MGMA18: What every doctor needs to know about social media, according to ‘KevinMD’

Kevin Pho
Kevin Pho, M.D., says he's been able to provide a platform for doctors' voices to be heard with KevinMD. (Courtesy of KevinMD)

BOSTON—Kevin Pho, M.D., is an internal medicine physician. But he’s probably best known as “KevinMD,” the doctor who is the founder and editor of the website that bills itself as “social media’s leading physician voice.”

His website, KevinMD.com, provides a forum for thousands of physicians to write about topics that range from how to achieve financial success, to the lessons learned from dying patients to surviving a medical liability lawsuit.

“One reason why I became a doctor was to give patients a voice—a voice when they are at their most vulnerable. Clinicians also needed a voice and that’s one of the reasons why I started KevinMD. I wanted to be their voice," said Pho, who advised doctors and practice managers on how to harness social media to help transform healthcare at the Medical Group Management Association annual conference in Boston last week. 

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Dr. Kevin Pho's top social media tips for physicians

Listen to the criticism. “I’ve made changes in my own practice based on what I’ve read online. … It’s helped me become a better doctor as well,” he said. Are patients saying you are too busy looking at the computer? Do they want same-day appointments? Are the magazines in the waiting room old and out-of-date?

Take the conversation off-line. Thank the person for his or her comment. Don’t respond with anger and don’t violate any HIPAA privacy rules. Instead, try to resolve the issue in person or over the phone. Sometimes patients will take down a negative comment.

Read the fine print. Pho said he once had a conflict with a patient that he was not able to resolve. Suddenly, there were dozens of one-star reviews on a third-party review site. He reported it to the review site, and they found that all the reviews had come from a single computer. The site only allows a single review from each patient, and they took down all those negative reviews. Know what the rules are.

Encourage patients to submit reviews. The majority are likely to be positive. You can ask patients to review clinicians online and send back satisfaction surveys.

Be careful about the courts and don’t sue. It’s most often not worth the time or expense. For instance, a gynecologist sued a patient for $1 million after she posted a negative comment. Now when patients Google that doctor’s name, they see news about the lawsuit. Remember, the internet never forgets, he said.

Social media provides doctors with a way to connect with patients and to be heard, said Pho, who practices in Nashua, New Hampshire, and has over 140,000 people subscribed to his email alerts that direct them to the site’s latest content.

RELATED: For physicians, social media can be tricky to navigate

His social media journey began in 2004 when his brother-in-law commented that he had lots of opinions and told him he should start a blog. “I had no idea what a blog was,” Pho said. “Honestly, I wasn’t sure where this was going to go or how long this was going to share.”

It was when he wrote about the recall of the drug Vioxx over safety concerns and reassured patients there were other options that he said he realized the tremendous potential of social media to connect with patients. Yet lots of doctors are reluctant to jump into the social media pool, he said.

They are skeptical, say they don’t have the time and don’t see how it will make a difference. But today, not having an online presence isn’t an option, he said, citing three ways social media can benefit practices.

Among them:

Social media can strengthen the clinician-patient relationship. Seven out of 10 internet users use the web to look for healthcare information, Pho said. With 72% of people looking online for health information, the problem is “fake news” or unreliable information.

“Fake news is not only a problem in politics; misinformation online is a problem in healthcare,” he says. For instance, parents who look for information about infant sleep will find that fewer than half of the websites are accurate.

RELATED: More surgeons rely on social media to learn about new techniques, practices

Doctors can be a filter for all that information for their patients and use social media to educate them, he said. For instance, California pediatrician Robert Hamilton, M.D., has a YouTube video on how to calm a crying baby that’s been viewed over 1.8 million times. An orthopedic surgeon in New York City, Howard Luks, M.D., answers patients’ common questions on his website.

Social media can define an online reputation. Social media is also a powerful way to define your online reputation, Pho said. 

More than 40% of people look online for information about physicians. Clinicians should Google themselves once a week and see what comes up because that is what patients are doing, he said.

RELATED: 5 influential ER docs on Twitter—A scientific approach

On third-party review sites, patients are rating doctors just as they rate books, movies, hotels and restaurants. By creating content online, through social media sites such as LinkedIn and Twitter, doctors can help control what patients will see. One-third of patients will click on the first result in a search, and fewer than 10% of people will read the second page of results.

Whenever he coaches clinicians, Pho said he advises them to be aware of their privacy settings on social media accounts and use the maximum settings.

Clinicians should create a bio and post a high-resolution photo that will come up in a search. Create a professional presence on a site such as LinkedIn or Doximity, the social media site for physicians. Take a few hours to do that and then stop. You can take an incremental and cautious approach as you start to use social media.

There is a return on investment with social media, he said. “Finding and connecting with new patients is by far the most powerful and direct one.”

RELATED: Hospital Impact—To improve patient engagement, leverage the power of digital content

Social media can make doctors’ voices heard. There are stories doctors and other clinicians need to share, Pho said. Those stories can make people realize that doctors are human, too. For instance, a doctor may write about the challenges of being a physician and raising a family. Clinicians may write about burnout and depression and let other healthcare professionals know they are not alone.

Humanizing healthcare professionals and making their voices heard “has emerged as my primary social media goal. KevinMD is now a prominent, public platform,” he said. “I’ve shared hundreds of these stories.”

“The biggest risk of social media is not using it all in healthcare,” he said. “It’s an opportunity we cannot miss.”

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