How social media has changed my medical practice

Last summer, I joined millions of others in the deluge of social media. I committed one year of effort to see if social would enhance or distract from my pediatric practice.

That was my goal, just one year.

At that time, I wanted to dip my foot in the pool, and see if it made any ripples. The unexpected consequence was how much social media has changed my medical practice, and me. Ripples have returned as tidal waves.

My practice has seen tangible, real valuable benefits. I have been intellectually challenged, and have professionally grown.

For my practice:

  • Increasing new patient traffic is creating revenue for our group.I average 1 new patient family per week who came because of our social media presence. I know this because they tell me, “I am here to see you today because I found you on Facebook,” or “I found your blog.”
    • 52 patients a year x $2700 (average pediatric care for 0-24 mon.) = $140,000 of average billable income over two years.
  •  Creating information has added to my “search-ability” in search engines. All my work is available publicly and with fully disclosed authorship, so new patients can find me with ease.
  • Investing time in relevant and complete posts actually saves me time in the long run. Questions I am repeatedly asked,  like “How do I start solid foods?“, can be answered quickly and completely by directing them to my site. This saves face-to-face clinic time for more specific concerns for their child.
  • I have created opportunities to make my families lives easier by using the tech at their fingertips.
  • Selectively following leaders in the field of pediatrics has allowed me to refresh and update my knowledge daily. The lead article in medical journals, the newest recall, the updated reports are in my information stream. Sharing the headlines and reports that will most assist my patients continues the information stream in real time.
  • I can get help for my patients across the country through online professional connections, and I have experts at my fingertips who can help me answer questions.

For me:

  • Being part of the health social media and blogging community has given me a  connection and an outlet. I can express myself as a physician and a mom, creating a “professional diary” of my life.
  • I have met amazing people with big ideas and bigger hearts, who inspire and challenge me daily.
  • I have seen a glimpse of how big an effect a group of vocal health writers can have; how active advocates can act to correct falsehoods and incorrect reporting. I am a part of a movement; a way that healthcare is changing.
  • I unexpectedly found how one purpose could be defined, in such a short amount of time.

For my patient families:

  • I can actively communicate, acknowledge, and positively influence the choices that my families make for their children between the checkups. My anticipatory guidance can be repeated, reinforced, and repeated again.
  • New websites, blogs, and apps are constantly being added to our fingertips. After review, I can refer my patients to some really cool, applicable tech options to better care for their kids. I would never know about this stuff if I was not involved with social.
  • I can act as a “filter” to promote the good and refute the bad.
  • I can be a source of reliable, real information.

But what is all of this really about?

  • It’s about the mom who comes to me at the 18-month check up and tells me her child’s car seat is still rear-facing.
  • It’s about the dad who tells me he went to the health department and got a TDaP before his new son was born.
  • It’s about the complete stranger who sees me in my office building and says, “Are you Dr. Natasha? Thanks for writing about kids and fever. I had some questions and it came at just the right time.”

The beauty of social is that I never talked with these parents about these health and safety issues. Parents made good decisions for their families after getting the information. Period. That’s all they needed, and that’s all it took.

Wow.

Offering online authenticity, genuine concern, and experience (sprinkled with a bit of sound medical knowledge) has created an amazingly powerful platform, and helpful practice tool.

Although using social media does has some undefined, grey areas to navigate; for me one thing is clear, my goal of one year has been extended until further notice.

Natasha Burgert is a pediatrician who blogs at KC Kids Doc.

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  • http://twitter.com/JasonBoies Jason Boies

    Excellent post here, Dr. Burgert.

    If I were to point to a “Social Media Success Story” in the Healthcare industry, I’d probably steer people towards this piece.  We’ve got a bit of everything on display here, professional development, personal development and even some new patient statistics to satisfy the number crunchers.  Good luck moving forward. :)

    Cheers

    Jason Boies
    Community Team, Radian6
    @Radian6

    • Natasha Burgert

      JB – Thanks for taking the time to comment. I’m hopeful that sharing the values of hcsm will push some healthcare providers “off the fence.” NB

  • http://www.klxmedia.com Christian Sinclair

    I have had the pleasure of seeing Natasha speak, and if anyone is looking for a physician speaker on social media issues.  I would highly recommend her!

  • http://twitter.com/davidlawyer3 David Lawyer

    What is equally as impressive as this case study by Dr. Natasha is the time she finds amidst the busy schedules we all know doctors to keep. Quite an accomplishment to be able to manage a social media campaign so to speak and her practice…

  • http://twitter.com/KSkipperFoster Kari Skipper Foster

    This is terrific. Thank you so much for sharing this and, more importantly, taking the the time to include social media in your career. What a great service you provide.

  • http://twitter.com/techguy John Lynn

    Natasha,
    Interesting writeup.  I’d be interested to hear what things you’ve done that have gotten patients to come to your office.  Sounds like you’re doing a whole slew of social media, but which of those things actually brings patients to your office?  Also, how do you balance the time you spend on it?  It seems like you have a passion for creating your “online diary” that I’m sure many other doctors don’t have.  What do you suggest for them?

    John
    http://www.healthcarescene.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joseph-Sanchez/1336535464 Joseph Sanchez

    Kudos to Dr Burgert for harnessing the power of social media!

  • http://twitter.com/CureABill CureABill

    Thanks for the post.  We work with doctors and hospitals every day on using social media to enhance the patient experience and this is now a reference to direct them to how one of their peers has done it.  

  • Natasha Burgert

    My patient families love to be “in the know.” They crave information from a reliable source, and they don’t like to be left behind. I am privileged to be in an environment where I see the return on my efforts because of this unique patient population. In that regard, I started very slowly in SM, and saw returns from all sorts of things that I have tried. The trial and error of these successes is another post completely. 
    SM is my hobby. The time I spend on it will vary. Sometimes it doesn’t take more than 15 minutes a day. Some days, I spend hours. But, since I am not directly financially compensated to participate, I can spend zero time on it. It depends on what I am doing, and how I choose to spend it.SM is not for every doc, and that is OK! But, not actively writing and contributing does not mean docs can’t get involved. I suggest to begin commenting and interacting with other docs already doing the work. Follow them on FB, Twitter, G+; read their blogs. There are great examples of docs in many fields who are already engaged. If there happens to be a blogger or FB account that coincides with what you promote with your patients, share them, promote them, encourage their efforts. Bottom line… if I can do, anyone can do it. And as the active docs in SM keep talking and sharing, I know that there will be others who will rise to the challenge… and amaze us all. 

  • http://twitter.com/HeartSisters carolyn thomas

    Dr. Natasha, your one-year experiment seems like a great example of the positive potential of social media for physicians. I especially appreciated your recommendation to link to specific credible resources for your patients. A  reported two-thirds of patients want their doctors to recommend reliable website resources for them. Sounds like you’ll be continuing SM well past that one-year commitment.

    It was disheartening, however, to see MONEY listed front and centre as your #1 listed benefit, even helpfully breaking own the arithmetic for us: “52  x $2700  = $140,000 of average billable income”.   Gee, that sounds swell!! “Increasing new patient traffic” may well be what will convince docs sitting on the social media fence to jump on in after reading your post, which explains why there continues to be such a wealth of inappropriate if not downright inane contributions from health care professionals on Facebook, Twitter et al.

    • Natasha Burgert

      CT – Thanks you for taking the time to comment. When talking with physicians about getting involved with SM, one of the first questions is always regarding ROI. Money, therefore, is an important topic for physicians and I wanted to address it first. I hope you could appreciate from vast majority of my post that financial gain is not a priority for my involvement. If my goal was financial, my posts would not be public domain. I cannot speak for all doc in SM, but my goal is to remain transparent and honest with my intent in order to maintain a positive professional presence. I hope you will see that, as you follow me this next year. 

  • John Norris

    Great to see it works for you, and some details as to how it has helped.  Thank you for posting this. If you don’t mind a quick reply, or two to some common questions I’ve heard?
    1) Do you find some people thinking they will get immediate answers via your online presence and have been disappointed?
    2) A major concern has been confidentiality. How have you and your patients been able to address this?
    3) How might have you drawn the line between your professional and personal SocMed presence, if any?
    4) I think you addressed the ROI and time issues in the post and comments. I wonder what one might say to a health org that really wanted their clinicians to participate, but the clinicians might not see direct compensatory results for their efforts?
    5) In any of your social media / clinical dealings, do you interact with anonymous persons? I wonder about the pros and cons of that.

    Sorry, didn’t want you to write a book, or anything, but really appreciate the opportunity to even ask these questions directly.

    • Natasha Burgert

      Great questions, John. I’ll give you brief answers. 1. I have never had an “immediate answer” situation (yet.) I try to respond within 48 hours, and no one has expressed disappointment. 2. I talk about healthcare and positive health choices, I don’t talk about patients. The few “patients” I refer to in my posts are based on real patient encounters, but are significantly protected for detail. As for our FB/TW, pt use is in agreement with our SM policy as listed on our site (opt-in, willing participation.) For those uncomfortable involving themselves online, we have the good ‘ol telephone. 3. Great question, maybe I’ll blog about it. I think “the line” is how you want to draw it. I choose to fully disclose authorship for all I do, so my personal and professional presence is fairly blurred. Other docs may set up their presence differently. 4. I think clinicians need to see value beyond dollar signs. They will see it if more docs successful in SM speak out. 5. This is a huge debate in healthcare SM and is worthy of its own post. Briefly, if someone want to directly interact with me, I expect respectful disclosure of identity. Hope that helps, NB

      • John Norris

        Thank you very much for taking the time. As you know, these are big questions in the HCSM sphere and it’s great to get your quick read on them. Thanks to folks like you sharing, we are learning best practices as well.  I think many of the concerns will go away with experience, and undoubted new issues will arise as this sort of work scales up, but I think clinicians doing social media are at an advantage.

  • http://jobs.adzuna.co.uk adzuna_jobs

    Great post.  Of course don’t forget the professional opportunities social media sites like LinkedIn can provide in terms of career development especially if you want to move into a non-clinical role.

  • http://expatdoctormom.com/ Expat Doctor Mom

    Dear Natasha

    Our blogs are about the same age.  I was on a brief break from medicine and launched my blog  last Sept. to provide up to date info and to try and build the community I so loved in practiced.  Not to mention, I saw a huge need in providing reassurance to the many that emailed me from prior practices wanting my opinion or just to be reassured. So  as mine wasn’t launched while in practice, I haven’t tracked numbers.  I don’t think it is wrong to talk about numbers and I didn’t take your talking about the numbers to mean that this was your main focus. 

    I too have loved networking amongst the various bloggers and have learned about Social Media, Internet Business, some of my hobbies as well as fine tune area of medicine I enjoy.  It is very interesting they way you connect online, not too different than in person and at times convenient to you. 

    Nice clean blog!  I just subscribed.  Look forward to future posts.

    @google-a6e815d639e865cc07d89db4b63d647d:disqus Great questions!  I have had to answer these for my own blog.

    Take care,
    Rajka “Ryka”

  • http://expatdoctormom.com/ Expat Doctor Mom

    Dear Natasha

    Our blogs are about the same age.  I was on a brief break from medicine and launched my blog  last Sept. to provide up to date info and to try and build the community I so loved in practiced.  Not to mention, I saw a huge need in providing reassurance to the many that emailed me from prior practices wanting my opinion or just to be reassured. So  as mine wasn’t launched while in practice, I haven’t tracked numbers.  I don’t think it is wrong to talk about numbers and I didn’t take your talking about the numbers to mean that this was your main focus. 

    I too have loved networking amongst the various bloggers and have learned about Social Media, Internet Business, some of my hobbies as well as fine tune area of medicine I enjoy.  It is very interesting they way you connect online, not too different than in person and at times convenient to you. 

    Nice clean blog!  I just subscribed.  Look forward to future posts.

    @google-a6e815d639e865cc07d89db4b63d647d:disqus Great questions!  I have had to answer these for my own blog.

    Take care,
    Rajka “Ryka”

  • http://expatdoctormom.com/ Expat Doctor Mom

    Dear Natasha

    Our blogs are about the same age.  I was on a brief break from medicine and launched my blog  last Sept. to provide up to date info and to try and build the community I so loved in practiced.  Not to mention, I saw a huge need in providing reassurance to the many that emailed me from prior practices wanting my opinion or just to be reassured. So  as mine wasn’t launched while in practice, I haven’t tracked numbers.  I don’t think it is wrong to talk about numbers and I didn’t take your talking about the numbers to mean that this was your main focus. 

    I too have loved networking amongst the various bloggers and have learned about Social Media, Internet Business, some of my hobbies as well as fine tune area of medicine I enjoy.  It is very interesting they way you connect online, not too different than in person and at times convenient to you. 

    Nice clean blog!  I just subscribed.  Look forward to future posts.

    @google-a6e815d639e865cc07d89db4b63d647d:disqus Great questions!  I have had to answer these for my own blog.

    Take care,
    Rajka “Ryka”

  • http://expatdoctormom.com/ Expat Doctor Mom

    Dear Natasha

    Our blogs are about the same age.  I was on a brief break from medicine and launched my blog  last Sept. to provide up to date info and to try and build the community I so loved in practiced.  Not to mention, I saw a huge need in providing reassurance to the many that emailed me from prior practices wanting my opinion or just to be reassured. So  as mine wasn’t launched while in practice, I haven’t tracked numbers.  I don’t think it is wrong to talk about numbers and I didn’t take your talking about the numbers to mean that this was your main focus. 

    I too have loved networking amongst the various bloggers and have learned about Social Media, Internet Business, some of my hobbies as well as fine tune area of medicine I enjoy.  It is very interesting they way you connect online, not too different than in person and at times convenient to you. 

    Nice clean blog!  I just subscribed.  Look forward to future posts.

    @google-a6e815d639e865cc07d89db4b63d647d:disqus Great questions!  I have had to answer these for my own blog.

    Take care,
    Rajka “Ryka”

  • http://expatdoctormom.com/ Expat Doctor Mom

    Dear Natasha

    Our blogs are about the same age.  I was on a brief break from medicine and launched my blog  last Sept. to provide up to date info and to try and build the community I so loved in practiced.  Not to mention, I saw a huge need in providing reassurance to the many that emailed me from prior practices wanting my opinion or just to be reassured. So  as mine wasn’t launched while in practice, I haven’t tracked numbers.  I don’t think it is wrong to talk about numbers and I didn’t take your talking about the numbers to mean that this was your main focus. 

    I too have loved networking amongst the various bloggers and have learned about Social Media, Internet Business, some of my hobbies as well as fine tune area of medicine I enjoy.  It is very interesting they way you connect online, not too different than in person and at times convenient to you. 

    Nice clean blog!  I just subscribed.  Look forward to future posts.

    @google-a6e815d639e865cc07d89db4b63d647d:disqus Great questions!  I have had to answer these for my own blog.

    Take care,
    Rajka “Ryka”

  • http://twitter.com/eldercaresolve Jeanne Gormick

    Thank you for your great and informative article.  More and more people in all professions need to explore the possibilities and jump in.  I’m so glad that you have found Social Media to be effective in growing your practice!

    Jeanne
    http://www.eldercaresolve.com

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