Today’s brave new world of digital technology has both enhanced and compromised the day-to-day operational efficiency of ultrabusy oncologists who are struggling to balance patient care with the rapid evolution of technology. Like all scientific advances, health-care technology is a double-edged sword, and it is moving forward at breakneck speed. So there is a virtual unmet need to address and adapt to heretofore-unthinkable issues for doctors of the past, such as one’s online reputation.
Physicians are increasingly counted among Facebook’s 1 billion users and Twitter’s 500 million members. Social media content is brief, characterized as a “many-to-many” communication medium, and able to spread quickly across the Internet beyond a physician’s control or wishes. It’s a powerful tool for medicine, but it has its clear and present dangers, too.
A new book titled Establishing, Managing, and Protecting Your Online Reputation: A Social Media Guide for Physicians and Medical Practices explores our emerging medical digital health-care world and offers practical solutions to these new challenges. In the end, the reader will probably come away feeling the benefits of social media and other technologies far outweigh the hazards for both doctors and their patients.
The authors, Kevin Pho, MD, founder of the social media website KevinMD.com, and Susan Gay, a medical publisher and content strategist in medical publishing, are well schooled in the medical technology field, and they have constructed a thoughtful book to that end.
New Generation of Patients
Arranged in eight chapters with an informative appendix, Establishing, Managing, and Protecting Your Online Reputation is jam-packed with valuable information about a technology that is rapidly disrupting the health-care landscape. In chapter 1, the authors lay out the digital landscape, noting that a 2012 PricewaterhouseCoopers report showed a whopping one-third of consumers are using social media; they are not simply seeking medical information about a disease or possible symptoms but increasingly are looking for information about physicians and hospitals. The availability of massive amounts of online information has also created a new generation of patients the authors call “e-patients,” which they say has given patients a voice in their own care they never had before.
Another phenomenon arising in social media is the rapid growth of online medical support groups. This offers an opportunity for housebound cancer patients, for instance, to engage with others on a 24/7 basis, creating a much-needed social comfort zone in which they can share their stories and ask advice. Although some doctors fear an erosion of the sacred doctor-patient relationship, the authors make a solid case that social media will never replace the underlying need for face-to-face interaction between doctor and patient.
Another understandable finding presented by the authors is a survey showing that many physicians intentionally choose to avoid online social networking websites to maintain their privacy. This same group considers it unprofessional for physicians to have their patients “finding” them on well-traveled public sites.
Step-by-Step Guide for Early Adopters
After the introductory chapters, much of the book is a step-by-step guide for early adopters, and it is delivered in crisp, reader-friendly language. The section on learning how to create an online profile is quickly followed by an incisive discussion on managing and protecting one’s online reputation. The authors take pains to walk the reader through this invaluable content. They wisely integrate patient satisfaction into the fabric of the bigger message; they refer to a study that found 72% of consumer patients ranked the reputation of the health-care provider and personal experience as the top driver for choosing a physician.
The final chapter, “Connect and Be Heard: My Journey From Social to Mainstream Media,” is a compelling first-person account by Dr. Pho of his maturation in the world of tech and social media. It makes a great case, even for the timid and skeptical, that social media has the potential to fundamentally change the lives of physicians. For the interested but skeptical reader, who might think social media is more fluff than substance, reading the last chapter first might be a good idea. This highly informative book is recommended for The ASCO Post readers. ■