Why Should Physicians Blog or Use Twitter?

Is a question I ask myself almost every day. When I started this blog, it was partly a response to what I perceived an unbalanced attack on the value of breast cancer screening by the mainstream news outlets. Why it’s continued is, mainly, that I find it liberating and, in a strange way, fun. As I’m no longer practicing, this wide-open world of shared facts, some questionable, and new ideas keeps me alert and, maybe, in-touch.

Today several physicians tell of the benefits of social media for physicians. One post by my colleague Kevin MD is titled Bury Bad Doctor Reviews With a strong Social Media Presence. Kevin has, previously and elsewhere, described the potential value of blogs that encourage nuanced discussion of health care news. What he reveals, today, is that blogs can be a way for doctors to put forward a positive image of themselves and their practices. Closer to home, orthopedist Howard J. Luks, MD writes to the point: on social media, health and marketing.

But if that’s what doctors’ blogs are about, why don’t we just call it PR?

As I’ve said before, I do see value in academics blogging, especially if they’re not afraid to question, and don’t simply kiss up to authors who’ve published articles in major journals. I can see how Twitter from a trusted source like the CDC could be a rapid way to disseminate information about a new viral strain, an urgent need for blood donors, or a real public health emergency.

But for most practicing physicians, I just don’t see how they have time for it. Unless it’s like a hobby, or better – an open notebook – a way of recording your thoughts on what you’ve seen and learned in the day. That kind of blog can be great, even useful, for patients and other docs. The main thing is that the purpose of physicians’ and hospitals’ websites or blogs should be clear.

Recently I saw a tweet by @jamierauscher about whether she thinks to inform her docs about her use of social media. That’s a separate topic.


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  • Hi Elaine,

    Thanks for the mention. You raise some excellent points about social media which are relevant to all types of individuals and organizations, not just physicians. Social media is, as my former Public Relations professor called it, a tweener: it includes elements of marketing, PR, and communications. Sometimes we use social media to simply share ideas and experiences and other times we use it to create awareness and generate publicity for ourselves or others. Drs. Kevin Pho and Howard Luks demonstrate various ways physicians make effective use of social media for a variety of purposes.

    I agree with you that every physician may not have the time to blog; most organizations don’t have the resources or commitment to blog successfully. However, as Kevin Pho recently pointed out, physicians can tiptoe into social media by participating on a limited scale. Furthermore, I believe that physicians need to become comfortable with social media in order to understand the resources that are available to patients so that they can steer patients to reputable sources; especially important since credibility can be a problem in some online communities.

    But physicians cannot help patients find credible resources unless they understand what patients are doing online. I don’t mention my social media activity to my physicians because no asks me and there isn’t a logical time to broach the topic during an exam. Perhaps doctors should start including questions about patients’ online activity, including social media use, in the questionnaires they give patients. This could provide an opening to discuss the topic. As pointed out in a blog post by the Schwartz Center, “ideally online interaction should begin with offline conversations.”

    That said I will take the initiative at my upcoming physical to mention my social media activity to my physician.


  • I appreciate the mention… but I think it may not have been in proper context. If you read through many more of my posts you would have seen titles: Treat Patients as People, Treat Patients, not MRI Findings, Over-utilization, Our High-Tech Low Touch evolution in healthcare, etc. I am a fierce patient advocate. I believe they require as much meaningful, useful and actionable information as possible in order to make appropriately guided decisions when it comes to their health. To that end… my goal is to also engage physicians so they understand the value propositions for establishing a digital footprint. Many will do it for altruistic reasons alone, but we both know that many will need to see a monetary return. That is why I occasionally post on that subject matter as well.

    Again… I appreciate the mention… but I do believe there is a role for the other posts I put up if it gets a few physicians to consider posting meaningful content.

    Howard Luks

    • Hi Howard, I appreciate your writing in. My concern is that patients who find and read physicians’ blogs may not be aware of what drives some of those, and may not fully understand what influences the information doctors provide on their websites. With respect, Elaine

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