Patients have been coming into my office for several years telling me that they looked me up on the Internet and that I have great reviews. I always dismissed these comments, as I knew that these reviews were influenced by many factors and not necessarily accurate. Plus, the reviews were favorable so I gave it little thought. Eventually, I took the opportunity to Google myself and was amused by much of what I read. Patients often made strong statements about me without much evidence. Again, it was largely complimentary so I let things be.
Over time, it dawned on me that virtually every patient was looking me up. I went back to the Internet and tried to picture what I would think if I were a patient looking me up. I realized I was passively being defined, as opposed to actively defining my own image -- and the method of others defining me was often incomplete and arbitrary.
I decided to launch my own website so I could define my online image. I wanted to project what I believe in, and how I practice medicine so that patients who research me can more accurately see if my philosophy truly resonates with theirs.
Of course, it's not so easy. Just putting something out there doesn't assure that it will be what patients find when they search. More importantly, it got me thinking about the doctor/patient relationship. It is clear that patients want to connect with their doctors. Doctors, however, seem more ambivalent about making such a connection. To some doctors, it is as if forming a connection will somehow undermine the traditional relationship which is best kept as formal, paternalistic, and standoffish. We are running our practices the same way they were run 30 years ago. This is a terrible mistake.
I believe I can gain more by giving, learn more by listening, and influence more by connecting.
1. Doctors should focus on connecting with patients.
The world has changed. Most other businesses have changed. Every physician should have his or her own website which patients can easily access. If the physician boldly puts his or her personality and philosophy out there for scrutiny, there will be some who like what they see and some who don't, but the patients who make appointments and ultimately come in to the office will have more productive experiences.
2. Doctors should provide content.
Consumers want content when they do research. Consumers of health care are no different. The best way to advertise is not to yell about how great you are, but simply, to teach. Patients are attracted to content, and particularly, to how the content is presented. You don't have to tell consumers of your value, when you can provide them with content of value.
3. Doctors should embrace social media.
Most doctors pride themselves in getting patients from word-of-mouth. This has always been considered the most desirable method of growing a practice. But word-of-mouth is not as useful as it has been traditionally considered.
Think about researching a restaurant. What is more likely to draw you to a particular restaurant: hearing from several arbitrary people that it is great or not only hearing from these several arbitrary people, but hearing from some specific people who have a track record of making good suggestions about restaurants and also having access to the menu, the restaurant's philosophy on cleanliness and the rigor with which food is selected and procured?
Social media is more than simple word-of-mouth. It enables patients to access meaningful opinions, and then make informed decisions about doctors' practices. Social media gives physicians the opportunity to help empower patients. If a doctor does not embrace this burgeoning technology, his or her prospective patients will end up elsewhere.