Lessons from My First Six Months at the Crossroads of Healthcare and Social Media

In the very early part of January I made the decision to start blogging.  Little did I know what was in store for me when I did.  Even though I’ve had my own “personal” Facebook account since 2008, it was not until January that I began to experience the “intersection” of Healthcare and Social Media.

With that in mind, here are a few of the things I’ve learned in my first 6 months as a medical professional in Social Media:

  1. Getting involved in Social Media means starting small:  Remember that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”  How did I start?  Quite simply by writing a blog post about what I thought the blog would be about.  Although the focus and intent of the blog has changed somewhat, my experience grew out of that first simple piece.  
  2. It is easy to feel overwhelmed in Social Media: Take a look at some of the established blogs and sites.  Depending on where you land, you might see some very advanced networking capabilities, extensive archives, and even advertisements.  But just like your career, if you are trying to build credentials and influence in Social Media, it will take time to grow.  Don’t be afraid of exploring and being led by some of the more seasoned medical bloggers.  You can learn a lot from them, and I continue to be amazed at the complexity of some of their sites.
  3. “If you post it, they will come”: One of the most common things I hear people say (and one of the things that I said before I started blogging and tweeting) is that no one will see their blog, post, tweet, page, etc.  As I quickly learned, it doesn’t matter how many people you know now.  The more you get involved, the more your voice will grow.  We are still early in the intersection of Healthcare and Social Media.  All you really need now is an interest to be involved. When I wrote my second blog post about my friend’s personal experience undergoing endoscopy, I didn’t know who would see it or read it.  So I posted it to my own personal Facebook site.  I’m not even sure if I tweeted it or not, or who saw it the week I originally posted it.  Nonetheless since then my blog has had over 4000 views and my Twitter account has somehow picked up over 1000 followers.  And even though I posted that blog back in January, it became a permanent part of my blog archive, and there have been views of it even this past week.
  4. Both the compliments and the criticisms come more quickly:  Traditional publishing takes months, even years to happen.  Those of us who occasionally or frequently write in medical journals or textbooks often get little public feedback, except for the occasional “Letter to the Editor”.  When criticisms do come in print, they are usually phrased in such a manner that professional relationships and standards can be maintained.  However in Social Media spheres, “peer review” is more like a “public review” of your topic or opinion by anyone who comes across it: peers, patients, or anyone who reads your post. Comments can be supportive, opposing, or even frankly inflammatory.  The ease of posting anonymously makes such opportunities for hateful scorn even simpler.  And for some the negative commentary can be just too overwhelming.
  5. Venturing into Social Media is great way to communicate with a broad audience:  There are so many people with whom we can communicate.  It might be with your colleagues across the country, the general public, even your patients.  For those of my patients who seem interested, I give them the URL of my blog and let them know that I blog about various topics they might find interesting.  In doing so, I hope to become a real person to my patients, seen as someone with whom they can continue a dialog in the office, beyond just being a specialist in a white coat.  But it is important to beware of the risks of having private or semi-private discussions in a public forum, as such inadvertent mistakes can have dramatic consequences, even in “private” media like Facebook.
  6. Don’t enter Social Media expecting to become wildly successful: There are very few prominent bloggers who make their livings (or a second living) by maintaining active blogs.  The experience in Social Media is one of engagement.  The more people you communicate with, the more people you will communicate with, as your voice grows.  Some people are good enough to be able to drum up extra business by posting great content and developing a strong “brand”.  But if your intended audience sees that you are just trying to promote your business or practice, you will lose the interest of many of the people you would hope to become your intended audience.
  7. The proliferation of Social Media is not a passing fad: Whether or not you personally like it, “Social Media” is here to stay.  The popular Social Media sites and types may change from year to year, but this is the new reality.  As our patient bases grow more adept at using Social Media, those who do will expect similarly out of their doctors.  The same goes for the students, the trainees, and eventually our colleagues.  If we do not lead the way, we will trail behind those who do.
  8. Getting involved in Social Media is not for everyone: Well, you probably saw this one coming.  When I originally wrote this piece, this was my #1 thing learned, but I think it works just as well here.  Clearly there are some docs who are drawn to Social Media and some who spurn it.  For the latter group, no explanations will get them to embrace newer methods of mass communication.  There is however another group, a diverse group that contains the majority of docs who are out there (if you are reading this and have not yet tested the waters yourself, this is you).  The group comprises those who are unsure or skeptical about using Social Media as well as those who might be interested but just aren’t sure what to do.  Bryan Vartabedian (33charts.com) asserts that physicians are obligated to participate in Social Media (although this view is not espoused by everyone).  Right now, there is no requirement to be involved in Social Media, but the later a doc gets involved, the farther behind the 8-ball and more antiquated the doc risks becoming.

These points really just skim the surface of what is out there to be learned and experienced.  I continue to learn more about Social Media each day.  I remind myself that my own expertise lies in my medical skills and knowledge.  I am not an expert by any means in Journalism, Communication, Marketing, or Education, all of which are aspects of Social Media that I need to learn from experts in these areas so that I can develop my skills more broadly in this arena.

To those who have helped me grow since January, thank you.  I have made some great friends and relationships, and hope to make many many more.

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About Ryan Madanick, MD

I am a gastroenterologist at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, as well as the Program Director for the GI & Hepatology Fellowship Program. I specialize in diseases of the esophagus, with a strong interest in the diagnosis and treatment of patients who have difficult-to-manage esophageal problems such as refractory GERD. I can be followed on Twitter: @RyanMadanickMD
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8 Responses to Lessons from My First Six Months at the Crossroads of Healthcare and Social Media

  1. Excellent lesson summary. What is your take on those who happen to be specialists considering social media? There are some diseases that have such small numbers of patients (or for which social stigma disfavors public engagement) that I wonder if the investment to some of these doctors is worthwhile. For example, an endrocrine specialist would be nuts not to join in the multilvaried conversations (or at least listen in to them) from people with diabetes and/or obesity issues. However, for physicians who are engaged with much smaller patient pools, as with uterine fibroids or crohn’s, is it really worth it for them to become active online to serve as the lone medical beacon?

    • Thanks Carmen. Actually, it is probably more important for these doctors to get involved. Often good doctors who specialize are harder to get in contact with, or maybe patients have little access to them. SoMe could serve a grateful population. Furthermore, they can interact with other healthcare providers on a much more real-time basis and provide information as needed. Actually, I have done little tweeting about my true sub-specialty interest (refractory heartburn/GERD), but have found other interests about which I communicate on SoMe.

  2. Dr. Madanick,
    Glad to see you are using social media, and blogging in particular, in your profession. The new and evolved patient of today wants to be educated, empowered, and engaged with. These tips can help Doctors, and even healthcare companies, take a step into the social learning arena of healthcare that is developing ever so quickly! I particularly like tip #3! Goes with one of my favorite sayings, “publish or perish.”

    Thanks for the valuable insight!

    Best,
    Robert

  3. Pingback: OK I’m on Twitter…Now What? A Primer for Physicians (aka Twitter 101 for Docs) | Gut Check

  4. Pingback: » How to get started on Twitter: A primer for doctors » Wordpress Practice Site Wordpress Practice Site

  5. Editor says:

    Reblogged this on Health Care Social Media Monitor and commented:
    Very interesting to read the personal account of a social media savvy medic!

  6. This is a very good tip especially to those new to the blogosphere.
    Simple but very accurate info… Thanks for sharing this one.
    A must read article!

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