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Are Doctors Afraid Of Social Media?

We sometimes forget that public transparency can be scary. I’ve found this particularly true for doctors. And they tell me so. This tweet from MD Anderson’s Dr. Garcia-Manero hints that the daily digital repartee that I take for granted isn’t so easy for the newbie:

And this comment came in today from a rheumatologist, Dr. Irwin Lim of BJC Health. It illustrates nicely the hesitancy physicians sometimes feel:

Our clinic’s business manager was pushing me to blog as a means to improve the profile of our group musculoskeletal clinic. I found myself quite afraid of this, as I had not previously participated in social media. I was also wary that I could not control patient comments. Eventually, I tiptoed into LinkedIn. I then started reading blogs and came across yours. Your posts have been very useful and have improved my resolve. A few days ago, I posted my first blog, and have since written a total of 6. It’s been quite enjoyable so far. The social media consultant engaged by the clinic wants me to now create content for YouTube. Some fear has returned, but I’ll hopefully be able to get over this, too.

Is fear specific to doctors? No, but I think the issues are magnified with medical professionals. Image, social voice/personality, permanency, and fear of legal repercussions are among concerns that are disproportionately felt by doctors. So can we mitigate this fear in any way and break the barriers to entry for doctors?

We need data. Casual dialog and tweets about fear are nice but we need data. We need a formal survey to assess what doctors are doing (or not doing) in social so that we can approach these barriers intelligently. Stay tuned.

They have to see the value proposition. The benefits of social engagement have to outweigh the barriers. There has to be upside good enough to take the plunge. For many, it’s business. For others it’s the possibility of a platform for their message or passion. Ultimately, market forces will force this balance.

Show them success. There are success stories all around. Sometimes we need to see that someone else is having success and not in trouble. Academics like Dr. Anes Younes and Jen Dyer are leveraging Facebook for leukemia research and pediatric diabetes management. Take Macarthur Obgyn as an example of how community can center around a practice. Look at the success Wendy Swanson at Seattle Children’s has enjoyed in just a few months with a blog. Kevin Pho has leveraged his blog into a publishing career.

Start with what’s easy. Look at Dr. Lim’s comment. He tiptoed into LinkedIn. If you’re an office administrator and you’re trying to get your doctors on board, start here. Every doctor in America should have a detailed LinkedIn profile. It’s nice because it’s social media lite. And look at Doximity. Doximity is LinkedIn Plus for doctors — every doctor should claim their profile (it’s young, but it has legs.) Facebook for a practice or medical group also has a really low barrier to entry and most doctors are very familiar with it.

Public education. The message of social’s power for doctors is beginning to make its way into the hardened vaults of academic medicine. Major societies and organizations have recognized that Twitter isn’t something done by teenagers on their cell phones. Presentations from social media thought leaders in legitimate forums will ease the transition and facilitate experimentation. But we have more work to do to change the old institutions.

Transparency takes time. Some of this will come easier to the digital natives who make their way into the ranks of medicine. Sharing and will be second nature. Seeing that transition will take patience.

If you have any thoughts or ideas on how we can get doctors be less socially fearful, add them here.

A warm thank you to Drs Lim and Garcia-Manero for making me think.

*This blog post was originally published at 33 Charts*

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