Diagnosing why doctors use social media requires more than a one-size-fits-all prescription, Ellerin Health Media founder Bunny Ellerin found while writing her recently released white paper “The Social Physician.”
In the paper, Ellerin interviewed 10 physicians with varying specialties from across the country — conversations that may go a long way toward debunking the prevailing theory that the majority of doctors remain staggeringly behind when it comes to social media.
“People who market to doctors have a lot of preconceived notions that just aren’t correct,” Ellerin said in an interview Wednesday. Having worked with doctors earlier in her career from a marketer’s perspective, Ellerin said the emergence of social media has opened doors — not only between marketers and physicians, but also between physicians and their patients.
Many, like oncologist Dr. Stephen Lemon of Omaha, Neb., jumped into the social-media fray to fight the incorrect information that proliferates on the Internet.
“10 years ago, there was a lot of information on the web, but today, there is so much that it’s a wonder any layperson or even an expert can sift through it and know what’s accurate and what’s not,” Ellerin said, citing the key point hit upon by Lemon in his desire to engage online.
Lemon, who is preparing to launch CancerLifeCenter.com as a resource guide for cancer patients and their families, said he wants to “make the right information available to help the patient.”
Many doctors realize that patients are using social media as a way of garnering medical information — often from one another.
“Patients are sharing information among themselves; we need to be there too,” said Virginia-based bone and soft tissue surgeon Dr. Felasfa Wodajo.
Dr. Val Jones created BetterHealth.com in 2008 to bring together a large portion of the patients and physicians engaged in the social-media realm. New Hampshire-based internist Dr. Kevin Pho has become something of a social-media celebrity in the medical world, posting his takes on developments in the industry on his website, KevinMD.com, since 2004.
It is in sharing and disseminating information that doctors have found the most success; tracking down new patients has yet to produce fruit for many, Ellerin found.
Speaking with Dr. Alan Dappen, a seasoned family-medicine practitioner, Ellerin discovered that efforts to garner new patients have yet to take root, for the most part. The problem, she believes, may be as much with the patients as the doctors not reaching out.
“Many patients still look at doctors in a different light… though I do think over the next several years it will have more of an impact as people become more comfortable with doctors putting themselves out there,” Ellerin said. “Now if you Google a doctor and their blog or Twitter page comes up, you can use that to vet them.”
And while some doctors cite privacy concerns, a lack of compensation or other factors when relaying a reluctance in joining the social-media crowd, Ellerin said time is the biggest roadblock to more doctors getting involved.
For those that do participate, however, many find that their time spent online pays off in spades.
“It takes time to build a network and cultivate relationships on Twitter,” said pediatric gastroenterologist Dr. Bryan Vartabedian. ” But they are starting to bear fruit. I see it when I ask for help. The strength and power of those relationships are shocking.”
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