Helping Physicians Make Their Way Up The Social Media Learning Curve

When patients hear the term “The Empowered Doctor” they may ask “I thought physicians were empowered. Staff, systems, procedures20130404-111357.jpg are controlled by them. What am I missing ?” at least from the perspective of Annette McKinnon, ePatient. Yet, “Doctors in their prime are going out of business,” says Dr. Simon Sikorski, President of Empowered Doctor Inc. Dr. Sikorski believes that physicians need to realize they are are in business and that they need to monitor their patients’ satisfaction. “Patient satisfaction or “client satisfaction” is critical to success,” he believes.

Dr. Sikorski describes an empowered doctor as someone who is a “trusted filter of information.” There are a number of places where patients are finding information, “Right now docs are competing for patient education with pharma, bloggers, health information companies, ratings sites etc.” He advocates that doctors become active participants in social media and even prescribe apps. Physician involvement in social media must be augmented. Doctors need to spend time and money “investing in how they’re found. It’s no longer sufficient for doctors to have a [static] website. So the doctors who don’t even have one, or a simple blog optimized for their name, are at a tremendous disadvantage,” he believes. This sentiment was echoed by AnneMarie Ciccarella, patient advocate who stated “We want two way conversation, [a] website is one way.” One of the main reasons for Dr. Sikorski worries about physician involvement in social media is because of questionable methods that are being used to collect and publish patient reviews. “Patient reviews are a trap. To date patient ratings sites are largely in the business of blackmailing doctors, and not creating an actual service,” Sikorski argues. In fact, he describes a practice of calling on physicians to “purchase advertisements to remove bad reviews.” The two sites that Dr. Sikorski believes are providing fair and accurate ratings are Google Plus and Facebook, one reason being that the reviewers are not anonymous. Dr. Sikorski describes the patient’s process of finding a physician this way, “Take a patient who is looking for an orthopedic hand surgeon. He/she will look up on Google ‘orthopedic hand surgeon’ in their location, select several doctors, go to their websites … then go back on Google and try to find something negative about those doctors….unless 20-30% of patients actually write reviews about doctors (so at least ONE THOUSAND reviews per calendar year) everything on the ratings sites is misinformation.”

Dr. Sikorski asks patients who are using the Internet (e-patients) to be “patient” with their physicians. Many e-patients complain that physicians will not address the information they have gleaned from the Internet. “Too many times I see patients come to a doctor’s office already frustrated with the message ‘It’s my way or the highway’ … to which the doctors respond ‘It’s my way.’” Some patients are already demonstrating this kind of generosity with their physicians. This was expressed by Annette McKinnon who stated, “I feel that I’m an ePatient but my doctor is not an eDoctor. [S/he] is still very good though.” Sikorski is trying to change this response. “Some of my personal friends ask their patients to share the blogs they read, contribute content to their websites, and some of them even end up hiring bloggers on a part-time basis. Why? Because an Empowered Doctor is so rare to find, and when people talk about them on social media, that practice becomes celebrated on many different levels.”

Sikorski’s advice for physicians, get involved in social media. Physicians “need to be on social media. They need to invest in patient satisfaction and their business. They need to develop a process where patients’ feedback and needs are just as important as medical knowledge. Doctors who do that can create very successful practices. Doctors who don’t… are retiring.“


Based on March 28, 2013 Health Communication, Health Literacy and Social Sciences Twitter chat #HCHLITSS.

This is article was co-written with Dr. Kathleen Hoffman and cross-posted. You can read the other version of this summary at Musings on Health Communications.

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