How social media powers physician advocacy

This week is Physicians Week, and this is one in a series of interviews with members of the physician community that are bringing a variety of ideas and networks together in order to improve the relationships between physicians and between physicians and their patients.

Dr. Marion Mass is a pediatrician in Philadelphia and a board member of a physician advocacy group, a large physicians-only network that started as a group on Facebook. Dr. Mass joined the group when it was still just a Facebook group — now it’s a major network of thousands that have done major work like cracking national health care town halls connecting patients and physicians.

How did you come to work with this advocacy group?

I’m a bit of a social media maven. I believe that most women in my demographic are. I noticed the organization, and I looked into it. It was a group of diverse physicians that were tired of, watching a beautiful profession be desecrated by vested interests that really have no business being there. This hurts our patients. We see this EVERY DAY. The organization was just a Facebook group when it started. I would make comments, and during the course of my comments, the woman who started it — Kimberly Jackson — she called me, and we started talking, and she asked if I would be on the board. When she asked me, it was a thunderclap. If I’m going to be involved in health care reform, it’s going to be transparent and inclusive. I have so many mentors that have taught me about the system and how to hone the message to patients first. These mentors are people within groups who have been studying the problem for years. I said, “absolutely, let’s make this happen.” Kimberly is a fireball: energetic and dedicated. What an honor to work with her.

What is the biggest issue with health care that physicians face?

Physicians have to jump through all these hoops, with the government and insurance agencies. Who controls health care? The hospital association which is not comprised of physicians, it’s comprised of administrators. Who controls health care? Insurance companies. Can they take out your appendix? Can they deliver a baby? No. Who controls health care? Big pharma. And pharma does some wonderful things, but one of them is not the way they collude with insurance companies and big hospitals to make sure they’re making their money too. The last group is — I guess I call them organized medicine. Organized medicine, led by the heavy hitting AMA has become part of the problem, colluding with the special interests. There are wonderful people within the AMA, and they do some marvelous things, but they have become part of a lobby cycle. It’s always about the money.

Those four groups I just named are 4 of the top 10 the biggest lobby group donations in the entire United States.  They’re always in the top 10. They’re the reason health care is so expensive. They’re sucking the whole health care economy dry. Why? Because they keep donating money to Congress to get the same people elected again and again. And Congress isn’t putting a stop to it because they want to keep their positions, great HC plans, and pensions. I know it’s a hard job to be a Congressman, I don’t mean to disparage it. But isn’t this endless cycle of lobby money a waste? (Term limits might help!)

What is the primary mission of the organization?

To align physicians together. The reason that umbrella group was able to form is one of the things we’ve done in the past year is have talks and discussions with grassroots groups. We were the ones hosting these physicians conversations and getting them to start talking.

What is the secret behind building that large network in a short period of time?

You need a couple dynamic people who are willing to talk about it within their circles. Even on social media, you need to reach out to people in private messages to get them involved. Both Dr. Jackson and encouraged more voices from our members to get involved and speak out on our page. We have also organized participation in meetings in Washington, DC.

How has social media helped bring physicians together and bring some of these issues to light?

Social media makes it so easy to get stuff out there right away. I have small armies of people that — if I write a blog, they’ll tweet the blog. If someone I know writes something, it gets put out there. I’ll get this piece shared and tweeted, because it is said in plain English, so patients understand. Patients need to get the message and come together with their doctors. You’re also pulling doctors in, but pulling them in on a safe place. Since 85 percent of docs are now employed by hospitals, many physicians fear for their jobs. They are afraid to speak out. They feel comfortable voicing their concerns on Facebook, as opposed to showing up in a crowd or a lawmaker’s office. They’re reaching out and venting frustrations. Physicians by and large aren’t rule breakers, and it’s hard for us to speak up. Social media is also something you can do on your own time/

And instead of shouting into a void, your message is able to be echoed?

Exactly. Your voice is amplified. All you need is a place to put your things, and they can get spread out there. As long as you’re responsible for what you’re spreading out there, it’s a good thing, and it can get your message to people that otherwise might not have found it. It has also been huge in bringing people together.

We try to have a lot of social media presence and get people to reach out on their personal pages as well. What we try and do is offer up stories, blogs, or videos. We are hoping to put something out there that’s a positive message that patients aren’t afraid to look at. Our board and our members, we love being physicians and doctoring and caring for our patients. We want patients to know that we are in it for them.

Has empowering physicians to speak out been a major product of the group? What movements have they been responsible for?

Getting physicians to speak out. We’re working smarter if we’re collaborating and getting help doing the lifting. We are aligned together and actively working towards finding real solutions to fix our system. We have a stronger voice for our patients when we are united. We amplified National Women’s Physicians Day last year and started the first Physicians Week. It’s an official week now to celebrate what is wonderful about being a doc! We started Patient-Physician Healthcare Town Halls last fall, and plan to continue these every year to inform and align with our patients. Hopefully, through these initiatives, we can continue to educate the public and empower our physicians.

Marion Mass is a pediatrician, a board member, Physicians Working Together, and co-founder, Practicing Physicians of America.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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