Physician perspectives: Matthew Katz

Our October physician perspective comes from Matthew Katz, who shares his thoughts on social media within the healthcare industry with pharmaphorum’s Hannah Blake.

This month’s physician perspective interview is with Lowell General Hospital’s Matthew Katz, who shares with us his views on the rise of social media becoming a necessity in healthcare emergencies and his thoughts on how social media can improve cancer care.

Interview summary

HB: Hello Matthew, thank you for taking part in this interview. To start, please can you tell us about your background as a physician?

MK: I come from a medical family. Both my father and grandfather were doctors, so I grew up with a deep respect for the profession. I went to University of Massachusetts Medical School then did my residency in radiation oncology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. After a year on staff at Massachusetts General Hospital, I chose to pursue a career in community cancer care. I’ve been fortunate enough to serve in different volunteer roles for the American Society for Radiation Oncology in advocacy and communications, which has given me a deeper appreciation for the commitment of my colleagues and many others in cancer care.

HB: One of your current roles is External Advisor, Center for Social Media at the Mayo Clinic. How did this role come about and what does it entail?

MK: I’ve been tinkering with social media for years. After getting involved on Twitter in discussing healthcare issues, I applied and fortunately have had a chance to get involved with Mayo. I’ve blogged for them, helped develop the first social media residency course and gave a presentation at the first course in 2011 in Rochester. I have proposed some research-oriented ideas to the Center currently under consideration, but mostly it’s been blogging and feedback.

“…communications tools can facilitate a better doctor-patient relationship…”


HB: How can social media improve cancer care, in your opinion?

MK: Done well, these communications tools can facilitate a better doctor-patient relationship and permit better health education and empowerment for both patients and clinicians. I’m hopeful but cautious, because we also need to learn how to best use social media wisely. I found I learned so much by listening to others, and then seeing how it fits into what I can offer in my scope of practice.

HB: Are there any companies or charities which you believe are using social media well to raise awareness of cancer?

MK: There are a lot of successful uses of social media, but I have not been attuned to how for-profit companies are using social media. Many hospitals, such as Mayo Clinic and M.D. Anderson, are very good at sharing their expertise in cancer care. There are many examples of cancer charities that have become engaged in using social media for advocacy and fundraising. The caveat with raising awareness is to be sensitive to the risk of overcommercialization, which seems to be the case with the ‘pinkification’ of breast cancer.

HB: What are the main challenges for physicians in using social media channels? How best can they overcome these challenges?

MK: The primary challenge for doctors is to accept that they are public figures in a digital world. Some advocate separating professional from private but that’s not possible. In my opinion, all the ethical, scientific and legal wisdom that apply face to face also are relevant digitally in the practice of medicine. Social media are communications tools, so proper use means the challenge of understanding best practices. Guidelines and evidence are still evolving, which makes it difficult.

The best way to become more involved is to start slowly with listening online. Learning by doing and ‘proceed with caution’ are also helpful bits of advice. As more evidence-based best practices emerge, education in digital communications will be an important part of being a doctor.

“The primary challenge for doctors is to accept that they are public figures in a digital world.”


HB: How important is social media today with regards to healthcare emergencies?

MK: Twitter and other platforms have the potential to be excellent rapid-response systems for healthcare emergencies. For pandemics, accidents, natural or man-made catastrophes, social media can improve preparedness, coordinate available emergency relief teams, and update the public. Because some emergencies may eliminate power or electronic access, though, it likely has to be a complementary system rather than replace existing communications. This use of social media has been of interest enough to be highlighted in the New England Journal of Medicine a couple of years ago.

HB: How do you think pharma can better engage with physicians?

MK: All stakeholders are frustrated with healthcare. Pharma can help doctors and patients in two ways: robust customer feedback systems and education. First, if pharma shows interest in addressing complaints rapidly it may be able to harness doctors to becoming collaborators in product improvements. While it has the potential to promote brand loyalty, more important is cost savings for pharma and doctors. Second, pharma offers great educational resources but I’d love to see it collaborate with government agencies, advocacy groups, insurance companies, hospitals, doctors, other clinicians, caregivers and patients to crowdsource better learning and educational tools. I’m not sure how you crowdsource it, but a disease-based, patient-centered learning portal to direct cancer patients to would be invaluable. There just isn’t enough time in office visits to do it all face to face, and it will only get worse for doctors and cancer patients should the projected physician shortages in oncology become reality.

HB: Where do you see the interaction between pharma, physicians and social media heading in the future?

MK: I’m an optimist at heart. The more pharma and doctors embrace transparency and a genuine commitment to better care, the better that future will be. The goal should be health empowerment not only for patients but also for genuinely committed clinicians and healthcare companies. My hope is that ethical use of digital communications and openness to new solutions will get us there.



About the interviewee:

Matthew S. Katz, MD, is the Medical Director of Radiation Oncology at Lowell General Hospital and a partner in Radiation Oncology Associates, PA. He is an Instructor at Harvard Medical School and former Chair of Communications Committee for the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO). He serves on the Communications Committee for Massachusetts Medical Society and external advisory board for Mayo Clinic’s Center for Social Media. His areas of prime interest are patient education and health empowerment. Connect with Matt via Twitter at @subatomicdoc.

How important is social media today with regard to healthcare emergencies?