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The ROI for Physicans Active in Social Media? Other Benefits?

Posted Jul 30 2012 6:39am

Last Friday night I was flying back from a consulting assignment with a health system in New England, and killing time in the Baltimore airport thanks to a weather delay. When checking my Hootsuite account, I noticed that someone called @TheHappyMD sent me an unsolicited tweet asking me to check out information on physician burnout. (see tweet below)

I wasn’t familiar with The Happy MD but I did notice that the link he sent me was incomplete. As I mentioned, I was killing time so I sent him a tweet asking for the full link, and I ended up following him on Twitter. That decision to follow @TheHappyMD would lead to an interesting and frustrating exchange. (I actually debated whether or not to write this post, because I didn’t want to draw more attention to this individual. He appears to want attention. But in the end, I decided that it was more important to speak up and provide a dissenting opinion. So here we go…)

At about 7pm I noticed a tweet from @TheHappyMD stating that “Healthcare Social Media Makes No Sense for the Average American Doctor.” The tweet contained a link to a blog post written by @TheHappyMD (Dr. Dike Drummond). I checked him out online and he has decent credentials, having practiced Family Medicine for 15 years before moving on to entrepreneurial pursuits.

I read the article and was stunned by this former physician’s perspective. Frankly, I thought he was just trying to be provocative to stir up interest and drive traffic to his blog. (I may still be right about that.) Not only did he claim that there was no ROI for physicians using social media, but his definition of the benefits of social media engagement was limited to financial outcomes ($$$). He never recognized the importance of these platforms for engaging patients, educating patients and prospective patients, for humanizing the physician, and for building and positioning the physician’s brand. He also fails to acknowledge the entire ePatient movement. For me, that is a huge oversight. So, I responded:

The article by @TheHappyMD showed a complete lack of understanding of the role social media can play in a physician’s practice, and was full of inaccuracies. Here is a physician using social media to convince physicians that social media is a waste of time. Wow! I was stunned that Dr. Drummond bashed a blog post written by Howard Luks, MD, one of the physician thought leaders in healthcare social media, claiming that Dr. Luks has “no clue whether he is making a single additional dollar from all the blogging, tweeting and updating.” This was a stunning claim given Dr. Luks mentions in his post that the data he has gathered shows that 7 to 10% of new patients report coming to him because of his social media presence and the information presented on his website (includes his blog and online videos). Does Dr. Drummond need Dr. Luks to report the average contribution margin for each new orthopedics patient? Importantly, in his writings Dr. Howard Luks goes on to make a more important point, which Dike Drummond seems to have missed: Dr. Luks states that beyond social media’s ability to attract new patients, having been exposed to the physician’s online presence “the patients will be entering your office far better prepared, far better informed, and far more comfortable. That means they will already have a reasonable understanding of what they might be suffering from, they will be far more comfortable with you because they have seen your videos and are comfortable with your demeanor and presentation. And in the end, it makes your job in the office far more engaging, more productive and more efficient.” For someone focused on helping physicians remove stress from their lives, Dr. Drummond seems to have missed Dr. Luks’ most germane point. You can read Dr. Luks’ original post by clicking here .

Dr. Luks wrote a follow up post after viewing the comments by @TheHappyMD. He starts his post by responding to Dr. Drummond: “The conflict continues, what is the true ROI of a new media presence in healthcare? It exists, it’s measurable and @chrisboyer can tell you precisely what those numbers are… I could too. BUT my TRUE “ROI” is about educating people, humanizing my presence and making healthcare more social.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. Dr. Luks gets it; Dr. Drummond doesn’t. And it’s a shame that Dr. Drummond is leading physicians astray with his ill informed attacks of healthcare social media.

And what about all those fragile, stressed out physicians who Dr. Drummond fears cannot handle the added stress of engaging patients via social media? This is his target audience, after all. We know that Dr. Drummond believes in the power of social media because he uses it to market his own business and engage physicians (interesting, huh?). So, he must believe the weak link is the feeble physician who will be overwhelmed by the pressures of social media. In his blog post Dr. Drummond states that “”Healthcare Social Media is DANGEROUS” and “adding the learning curve of just one of these healthcare social media sites could be the last straw in your workload.” So, according to Dr. Drummond, physicians shouldn’t learn about this important new set of platforms for engaging patients (and colleagues – Sermo, Medscape, Ozmosis, QuantiaMD, etc.), even though patients are flocking these online networks in droves. He sums up his argument with the following: “If you are the typical doctor in the typical medical practice … there is no business case for Healthcare Social Media, there is no ROI … and the additional workload and expectations could worsen the amount of stress you are under.” Frankly, it looks to me that Dr. Drummond is just telling physicians what he believes they want to hear. It’s just a fad.

It amazes me that Dr. Drummond never considers that the physician might find engaging in social media to be fulfilling. And, as Dr. Luks and Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson have discovered, an active presence in social media may well lead to more productive face-to-face encounters with patients who come to the office better informed and better prepared. Perhaps Dr. Drummond should speak with physicians who have experienced the benefits of being active in social meida: Farris Timimi, MD (@FarrisTimimi) Medical Director, Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media; or Russell Faust, MD , Chief of Pediatric Otolaryngology at St John Health System, Ascension Health of Michigan, Integrative Pediatric ENT Center at Providence Park, Novi MI; or Bryan Vartabedian, MD, pediatric gastroenterologist at Texas Children’s Hospital, Baylor College of Medicine. I could go on and on.

Instead of telling physicians that healthcare social media is a waste of time, I suggest that Dr. Drummond re-evaluate his assessment of the value of social media and follow Dr. Howard Luks’ lead by helping physicians learn how to use social media effectively while managing their expectations. His representation of the benefits of healthcare social media is extremely limited, avoiding the vast majority of the potential benefits. I fear that Dr. Drummond will soon learn that this fad (now six or seven years old) is not going away. At what point does a fad become a trend? Consumers’ expectations for how they communicate with physicians and access information about health will never revert back to what they were in the good old days.

As I’ve often said, one of the hazards and advantages of social media is that anyone who wants to have a voice, can find a platform to express himself or herself. Even the uninformed or misinformed. All they need is the desire to have an audience. This is what Andrew Keen calls the “crisis of authority.” Thankfully, the democratic nature of social media allows individuals with dissenting opinions to respond and provide a balanced perspective. Now you’ve heard mine.

Okay, I’m finished with my rant. Enjoy the week!

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