Social media is a powerful way to humanize physicians

A continuing series on physician online reputation.  Created in partnership with the Doctors Company as part of their social media resources for physicians

It’s important to share the stories of health care professionals, because sometimes the media paints a negative portrayal of the medical professional.

I once wrote a column in USA Today talking about chronic pain management and how both doctors and chronic pain patients were in no-win situations. A few days later there was a letter to the editor. It read, in part, “Doctors prescribe drugs so they can get to the golf course a little bit earlier.”

I think comments like those are unfortunate, because all they do is feed into the stereotype of greedy doctors ordering unnecessary tests, driving up the costs health care. I happen to think blaming doctors for systemic problems in our health care system isn’t going to solve a thing, because all that does is pit doctor against patient, when they should be united in the common goal of improving our health care system. It overshadows the stories of the majority of doctors who aren’t in for the money and go that extra mile for patients.

I was reading a newspaper article once where medicine residents were interviewed, and there was one resident who was eight months pregnant and she was taking extra overnight call shifts for her colleagues.

She was asked, “Why are you doing this? You’re about to give birth.” She replied, “I feel guilty for taking my upcoming maternity leave. I’m doing extra call shifts now to pay back my colleagues who will be covering for me later on.”

These are the stories that we need to share on social media and let the public know that doctors are human too. We need to share the epidemic of physician burnout, the challenges of practicing medicine while raising a family, and highlighting all the sacrifices everybody in health care makes to function in a system that stacks the deck against good patient care.

What these stories do is humanize health care professionals. It’s a powerful way we can change public perception of the medical profession.

Kevin Pho is an internal medicine physician and co-author of Establishing, Managing, and Protecting Your Online Reputation: A Social Media Guide for Physicians and Medical Practices. He is on the editorial board of contributors, USA Today, and is founder and editor, KevinMD.com, also on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

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