A roundup of ‘physician perspectives’ from 2012

Hannah Blake

pharmaphorum

pharmaphorum takes a look at the overall messages in the physician perspectives interviews from 2012, including the challenges of social media and how best to overcome them.

In the past year, we’ve spoken with a number of leading physicians who are advocates of social media. As we near the end of 2012, we thought we’d bring you a roundup of the interviews, bringing together the main points of discussion. So here’s what we found out…

Why should physicians become involved in social media?

Social media is tremendously beneficial – it has the ability to reach many physicians and patients at the same time in different locations throughout the world. This has a positive networking effect, according to Dr Mike Sevilla, in our interview at the beginning of the year. He believes social media’s most important benefit is because it is in real time, allowing for live communication between physician and patient at any time, particularly during medical meetings and during breaking news events.

Dr Judith Orloff, physician, psychiatrist and bestselling author of Emotional Freedom, agrees with Mike’s opinion: “Social media is a core part of how I get my message out. I have maybe 15,000 people on Facebook and coming up to 20,000 on Twitter and it’s just an amazing way to get information out in a short soundbite sort of way.

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“…it has the ability to reach many physicians and patients at the same time in different locations throughout the world.”

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The biggest benefit is that it gives doctors a voice,” said Dr Kevin Pho, blogger at KevinMD.com. “A lot of doctors are busy seeing patients in the exam room or in the office, that sometimes they just want their voice heard in the media. I think social media gives anybody a way to publish, anyone can start a blog, for instance, because it doesn’t cost anything and they can write what they think about various news studies or health stories and they can be read on the web.

Kevin goes on to say that the main thing for doctors using social media is to post regularly, whether on a blog or social media channel such as Twitter, because this way they are more likely to be found using search engines like Google.

What are the biggest challenges in using social media as a physician?

Of course, like anything, social media comes with its challenges. This was discussed many times during our physician perspectives series in 2012.

One of the biggest challenges is overcoming the negative view of physicians using social media, as portrayed by the media, who will only report about the one physician inappropriately using it and not the hundreds who use it well each day. Kevin believes that more education is needed: “We need to educate health professionals to appropriately use social media and to act professional online, they need to use the web appropriately and not disclose patient information. The more we educate the less of a chance these healthcare professionals will get in trouble online.

Many physicians are wary of social media – ‘should you ‘friend’ your patients on Facebook?’ ‘Should you give out advice to patients online?’ are just some examples. “Obviously you can’t provide medical advice to people that you don’t know,” said Dr Joe Kosterich. “But there’s a difference between advice, which is where you say this is what I think you should do based on your individual circumstances, and providing information. I think for physicians on the web, I don’t see any issue with providing general information.

Judith says that one of her biggest challenges is with YouTube. While she loves the fact that this social media channel is uncensored and promotes free speech, it does mean that some people are able to leave angry or hostile messages – although she does appreciate that YouTube allows you to delete these negative comments.

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“The more we educate the less of a chance these healthcare professionals will get in trouble online.”

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However, Dr Andrew Doan believes that negative comments and reviews can actually be positive for a physician, company or product: “If your product or service is truly good, what’s going to happen is the “e-bay effect”, you are going to get a few positives and a few negatives. The few negatives, say the negative rate is 1 in 100 reviews, make your practise, service or even your pharmaceutical product more realistic, more genuine and honest. Nowadays, patients and customers know that someone isn’t going to get all perfect reviews. When they see a few blemishes in there, it makes it more real.

How can pharma better engage with physicians?

The third and final most important issue from our physician perspectives is a look towards the future. How social media will evolve technically, we just don’t know. But what we can do is discuss ways to better engage with each other, to continue building on the good relationships and connections made through social media channels between pharma, physicians and patients and to use them to improve healthcare and disease awareness.

Today, the pharmaceutical industry has to redefine its business model – the days of relying on blockbuster models are behind us and there’s going to have to be more transparency, said Joe. Going forwards, pharma and doctors need to work together in a partnership with an equal input into the health system. This opinion is shared with Mike, who believes that physicians and the healthcare industry need to work together and include patients in their own care as much as possible.

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“…physicians and the healthcare industry need to work together and include patients in their own care as much as possible.”

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On the other hand, Dr Joseph Kim is interested to see how the technology advancements will further help busy physicians who at the moment find it difficult to find time to have an online presence. He believes that technology should evolve so as to be able to disseminate warnings and safety alerts to the doctors who really need them and to let them have access to have the news and information most relevant to them, that they don’t already know. “I think that communication and the way physicians interact will really evolve as technology gets smarter,” said Joseph. “We live in an era today where much of our information is tailored to us. For example, if we’re shopping on a website such as Amazon, it learns what we need and it starts recommending products. In the same way, as physicians start filling out certain profiles the system will ultimately learn that ‘you’re a community-based doctor, so you’ll probably need to know these things’, versus ‘you’re an academically-based researcher so you need to know other things’.

However, some physicians believe that pharma won’t be able to better engage with physicians while regulations are as strict as they are. Dr Bryan Vartabedian discussed these concerns during our interview in November: “some industry players are taking chances and experimenting, with some successes, but I think we’re going to need to see a loosening of restrictions from regulatory bodies before we see the true effect of social media from pharma.

In the United States, there’s a lot of cynicism when it comes to pharmaceutical presence online and I think the industry needs to overcome that. I think the best way is to embrace the transparency that social media offers,” said Kevin. “I think that both doctors and pharma can use social media to better explain where they are coming from and to share information. In the end, both industries want what’s best for the patient and social media can be a great way for doctors and pharma to collaborate to improve patient care.”

The next roundup article  – of our ‘Social pharma faces’ series can be viewed here.

About the author:

Hannah joined pharmaphorum in early 2012, after graduating with a degree in Magazine Journalism &amp, Feature Writing in 2011, and leads our news coverage, in addition to liaising with new and existing feature authors. With over three years’ experience working within the journalism industry alongside university, Hannah has written for a number of different print and online publications, within the women’s lifestyle, travel and celebrity sectors. Now focussed on the pharma sector with her role at pharmaphorum, Hannah is embracing the challenges of working within a fast growing media organisation in this rapidly changing industry sector.

For any queries or contribution suggestions, please contact her here or via Twitter @Hannah_Blake2.

How can social media help pharma to better engage with physicians?

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