Want to engage with patients? Hang a digital shingle

Jul 18, 2018

"It can be a scary world online and it did take me over 5 years in the real world to finally engage with social media. But it is something that I encourage all physicians to consider," writes Henry Rosevear, MD.

Dr. Rosevear is a urologist in community practice in Colorado Springs, CO. Urology Times blogs present opinions, advice, and news from urologists and other urology professionals. Opinions expressed by bloggers are their own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Urology Times or its parent company, UBM Medica.

I recently read “Lincoln and the Power of the Press,” a fascinating book about how President Lincoln attempted to influence public sentiment via the three most important media outlets of his day: the New York Times, theNew York Herald, and theNew York Tribune. As fascinating as the book was, my thoughts while reading it kept turning to how pervasive social media is in the lives of our patients and how little physicians interact with patients on this medium.

While no one would consider me a neo-Luddite, I’m not the fastest adopter of technology either. I didn’t get a smartphone until the iPhone 5 came out, as my flip phone worked fine and I wasn’t sure if smartphones were just a fad. I don’t have a personal Facebook site and until recently had only the vaguest idea what Twitter really was.

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My opinion of social media began to change over the last year as I started to notice how many of my patients commented on the fact that I went to the University of Michigan for medical school. I don’t regularly wear maize and blue ties so I was confused how they knew this until I realized patients had simply read about me on my company’s website. No surprises there; that’s why we have websites. What shocked me was the number of patients who said they choseto see me because of that website.

Chose to see me? Yes, chose to see me based on what they learned about me online. If that doesn’t scare you a bit, it should. A few years ago, I wrote about the necessity to monitor your online reputation and the importance of that lesson hasn’t diminished over the intervening years. In fact, the number of outlets where patients can “review” a doctor has skyrocketed. It’s no longer just Google, vitals.com, or healthgrades.com. Now patients can use Facebook and Twitter or a million other private websites to leave either positive or potentially disparaging comments about doctors. And that thought depressed me.

This made me wonder if there is a proactive way help define what patients learn about you online. And there is. You simply have to go online and hang up a shingle. So I did it. I created my own website (FiveRosesUrology.com) and Facebook page and even started my own Twitter feed (@5rosesurology). I didn’t do this on my own. My wife, who is much more tech savvy, and a local web designer get most of the credit, but we did it.

These efforts also weren’t free. I insisted throughout the process that the product was going to look professional yet down to earth. And I think we succeeded.

Next:How did I choose those three platforms, and what do I hope to accomplish with each?How did I choose those three platforms, and what do I hope to accomplish with each? Let’s start with some of the social media platforms I chose not to engage with. First, I have “placeholder” accounts on Doximity and LinkedIn, but both of these platforms are aimed at professionals. Doximity is physician specific and LinkedIn targets professionals in general, and I was not targeting these audiences. I wanted to reach out to my patients. My goal with this project was to hang a digital shingle so my patients-not necessarily the medical community-could learn more about me.

I also chose not to use platforms like Snapchat or YouTube, which seemed more geared toward photos and videos, because, seriously, most of the stuff we see and do as urologists is not appropriate for uncensored viewing.

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I decided to start with Facebook for the simple reason that it was free and easy to set up. Further, the platform’s reach is staggering. Facebook has 2.2 billion active users and the average user spends 20 minutes a day on the site. From personal experience, my wife seems to spend a lot more time there than on both her own site and the numerous group sites to which she belongs.

The problem I found with Facebook was that I couldn’t control the layout or the style of the page as much as I wanted, which prompted me to create my own website. I started with the simple goal of having an easy-to-navigate, professional-appearing website where people can go to learn more about me. It also had to be mobile phone friendly. With the help of a talented local web designer, we used a tool called WordPress to create the website.

I have started discussing my web page with my patients and intend to modify it based on the comments that come in. So far, the comments have been nothing but positive. The site also offers a way to better differentiate myself, as I can showcase my research and my writing as well as provide a platform to distribute some shorter, timelier micro-blogs.

The last platform I chose to use was Twitter. Why Twitter? Unless you have been living under a rock, we have all become aware of the ability of this platform to send a self-selected group a short message. The character limitations of the platform encourage brevity and sharing of topics while forcing recipients to validate the information they receive. I chose to start off slowly and am only follow a dozen groups and individuals ranging from popular urologists to some of our leading organizations. I am starting to question whether this platform will reach my target audience (patients) but am thrilled to be able to interact with the urology community as a whole.

 

As President Lincoln learned during his time in office, choosing not to engage with the relevant media outlets will simply allow someone else to define who you are. And that is not something I think any practicing physician can allow to happen. It can be a scary world online and it did take me over 5 years in the real world to finally engage with social media. But it is something that I encourage all physicians to consider.