Review: Social Media Guide

Query; How can you tell the difference between passing fad and new reality?  Between gossip and critical information? Answer; someone writes a textbook.  For physicians who think that social media is only about sharing vacation pictures and checking out the weather, a new reality has arrived.  An authoritative book on the evolving and indispensable role of the Internet in the daily practice of medicine has been published, is empowering reading for physicians and has a lot to say to us all.

Establishing, Managing and Protecting Your Online Reputation; A Social Media Guide for Physicians and Medical Practices (long title, but I did say it was authoritative) puts in one place the theoretical and practical tools for physicians and anyone, medical or not, who want to understand, get involved or expand their Internet presence.  Written by Kevin Pho, MD a New Hampshire internist and an international expert on medical social media, and Susan Gay a widely read publisher, this book can take launch an online novice into cyberspace or help take a doctor already involved with social media, to the next level.

It will not surprise anyone that the authors come from an Internet background. Establishing is an accessible blend of modalities, like the social media environment about which it speaks.  There are dozens of secondary contributors who through the pages tell stories, present blog-like essays and fill each chapter with a collage of information to support and demonstrate the author’s ideas.  If you do not get one point of an essay, there will be a table, if the table does not do it, there is a testimonial.  Pho and Gay infuse the gestalt of the e-world into this well written book.

The major part of the text is about the broad concepts of social media. Establishing successfully makes the case that every caregiver needs to be aware and involved in the online medical world. The authors point out that “the availability of online health information combined with social media channels have created a new generation of patients,” what authors call “e-patients.”  These patients seek not only basic health information and primary information about their health providers, but are hungry for the expanding doctor-patient relationship promised by the Internet world.  Doctors can use this connection to educate, tell health stories, expose myth, increase visibility, build referrals and to improve their reputation. Those who ignore the e-world, do so at their own risk or at very least lose a valuable opportunity. To bypass this technology will make a doctor as antiquated as the surgeon who rejects robotics or the oncologist who shrugs off genetics.

Many physicians fear their careers will be ruined in Internet chat rooms. While I believe this anxiety to be overblown, Pho and Gay explain how to establish a positive online presence and how to protect a reputation.  They point out that most social media doctor reviews are positive, but also discuss how to respond to negative postings.  They strongly recommend against calling an attorney or launching a direct online attack and emphasize instead how to create good reviews and blunt negative feedback.  An entire chapter discusses the individual rating sites, such as Angie’s List, Healthgrades, Kudzu and Yelp, how these sites assemble information, and how to increase the likelihood an individual doc will receive favorable reviews.  Pho and Gay frown on the idea of stacking the deck by writing anonymous positive self reviews, pointing out that this technique not only is likely to fail, but may backfire.

For the neophyte or the doc who has only recently ventured online, there is a lot of step-by-step information.  The authors describe how to use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or write a blog.  If you yearn to be a movie star or just want to explain “in person,” consider YouTube.  Establishing tells how.  With clear explanations, well annotated by teachers with extensive experience in the e-world, this Guide can help any doc connect with their patients via the World Wide Web.

The authors are very aware that this is a special universe with new rules and as such requires careful thought and planning. Starting at “do no harm,” social media requires an awareness that “goes beyond HIPAA.” The authors discuss the need for enhanced professionalism in the digital age which respects not only privacy but is conscious of the power of a technology which can spread information, true or false, so quickly and so wide. The authors reprint the ABIM 2002 Physician Charter, with its emphasis on patient welfare, autonomy and social justice, as a base from which to start.

Establishing marks a milestone in the evolution of medical care. That milestone is the recognition that while medicine is now, and will always be, practiced by one doctor, taking care of one patient, one moment at a time, that no longer is that relationship confined to one place like the examine table or hospital room.  Through the power of social media, doctors and patients can reach out and connect from almost anywhere.  Kevin Pho and Susan Gay’s important book makes it clear; it is time for all of us to get log on.


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