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why should doctors use social media


Doctors should use social media – really!

This week, I’m at the gorgeous Kiawah Island Golf Resort speaking at the Carolina Refresher Course – a great meeting that is top-notch for CME in the mornings, and family friendly fun-in-the-sun in the afternoons. I’m speaking about simulation and about decision making errors, and I’ve been co-championing my colleague Dr. Ryan Madanick’s efforts to engage physicians in social media (he’s presenting three sessions on this topic here at the meeting, and you may know him from gutcheckblog.com – he’s a gastroenterologist – or the #meded twitter chats). We found that even as we tried to drum up enthusiasm for social media in advance, with letters to both the speakers and attendees, when Ryan opened the meeting and took a poll about who was using a twitter account, only about ten hands raised. Physicians are often late adopters of technology, so here is my short list of the 5 key reasons doctors should use social media.

1. Social Media is a great way to network. The very famous Capt. Sully Sullenberger (now a healthcare safety consultant) came across some twitter posts of mine, and “followed” me. That engagement led me to be able to contact him directly, using the “direct message” feature, and we have subsequently had some conversations. And, we took our conversation off-line, in the form of long phone call, talking about the similarities and differences between aviation and medicine, safety culture, simulation, and all kinds of common interests. This connection would never have happened if not for social media. I am continually amazed at the networking and actual relationships made on social media – folks I would never know existed if not for the twitterverse, but who turn out to be really amazing at what they do, in a city or country far from me.

2. Being active on social media is the only way you can control your digital footprint. With all of the rating sites for hospitals and doctors, if a potential patient or employer “googles” you, what will they find? A bunch of meaningless sites that don’t actually have any reviews, or possibly a disgruntled patient review, or *gasp* your personal Facebook page? Maintaining internet content that you create and disseminate via social media and/or your own website allows you to have significant influence in what people say when the search for you. You can put your best professional foot forward by taking charge of the content. If you do not, you’ll just be subject to whatever cringe-worthy information Google has on you.

3. It is informative! Following certain hashtags on topics that interest you is a great way to keep abreast of new peer reviewed publications and, maybe more importantly, the conversation among your peers that surround those new publications. Hashtags introduce you to like-minded colleagues and expand your horizons. Sure, you could get lost on PubMed in a lit search, or you could see what the medical public thinks is topical and timely. Either one is effective and takes time. Only the social media angle includes a conversation.

4. Patients want you out there! They are online to get medical information and advice from someone or somewhere – why not from you? We all know the internet is brimming with misinformation on all topics, medicine included. Why not use your expertise for good, and send some educational nuggets out into the world. Patients want this information from doctors, but if we only give them crickets, they’ll take the information from other sources.

5. Expand your brand! If you are in private practice, you know you are a brand. If you are an academic, you may or may not realize it but you too are a brand in some small way. You need tangible products for promotion – national committee service, speaking at meetings, and so on. Social media is a fantastic way to get your work in front of thousands of eyes who would otherwise never see you, and possibly, connect you with the folks on your future committees or your future collaborators. I have been invited to speak at both academic and private venues, and when I ask who referred them, I hear “I saw you on Twitter!”

There you have it. Five good reasons all doctors should get at least a little bit active on social media. If you need an intro or starter’s guide, visit Ryan’s blog above. He has some tutorials. And lest you think this is just one more thing you don’t have time for, I promise you that ten minutes a day goes a long way. This meeting experience inspired me to consider a series of posts on social media here, and possibly also a series on professional productivity. You know I like to focus on psychology and decision making, so time will tell whether I wade into that unchartered territory. I encourage you to get on Twitter right now, and when you do, send me a tweet @drmstiegler to introduce yourself. I will follow you back 🙂


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