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Should We Expect Physicians to be Social Media Content Generators

Posted Sep 27 2010 1:55am

“Are Doctors Socially Lazy?” That’s the title of a recent blog post by Dr. Bryan Vartabedian. Hearing the words “doctor” and “lazy” in the same sentence doesn’t sit well for most people. However when it comes to social media, doctors are slow to embrace the communication platform and even slower to become content generators. Physicians are intelligent individuals with important perspectives on health.  So why do they shy away from social media? According to Dr. Bryan Vartabedian at Texas Children’s Hospital/Baylor College of Medicine, doctors have concerns over their privacy and ‘being seen.’ “Doctors have a real problem with this kind of transparent exposure.  They’re willing to listen, it seems.  But dialogue’s another issue. “ Dr. Vartabedian goes on to suggest that physicians may have a “social constitution” that keeps them from engaging in public discourse.

In a related post by Mitch Joel titled “In Praises of Lazy,” he speaks of the 1% rule – where only 1% of the audience will take time to actually create content. Here’s what Mitch has to say about the masses who aren’t interested in creating contents:

“Don’t be upset that the masses all don’t have Google Alerts or have a news reader set-up on their desktop… They want to be entertained. They want to forget about their work day. They’re not interested in working more or creating their own media. The balance comes in recognizing both types of people. The balance comes in creating media (as a brand) that appeals to those who just want the information versus those who want to do something with that same information.”

This applies to the general population and to physicians. Why not? Should we really expect most physicians to be active social media content generators? Think of the lives of physicians today – they are facing an unprecedented level of change. Many of them are having to integrate Electronic Health Records into their practices – a change that turns their internal processes upside down. Meanwhile, others are having to respond to the demands of new quality contracts with managed care companies that have essentially turned the old fee for service model on its head. And others are adopting the Patient Centered Medical Home Model, moving to a team-based model of care. It is a new day for many providers. And for the rest of them, there’s a new day coming. So who has time for blogging or pushing Twitter content?

Meanwhile, Dr. Vartabedian suggests that social media should be a primary component of medical school training. I don’t disagree. He also suggests that doctors who are currently active social media users should help to educate their colleagues. Dr. Vartabedian acknowledged that doctors are late adopters and patience is a virtue.

As a blogger and someone who is active in social media I acknowledge that it takes a constant commitment to keep the momentum moving. At the SHSMD conference earlier this month I kept hearing people talk about “Feeding the Beast” – referring to the need to constantly create content for their various social media platforms. Whatever you call it, being a content generator is not for everyone. It is an added layer of work for people who are already time strapped. As we all know, most people who start blogs never follow through and the blogs end up abandoned. I think blogging works for me because I have a passion for learning and for sharing what I learn. I also have a very understanding wife who, despite calling herself a “blog widow,” gives me the time and space to work on my blogs. But again, content generation is not for everyone and we should not fault others who chose another path.

For physicians the challenge is going to come when patients want to engage them online or communicate with them electronically, or when other practices are positioned more favorably because of their use of social media. Are physicians and hospitals that learn to use social media effectively going to have a competitive advantage? I have to believe they will. Frankly, I believe they already do. So in some ways this is about physicians failing to adopt a tool that can more closely connect them to patients and potential patients, and more favorably position their practice for success. This doesn’t apply to all physicians, but certainly is the case for physicians in private practice.

In 2004 I wrote a chapter for a textbook by Jossey-Bass on marketing the physician practice (“Essentials of Physician Practice Management”). If I were to write that chapter today, it would be very different. In fact, I would need to add a  new chapter on social media, engaging patients electronically and HIPAA compliance. There are lots of land minds when physicians venture into this new territory and for some it is just easier to avoid it entirely.

For more, check out this story on Dr. Vartabedian’s blog: . You can also follow him on Twitter: @Doctor_V

To read Mitch Joel’s post “In Praise of Lazy,” go to: . Mitch’s blog is titled Six Pixels of Separation. He has written a book by the same title.

Post by Dan Dunlop, The Healthcare Marketer

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