I have had the seeds for this blog post sewing for a while… then this post in the NY Times, by Virginia Heffernan cinched it…. and a new post was born.

Every time I am asked to give a lecture on Social Media and Health Care or provide a guest post on the subject of Physicians and Social Media I am asked to address why I believe physicians should engage in social media and what  role they could play.?

A simple Google search perhaps yields the number one reason I feel physicians should be engaged in social media. Content creation.

 

A Google search within my own specialty for an anterior cruciate ligament tear, produces  a search page with results dominated by commercial medical entities.  Many of these entities, such as WebMD, are simply on the web to make a profit… and a lot of the information available on these sites, simply put, scares patients into action…. or *pushes* them to click through to purchase an item they likely do not need.  In corporate america… that is a success story.  For scared, anxious patients — I would not call that a success.

 

What role does fear have in healthcare delivery?

WE all know that fear is not a particularly strong motivator in general. Many patients smoke, yet they are very well aware of the side effects. A significant percentage of the population is obese, yet they are aware of the side effects. Many of you will head to Burger King or McDonald’s today with a clear understanding of the fact that you are about to consume a 1400 cal hamburger. We all know that we should eat more fruits and vegetables, less fatty foods, we all know that we should exercise regularly and basically make more healthy behavioral choices in our life. But the fear of lung cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases does not seem to influence our behavior.

 

On the contrary, hype or fear online appears to *sell* healthcare very well.

Contrast the information you can find on the website of the Mayo Clinic with the information seen on WebMD.   Information on the Mayo Clinic’s website is written in any noninflammatory, straightforward manner designed to educate, and not to sell. The content is not surrounded by flashy ads (some google ads do appear), and you are not forced to click through a number of pages to drive revenue.  The information on WebMD’s site, where the user needs to click through a number of pages to finally arrive at a destination finds information which can appear more inflammatory,  perhaps more stress inducing, and the content is entirely surrounded by flashy ads to sell you(although their disclaimer states otherwise) medications or products that have been linked to your search term.

Fear in the physician’s office setting…

I personally see this play out on a daily basis in my office when I am rendering second opinions. It is unfortunately not unusual for patients to try to schedule an emergency visit for a second opinion because they’ve been told that there cartilage tear in their knee was an emergency— so they scheduled the surgery (motivated by fear and mis-information) and now need an “emergency second opinion”.

An emergency cartilage tear, really!?

 

—So to jump back and address my lead-in statement—

Fear in Medical Practice

I feel that the majority of physicians are giving their patients proper advice and proper recommendations based on the available literature and scientific research. Imagine if all these physicians were creating useful, non-hysterical, actionable content and publishing it on the World Wide Web. Perhaps their SEO strategies would not match those of a WebMD, but there would be a whole lot more useful information online to allow patients to properly educate themselves about their disease and enable them to make informed decisions without a background of fear motivated by a drive for commercial profit.

I run a very active surgical practice in the suburbs of New York. I see well over 100 patients a week with various painful orthopedic conditions. A patient with a painful cartilage tear or end-stage osteoarthritis who is not satisfied with their quality of life, and the patient has been told that they stand a reasonable chance of obtaining pain relief with nonsurgical or surgical modalities— can be guided through a shared decision-making process in a calm effective manner without the need for fear to play any role in in this decision-making. It works. It benefits patients. Patients make informed decisions…. and the patient trusts the physician and welcomes them as a member of their care team.

When you are searching online for information regarding a condition that has recently arisen, or a diagnosis you have recently been given… You need to be very well aware of the source of the information that you are reading. Is this a for-profit entity? Is this a commercial entity driven by advertising revenue? Is this predominantly a web-based entity driven by click throughs and SEO to drive their advertising revenues.— Or are you on a site where you learned something useful and the site did not possess a conversion page, ads popping up all around you, and the site does not judge its success by the number of drugs or devices that you click through to.

There are a multitude of patient driven websites which offer phenomenal information for patients. There is no reason in the world why physicians cannot offer their patients similar information, and perhaps even the ability to interact when that physician also chooses to engage in social media. We would all be far better off!

After all,

WE ARE ALL PATIENTS!!

 

image from: http://www.21stcenturymed.org/