Doctor, Google thyself

Have you ever Googled yourself or your practice? Did you know that you have an ever growing online reputation? Whether you know it or not, doctors have an online presence. When you type your name in a search engine you may be surprised by what you find. Everything you do professionally creates a digital footprint. If you are involved in social media then you are contributing to your online reputation. If not, your online reputation is being written for you. There is a conversation taking place about you online, but unfortunately you may not be included in it.

A simple Google search of your name will likely show your practice website. Your name will also appear in numerous third party review sites. Take the time to read a few. You may be surprised. You will find your name and your practice appearing on people’s Facebook and Twitter pages too. While at first this may be disturbing, I view it as an opportunity.

The Internet has revolutionized healthcare. Health information is now available to everyone with the touch of a button. Pew Internet shows that 80% of people look up information online.  A patient experience goes like this.   Before a patient sees you they research their symptoms to try and decide what is wrong. Next, they search online for doctors and read online reviews to decide who to see. Then, they schedule an appointment to see you. After the appointment they go back online to see if you knew what you were talking about .

Patients have moved beyond simply reading about health information. They now want an interactive experience. One of my favorite people on Twitter, Phil Baumann, likes to say “Health is social.” By interacting in social networks patients become e-patients: equipped, enabled, empowered, engaged, equals, emancipated and even experts. As doctors we can be frustrated by this and passively complain in the background or we can choose to embrace it. Like it or not, social media is here to stay in healthcare.

Embrace this excitement. Own your online reputation by providing the online information your patients are asking for. Your patients should not have to rely on Wikipedia to know what to do. They should be able to get high quality information directly from you. By getting involved in social media you can promote your area of expertise and define your image.  You can create your own digital footprint. You can improve patient education, increase referrals, promote practice loyalty and increase utilization of services leading to practice growth.

This has worked well for Macarthur OB/GYN. By providing high quality health information on our website, podcasts, social media channels and innovative use of technology in the office we are helping our patients make better informed decisions. A perfect example is during the six week postpartum exam when I ask a simple question like, “What would you like to do for birth control?” In years past the answer would be “what are my options?” A brief discussion of the 32 flavors of contraception would follow. Nowadays, our patients say definitively what method they want to use. They tell me what they want. Throughout their pregnancy they have been exposed to birth control options in our waiting room power point presentation as well as through social media channels. They know the options, have thought about it and clearly communicate an educated decision. Our visits become more efficient and higher quality discussions take place. A win-win for doctors and patients.

Our journey to social media began years ago when my teenage daughter suggested I start a Myspace page as a way to reach my teenage patients and address issues such as unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease. I learned how social media serves to humanize doctors in the eyes of patients – making us more accessible and improving communication. We then evolved into Facebook, Twitter , blogging and YouTube.  All of this has worked well but these sites have limitations. Content created has a short half-life as postings get pushed down the wall and older content gets lost and forgotten.  All are great platforms to push out information but none are great for pulling out the needs of specific patients. None overcome the problem of direct one-on-one communication. To solve this, we established a practice portal through our EHR software.  This provided a secure messaging system which is a great tool to allow HIPAA compliant one-on-one online communication from doctor to patients. You can read about this here: How secure messaging helps this doctor connect with patients.

New networks are popping up to help overcome the limitations of the existing networks. Doximity is an excellent network designed to facilitate HIPAA compliant doctor to doctor communication.  Another new platform called HealthTap brings doctors back into the online conversation.  Users ask medical questions. Doctors answer these questions through the creation of their own virtual practice. While engaging patients, HealthTap  aggregates  the content created so it will stay available forever for the benefit of others.  Internet users can find concise health information that they know has been written by qualified medical professionals.

I am not sitting on the sidelines and allowing my online reputation to be created for me. I am actively engaging.  I choose to create my own digital footprint and encourage my patients to engage in their own health.

Jeff Livingston is an obstetrician-gynecologist at MacArthur OB/GYN, also on Facebook.  He can be reached on Twitter @macobgyn.

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