It’s not easy trying to describe the importance of family medicine in 140 characters. Just a few months after I logged on to Twitter for the first time, I joined the “family medicine revolution,” known as #FMrevolution on the social networking site. My friends immediately noticed a marked change in my tweets. “FM revolution?” they’d say. “Is pop radio making a comeback?” If you’ve turned on a stereo lately, you know that’s not the case, but I can’t blame them for misunderstanding my message.
Maybe radio’s best days are behind it. But family medicine is on the uptick – agreed on by consensus, and nearly indisputable. Twitter was abuzz recently regarding USA Today article about the growing necessity of family physicians in the midst of recent health care innovations and overhauls. As family doctors, your services are desperately needed. Still, that doesn’t solve the problem that family physicians don’t seem to have a great deal of intellectual real estate when it comes to a topical understanding and perception of value of what you do. You see it all the time, from your take-home pay to that question that makes you cringe: “Wait, family medicine is a specialty?” I noticed it in the above instance, when I realized my message could have had a greater impact if I’d tailored it to the masses.
Let’s help them out a little bit. Unfortunately, not everyone has been baptized into the family medicine community, and isn’t our time better spent spreading the gospel than preaching to the choir? The “FM revolution” has a wonderful chance to extend its influence of public opinion, but sometimes, it gets too bogged down in its hashtags, retweets, banter, and alphabet soup lexicon (HCSM, PCMH, SGR, ACO) to be convincing and attractive to the uninitiated.
This suggestion is not a reprimand. Physicians, you’ve got a tremendous leg up on some of the other bloggers and tweeters out there. Your numbers are strong, and family doctors tend to stick together. And you’re no Kim Kardashians or Ashton Kutchers – your message is honest, consistent, believable and empirically sound. In fact, you’ve done something very powerful that even Congress, Tom and Jerry, and the 1987 lineup of Guns N’ Roses haven’t been able to do: You agree. You get along. You have common goals which you work together to achieve. Nowhere is this more evident than through social media – for, when timeline updates are constant, individual messages can easily get lost in the shuffle.
No one was surprised to find out that 90 percent of all U.S. doctors are using social media. But how many are truly using it as an outreach tool? I’m not suggesting you tweet clinical opinions or accept friend requests from patients – issues of privacy and liability are well documented, and I firmly believe in a strict professional code of conduct. But don’t you have a responsibility to “remain a member of society with special obligations to all your fellow human beings”? You’re not a technology user who happens to be a doctor. You’re a doctor who uses technology. Remember that distinction, and urge your colleagues to keep it in mind as well.
The need for your services is growing, and more Americans are concerned with their health care than ever before – an unprecedented opportunity. Tweeting an enticing tease about a news item or medical blog, publicly supporting pro-patient legislation, even telling your friends on Facebook how much you love your job and why: these aren’t merely good practices. The Internet doesn’t play favorites, and you’re competing for attention spans used to 15-second sound bites. You owe it to your present and future patients – and their health, happiness and pocketbooks – to prevent your message from getting lost in the marketplace of ideas.
Bryan D. Peach is Manager of Media and Public Relations, Pennsylvania Academy of Family Physicians and Foundation.
Submit a guest post and be heard on social media’s leading physician voice.