Physician Interest in Social Media: Ramping Up

Dec. 28, 2011
In August, QuantiaMD, a Waltham, Mass.-based mobile and online physician community, conducted an online survey of over 4,000 doctors regarding their involvement in and interest in social media of all types, both in their professional and personal lives.

In August, QuantiaMD, a Waltham, Mass.-based mobile and online physician community, conducted an online survey of over 4,000 doctors regarding their involvement in and interest in social media of all types, both in their professional and personal lives. The study based on the survey found a very broad spectrum of physician adoption and interest, ranging from minimal to very extensive (though of course, since the survey was open to members of QuantiaMD, survey respondents at a minimum had to be online in some manner).

Among physicians responding to the survey, 87 percent participated in at least one social media site (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, physician networking, patient communities, blogs, etc.) for personal use, while 67 percent participated in at least one social media site for professional use. Among that second group, 41 percent participated in at least two social media sites for professional use. In addition, 66 percent of respondents described themselves as either “positive” or “very positive” with regard to the impact online patient communities are having on patients.

When it came to professional use, the survey produced the following results: 15 percent were using Facebook, 17 percent were using LinkedIn, 8 percent each were using YouTube or Google+, and 3 percent were using Twitter, professionally; while 28 percent of survey respondents were participating in some sort of online physician community.

Among the concerns respondents cited that might hold them back from interacting with patients online, 73 percent had concerns about liability; 71 percent had concerns about privacy; 41 percent saw no way to get paid for interacting with patients online; 38 percent cited a lack of time; 20 percent said they felt such interactions were inappropriate; 9 percent were “just not that interested”; and 6 percent said the technology was too new to them.

In addition, 66 percent have e-mailed with other physicians about patients, while 48 percent have e-mailed patients directly; 34 percent have text-messaged with other physicians about patients, while 12 percent have texted patients directly; 15 percent have had private online discussions with other physicians about patients, while 3 percent have had private online discussions with patients; 13 percent have participated in public online discussion forums with other physicians, while two percent have participated in public online discussions with patients; and 5 percent have engaged in online chat with other physicians, while 2 percent have engaged in online chat with their patients.

Mary Modahl, QuantiaMD’s chief communications officer, spoke recently with HCI Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland regarding the findings of the study and their implications for the future of physician engagement online. Below are excerpts from that interview.

What did you find to be the most interesting findings from the study?

I think the most interesting thing in the study to me was physician views of patient communities. We found that doctors familiar with patient communities felt very positive about patient communities, though only 11 percent were very familiar with patient communities. I spent a lot of years at Forrester looking at certain patterns, and one of the patterns you always look for is when the early adopters are positive about something, but most don’t yet know about that thing.
Mary Modahl

So what does it mean, when you have that situation?

In this case, it means that those doctors feel it’s an important part of the fabric of patient care, and can really provide a valuable and unique role in patient care, through patients sharing their stories among one another, supporting each other, spreading hope. And hope, especially when you have a rare or chronic condition, is an important thing. And this is interesting: information can be accurate, but it’s important that it be shared individually, the doctors surveyed said. What’s important to apply to Mark may not be appropriate to be applied to Mary. So the doctors were interested in applying things to specific cases.

So this finding that physicians feel patient communities have an important and unique role in patient care is interesting, but also there is the finding that physicians want to play an active role in those patient communities. Now, we only asked that question of physicians who were aware of patient communities. Yet 89 percent said they weren’t familiar with patient communities. So that says to me that the more physicians become familiar with patient communities, the more that element is likely to become an important part of the way in which patients receive care.

Were you at all surprised at the findings around physicians’ use of social media?

Certainly not with regard to personal use; physicians are in a higher socioeconomic demographic, and those types of people are most likely to have used Facebook and LinkedIn. On the professional side, yes, the 67 percent number is a bit high, and might be surprising to some. But if you look at the definition, we included Facebook, LinkedIn, physician communities, and YouTube. We eliminated QuantiaMD itself, or we’d get 100 percent, of course. But I think that when we compared physicians who were already QuantiaMD members with those who weren’t, the overall percentage was about the same, in terms of use of social media.

And 20 percent use at least two social media for both personal and professional use. How fast do you think that will ramp up?

There’s a group using it just for personal use, and that’s 32 percent. So the hurdle those guys have to get over is, gee, do I want to use this for professional purposes? And most likely, those folks will first go into closed physician communities. And you’ll notice the traditionalists could have either one site for personal or one for professional, and really aren’t using it a lot. So the pathway seems to be from personal to professional. The ones who only use it for professional, that adoption rate is fairly low.

How rapid will the uptick be?

I think the uptick is going to be very rapid, and truthfully, we see this where we sit at QuantiaMD. Manhattan Research had shown 24 percent in the first quarter using professional sites only; we had seen 28 percent. So there’s a little bit of nuance. You see doctors on Facebook promoting their practices; you see doctors on LinkedIn sharing professional experiences; then you see whole communities like QuantiaMD. So the 67 percent you see is professional use of any type. The 24 percent from Manhattan Research includes professional communities only, and we found 28 percent, but that number is growing very, very rapidly.

Do you think that participating in physician communities online will lead to more general use of social media?

The main concerns physicians have are around their own legal liability, and especially patients’ privacy. And that’s not likely to go away very soon, just because there’s not very good assurance that the Joe Smith you’re talking to is the Joe Smith who is your patient. So doctors are pretty concerned about that, so I wouldn’t be projecting gigantic growth in the use of the big public networks.

What should CIOs, CMIOs, and other healthcare IT leaders think about all this?

I think one of the greatest challenges for hospital CIOs and other healthcare IT leaders is communicating with physicians and educating them about issues that come up in the hospital environment, and social media can absolutely provide excellent tools for such interactions, because social media always include both interaction and content. So the content of personal social media is sharing pictures of the family vacation and the dog, while professional use includes sharing information with one another about practice issues, clinical issues, how to use an EHR, etc., so there’s a real opportunity here to share information and interact on things with your physicians through social media. It’s much more effective than just handing people a brochure or something one-way like that.

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