Q&A with physician social media leader Kevin Pho

Q&A with Dr. Kevin Pho, Physician and Founder of KevinMD.com

Dr. Kevin Pho is an internal medicine physician and founder of KevinMD.com. The website is known as social media’s leading physician voice and is a platform where doctors and other healthcare professionals can share their stories.

Dr. Pho sat down with the Washington State Medical Association (WSMA) to share his thoughts on the importance of physicians having a voice in the changing healthcare landscape and the difference they can make with social media.

WSMA: Why is it important for physicians and medical practices to consider using social media?

Dr. Pho: Physicians can use social media to define their online presence. Patients today aren’t just going online to research their diagnosis and treatment options they’re going online to research their doctors as well. A lot of times, doctors aren’t aware of their online presence, but they can use social media platforms like LinkedIn, Doximity (online social networking site for clinicians) and have some control of the information that comes up when patients Google them.

WSMA: From a physician’s perspective, do you see a particular platform – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. – as superior? Do physicians and practices need to establish a presence across a broad range of social media platforms or just focus on a few?

Dr. Pho: I recommend every physician at least start with LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a digital translation of a physician’s CV. That LinkedIn profile can define their presence online. If they fill in the profile completely, it will rank well in Google searches, meaning it will show up in the top results when a patient searches them online.

Depending if they want to use social media for other aspects, they can certainly go into other platforms as well. But if I were to choose one site, I would spend a few hours and create a great LinkedIn profile.

WSMA: What has social media meant to physicians and how they engage with patients?

Dr. Pho: More patients than ever are going online to research their diagnosis and treatment options. If you look at some of the recent data, 7 out of 10 internet users refer to the web to look for health information. As we know, there’s a lot of bad information out there.

With social media, physicians are able to go where the patients are. It’s a great way to guide patients to reputable medical sources – whether it’s by sharing a reputable article on Facebook or Twitter, or by creating their own content like a YouTube video or a blog post. Doctors have a responsibility to also go online and really help either create that information for patients or guide them.

WSMA: What are some of the biggest opportunities for physicians when it comes to using social media?

Dr. Pho: Social media is a tremendous platform. I think it’s important for practicing physicians to share their stories, to share their opinions and to share their voice because if we’re not heard, a lot of the decisions that affect us are going to be made by people who aren’t in direct patient care or who don’t have the patients’ best interests at heart. By using social media as a platform we can elevate our voice through sharing our stories and experiences to hopefully help influence that conversation.

WSMA: How has the public perception of physicians and medical practices changed with the advent of social media and online ratings? How do you advise physicians to use these online reviews?

Dr. Pho: Whether doctors like it or not, I think online ratings are here to stay. If you look at every other industry, whether it’s books, movies, hotels or restaurants, we rate everything now. More than ever before, social media and these rating sites are bringing transparency to healthcare. It’s up to us to approach it the best way we can.

The best thing that we can do is to ask more patients to rate us online. A lot of doctors perceive online ratings as a bad thing and think, “Oh my gosh, I’m going to have these negative ratings,” or, “When they Google my name, I’m going to have a one-star rating.” My advice: ask more patients to rate you online, because studies show that the majority of online ratings are, in fact, positive and better than a lot of doctors would think. I think physicians, rather than taking an adversarial stance against ratings, should embrace social media/ratings and use them as a resource for positive acknowledgement or improvement.

WSMA: What’s your advice to doctors who do get a negative review? How should they respond?

Dr. Pho: Listen to it. When patients, for instance, leave my exam room, I don’t know what they thought about me, the nurses, the medical assistants, whether there was enough parking or whether the magazines in the waiting room are up to date. All of these issues matter to patients. By reading these reviews, sometimes it can point to a deficiency in your practice that’s easily corrected.

Try not to respond directly online. You want to take that conversation offline and perhaps connect with that patient over the phone or in person. If you can resolve that dispute, that patient may change his comments and say, “You know what? This office is listening to what I have to say.”

Don’t sue. There have been stories where doctors sued patients for negative ratings and all they do is bring more attention to those reviews. You want to keep it out of the courts and see if you can correct it offline, behind the scenes.

Continue to ask for feedback. Simply ask more patients to rate you online, because chances are they will be positive. If you are truly being the best you can be, the positive reviews will stand out amidst the few negative.

WSMA: What would you say to physicians who are reluctant to use social media?

Dr. Pho: Every doctor has their own comfort level when it comes to being online. They shouldn’t be forced to go beyond that comfort level. At the very least, I think doctors should have a LinkedIn profile or a profile on Doximity. Those platforms are an easy way to create that content online, so when patients Google you at least you’ll be in control of that information. If a physician wants to try more social media platforms, they need to determine what their goals are for those. Is it educating patients? Is connecting with colleagues? Is it advocating for a cause or is it debating healthcare reform? As they gradually become more comfortable being visible online, they could incrementally adopt those social media platforms that fit those goals.

For some, the next step could be going on Twitter and listening to what thought leaders have to say. You don’t have to contribute a thing. There’ll be some physicians that will want to share interesting content on Twitter, on Facebook, and then there’ll be a few who take the ultimate step and create that content. It could be a video on YouTube or an article on a blog, but for those physicians who don’t have the time, or where social media doesn’t resonate, they can stop after spending those few hours creating a profile on LinkedIn. Just that act alone is tremendously powerful, because when patients Google them, that LinkedIn profile will show up near the top of the search results.

WSMA: What is the most up-and-coming platform for physicians?

Dr. Pho: It depends on what each physician’s goals are for social media. In general, video is becoming more prevalent, not only in healthcare but in other industries as well. Doctors should be great at creating videos, because the videos capture what they do every day in the exam room. Some may not be the best writers, but videos are a great way for patients to connect with doctors and they can be much easier to create. Whether it’s a YouTube video or a Facebook live chat, I think it’s a tremendous way to engage with patients and really spread an educational message.

This interview is provided by our partners at the Washington State Medical Association.