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    Christian Green
    Christian Green, MA

    Within the constant stream of posts, tweets and comments on social media, individuality is often lost, particularly when one’s voice does not rise above the rest. This lack of originality and expertise makes it more difficult to forge a deep connection with an audience or individual. Such is the challenge for many clinicians, as social media can devolve into a platform for perpetuating unflattering stereotypes of doctors. 

    But it doesn’t have to be this way. By telling their story and going the extra mile for patients, clinicians can use social media to develop and nurture meaningful connections. Considering clinicians only spend a quarter of their time meeting with patients face to face, social media can be an invaluable outlet for promoting their clinical knowledge and humanizing them. 

    As Kevin Pho, MD, founder and editor of KevinMD.com, Nashua, N.H., noted during his session at MGMA18 | The Annual Conference, time spent on other tasks has contributed to a disconnect between clinicians and their patients: “… for every hour we spend with patients, we spend another two hours behind the computer doing charts, sometimes on barely functional electronic medical records … It’s no wonder more than half of doctors and medical students exhibit symptoms of burnout today.”

    Everyone has a story to tell 

    Humanizing factors, such as burnout, can trigger empathy from patients, but patients rarely see this side of clinicians. If physicians aren’t adept at using social media to effectively promote themselves and their practices, they are missing out on an important opportunity, according to Pho. “If we don’t take the steps to proactively define ourselves online, someone else is going to do it for us, whether we know it or not or whether we like it or not,” Pho asserts. 

    When they take control of their voice and identity, clinicians can use social media to be heard on a much larger scale. By publicizing their expertise to a broader audience, clinicians can present their stories to help humanize the profession. “[We] need to share the epidemic of clinician burnout and clinician suicide, the challenges of practicing medicine while raising a family and highlighting all the sacrifices everybody in healthcare makes to function in a system that stacks the deck against good patient care,” Pho says.

    Using a public platform to share stories about the challenges clinicians and other providers face daily can go a long way in helping patients identify with them. This, for Pho, is his primary social media goal — to change the public perception of clinicians. One way this can be accomplished is by bringing disparate groups together to engage in conversations and debate on social media. 

    Addressing online criticism can humanize clinicians 

    This disconnect between patients and clinicians is further perpetuated by the way clinicians interact with patients when responding to online reviews. Pho says it’s important to remember that your responses will be seen by current and prospective patients. To help humanize clinicians, he offers five tips to address online comments and criticism.

    1. Listen to criticism

    Patients want to voice their opinions and concerns regarding your practice, but this doesn’t have to be a negative experience. Rather, clinicians can use the information they gather from patients to benefit the practice. 

    “I’ve read hundreds of patient reviews, and a lot of them are frustrated with our healthcare system,” Pho says. “They are frustrated they have to wait weeks to see a clinician, that they never hear back from their doctor after going for a lab test or X-ray and of course one of the more recent issues — clinicians are too busy looking at their computer screens in the exam room, rather than looking at patients when they are talking to them.” 

    Based on these patient complaints, clinicians can make changes to practice policy and procedures and even bedside manner. Whether it’s a patient’s desire to schedule a same-day appointment or simply for the clinician to focus his or her attention on the patient rather than a computer screen, Pho takes their comments to heart and makes appropriate changes. “Not only has it helped me change my practice, but I can say it’s helped me become a better doctor as well,” Pho insists.

    2. Take the conversation offline

    Becoming defensive often is the first reaction when faced with criticism, but Pho stresses that clinicians should refrain from responding immediately and attempting to set the record straight. Instead, they should try to take the conversation offline by asking that individual to contact the practice directly.

    “If that dispute can be resolved over the phone or in person,” Pho says, “that patient may take down his comment or even add an addendum saying, ‘you know what, this office is listening to what I have to say,’ and that could turn a negative situation into a more productive one.”

    3. Read the fine print

    If a dispute or issue persists and a patient refuses to talk in person or on the phone, make sure that one negative comment doesn’t mushroom into several. As Pho notes, this could violate a review site’s policy and could be grounds for contacting them. 

    Pho experienced this in the form of dozens of one-star reviews after he and his staff were unable to resolve a conflict with a patient. “I reported these comments to RateMDs and cited this in their terms of use agreement, ‘you will not post multiple ratings for a single doctor,’” Pho recalls. “RateMDs investigated and found they all came from a single computer. Then they proceeded to remove those comments. So it pays to read the fine print; report any comments that you think are suspicious.”

    4. Ask patients to rate clinicians online

    As Pho states, “There are dozens of studies that show that the majority of online ratings are in fact positive and better than a lot of clinicians would think.” By asking all your patients to provide reviews, you’ll have a better chance to dilute any negative reviews due to the sheer number of online posts. 

    To encourage more patient reviews, Pho says practices can follow the lead of other service industries. “I once brought my car in for service and after I paid my bill, they gave me a card with specific instructions on how to rate that specific dealership on Google.” Practices can develop a similar process when encouraging online reviews from their patients.   

    5. Be careful about taking legal action

    It’s generally not worth the time, money or effort to attempt to remove a negative online review. Even if you attempt to sue a review site, it may not take down the review. 

    The same holds true when pursuing legal action against a patient for a negative comment he or she made. Pho offered the following example, which brought unwanted attention to a clinician: “A neurosurgeon once sued a patient for a negative review and it made front-page headlines in a newspaper. And now whenever that neurosurgeon’s name is googled, that story comes up as the very first result.” This is not the best way to make a good first impression with new patients.

    Although it’s not easy for clinicians to balance daily responsibilities with an effective social media presence, Pho emphasizes how much that presence can benefit clinicians in the long run. He points to all the letters and emails he’s received over the years, proof that patients view him as a person, rather than beyond reproach. One letter stands out to him, in which the patient echoed this sentiment: “She started to read my site and realized that clinicians also had families, they had obstacles to overcome and they made mistakes, and by realizing clinicians were human, she better respected the medical profession,” Pho says.

    As Pho underscores, “the most powerful way we can use social media is by allowing it to give us a voice so we can be heard.” However, it’s up to each clinician to effectively use social media by promoting their passions and expertise as mechanisms to help transform healthcare through patient engagement.   

    Dig deeper

    These social media insights from Kevin Pho were presented at MGMA18 | The Annual Conference in Boston. For even more expert advice on how social media can benefit your practice, particularly in boosting patient engagement, satisfaction and loyalty through customer care, join us April 14-16, in Austin, Texas, for MGMA19 | The Operations Conference.

    Christian Green

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