t reveal personal information. There’s a simple rule of thumb that I offer up to physicians and I call it the “elevator test”. When a physician is online, never post anything that you won’t be comfortable saying in a crowded hospital elevator. If you do want to post case studies, simply ask and get written permission from the patient. This is the best way to be compliant with HIPAA and will keep doctors in the clear.
AD: What are some of the biggest opportunities for neurosurgeons when it comes to using social media?
KP: The biggest opportunity is having a platform and your voice heard. For neurosurgeons specifically, they can share their stories, what it is like to be a neurosurgeon, talk about the issues that are important to organized neurosurgery and articulate those to the public. Before social media, physicians would have use mainstream media, like television or op-eds in news outlets, but now we all can have platforms where the public can find us and listen to our views on a spectrum of topics. I think it’s important if we want to have any influence on health reform. We need to get the public on our side, and having social media platforms creates an opportunity to connect with the public in ways we never could before.
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