Kevin Pho MD, also known as KevinMD, is considered to be THE physician voice in the social media sphere by many colleagues. Many thousands of people regularly read his blog over at www.kevinmd.com, his Facebook page has around 11,000 likes, and his followers on Twitter amount to an impressive 41,000 people. Many colleagues we have talked to, take him as a role model for their social media endeavors. In this exclusive interview, Kevin shares some of his wisdom regarding the internet, productivity, patient care and much, much more…..
Please welcome KevinMD!
MC: Thank you so much for your time, Kevin.
Kevin: Thanks for having me.
MC: As you know, most of our readers are physicians. Many of them want to get involved in social media. And some of them want to start a blog. You are THE physician expert on the topic, what would you recommend, how should they proceed?
Kevin: We are still pretty early in the physician-social-media-movement right now. The biggest piece of advice is to tip-toe in and do what colleagues are comfortable with. There are many physicians who are not yet comfortable with social media, so I would recommend getting some form of social media presence, be it on LinkedIn, a Google Profile page or any other static page where they can put in some lines of resume. I think it’s important to get that type of online presence. As we know, a LinkedIn page gets ranked high on a search engine results page so that’s useful already. And once they get more comfortable using social media, they could go on and contribute a little more to the web. They could open up an account on Twitter and share some links or the latest results of some relevant study. The next step would be to start a blog and write a few articles. So for some, a static page would be enough, others will want to dive in a little deeper. Everyone has to go at their own pace.
MC: Talking of Twitter…many people use Twitter as their main inbox right now. They follow a set of really smart people and read the content these smart people are tweeting out. Apart from yourself, who would you say are the three most knowledgeable physicians on the web right now? Who do you listen to and who do you suggest doctors should listen to as well?
Kevin: Well first of all, I have an “essential” list on Twitter of 30 to 35 people who I think share useful health information on Twitter. People can certainly follow this list. If I had to name three people, I would say: SeattleMamaDoc – Wendy Sue Swanson, a pediatrician in Seattle. She is one of the best examples of how to use social media to connect with patients. She is dispelling myths online and giving health information that is incredibly useful. She uses various social media channels like Twitter, Facebook or Youtube. Then there is Bryan Vartabedian. He blogs at 33charts. He shares his perspectives on the intersection of social media and medicine. I think he’s very influential. And the third person is Mike Sevilla. He uses social media in a little different way. He tries to influence health policy. He is a family physician and he uses social media to advance the cause of family physicians in general. I think those three use social media in three different ways that are all incredibly effective. They share highly valuable information, they retweet useful links from other health-related sources. I think these would be good places to begin for any physician who wants to get started on Twitter.
MC: At MedCrunch, we write a lot about physician success. Many of our readers want to improve their careers, their salaries, their impact on the way medicine is delivered. So my next question is – what was the best success advice you received from a mentor?
Kevin: I think one doctor when I was in training said “You are not going to learn everything you need to know in medical school”. When I was in medical school, there was no social media, there was no Facebook, no Twitter or anything. Little did I know that social media was going to be such a big part of my profession. So everything I learned on the intersection of social media and healthcare, I learned on my own. I think the same is true for my practice of medicine. I am a primary care doctor and I did not realize how much – at least in the USA – medicine is actually a business. Like it or not, you have to integrate a lot of business principles into how you actually practice medicine. So the skills I needed in order to be successful in medicine or social media, I had to learn after I graduated from medical school. So the key point here is that you have to keep on learning even after you finished your formal training.
MC: That’s very useful advice! And what skills would you recommend a young physician – or any physician for that matter – should learn with regards to the internet in order to be successful?
Kevin: I think that right now, patients have access to a lot of great health information and I usually tell my students that they should use some essential online skills when they practice medicine. I tell them that we need to guide patients to reputable sources of information. Only a quarter of patients check the source of what they read online and that’s a problem, especially when you have so much bad and damaging information. So most medical students are already on sites like Facebook or Twitter and we need to teach them how to use those tools for their professional practice and use them to connect with patients. Right now, medical schools are not really doing that. Some medical schools are even saying “get off Facebook” or “don’t talk to patients on Facebook”. I think this approach is actually harmful. I think we have to teach students on those tools. How can they be used to help our patients other than banning them all together. If we don’t learn how to use social media responsibly, we are going to lose our standing as health authorities online and that simply can’t happen.
MC: Are you friends on Facebook with some of your patients.
Kevin: No, I am not. I think being friends on Facebook with your patients blurs the line between your professional and your personal identity. There is a lot of private information on my personal Facebook profile like pictures of my kids, my vacation and so forth. These are not necessarily things that I want my patients to see. I always recommend what the American College of Physicians calls “dual citizenship”. They say that you should have a personal profile that you only open to close friends and family but you also have a separate Facebook page – which I do at KevinMD.com – which is my professional face on Facebook. And that approach can be tremendously useful because as we know there are around 800 million people on Facebook who are reading news and potentially also health-related information. So in summary, I don’t recommend doctors to friend their patients but to instead set up a professional Facebook page for that purpose.
MC: Do you have any books that have influenced you in some major way that you would like to share with our readers?
Kevin: The first book that comes to my mind is “How Doctors Think” by Jerome Groopman. Reading that book is really powerful for anyone who wants to get into the thinking mind of the doctor when they practice medicine. The biggest takeaway from that book is that doctors in this day and age, especially when they are pressured for their time, they tend to jump to a diagnosis and are anchored to a single thought very early on. But sometimes the true diagnosis can be very different from the first impression. Reading that book, I think, was tremendously useful. I always think about it whenever I am with a patient – I remind myself not to jump to a diagnosis prematurely but to listen to what the patient is saying. So that would be one book. As you know, I give a lot of presentations about social media to doctors and nurses these days and I have been reading a lot of books by Garr Reynolds. He has written a lot of great books on that topic. Especially his first book “PresentationZen” but also the two follow-ups “PresentationZen Design” and “The Naked Presenter” were tremendously helpful in terms of helping me present and improve my style. Those books have all influenced me a lot.
MC: Are there any productivity tools that changed the way you work or that made you more productive.
Kevin: You know, I just got my new iPhone 4S. Before that, I had an old Android phone without a lot of Apps on it. I am probably going to be more productive from now on because I am exploring a lot of apps that are available exclusively on the iPhone. In terms of what I use on a daily basis, the three tools that I use most are Google Reader, I have several hundred of RSS feeds that I read on a daily basis. The second one would be Twitter. I have my “essential list” of people that I follow. I have other lists on other topics like healthcare reform and social media as well. The third one would be Dropbox. I have several computers both at work and at home and now also my iPhone. Dropbox is tremendously useful for sharing files back and forth. I guess, those would probably be my top three.
MC: Are you using a Twitter client?
Kevin: Yes, I am using Hootsuite. I use two computers, one at work and one at home. On Hootsuite all the settings are saved. I used Tweetdeck before but I have found that Hootsuite works a little better for me.
MC: Are you a Mac or a PC guy?
Kevin: I am a PC guy.
MC: With all the social media channels trying to suck away our attention, how do you stay focused? Do you have times where you have no social media channels open.
Kevin: I have a couple of pieces of advice on that matter. One advice is that you have to limit the social media channels you are exposed to because the sheer number of potential distractions can become overwhelming – there are just too many social media outlets that are competing for your attention. I basically have three channels that I pay attention to when it comes to social media. Twitter is my main one, that’s the one that stays open on my computer pretty much all the time. So I can monitor what people are saying and I can follow the news that are breaking. So for instance if there is a conference that I want to follow, I would open up the respective hashtag. The other one would be Facebook where I keep up-to-date about friends and family. And then there is Google Reader that also stays open all the time; it also helps me stay informed about the latest news. I know, RSS feeds are declining in popularity but they work really well for me, I have curated a lot of very useful RSS feeds over the years. My second piece of advice would be that you have to have some time that you are not plugged in to social media because if it’s open 24/7 it can be completely consuming and draining. There are times especially between when I come home from work and when I go to sleep that I use social media only seldomly. I may check my mobile phone, check my e-mail or maybe check the Twitter feed but apart from that, this time is really reserved for family, playing with my daughters, bringing them to bed and so forth. That would be my time to stay unplugged. And on the weekend I am actually also not plugged in that much. You need to have that discrete time where you are away from social media for sure.
MC: For you, it’s probably even different than for many other physicians – because for you, social media is a big part of your job.
Kevin: Honestly, if you do it seriously, social media is almost like another job for anyone. That’s also the reason why a lot of colleagues are not willing to make that commitment.
MC: At MedCrunch, we are really interested in so called health hacks – unconventional health advice outside of guidelines. An example would be “How can you shorten your waiting time in the waiting room?” etc. – What could be a health hack you are recommending?
Kevin: I am going to give something that is probably obvious to you and me but when I talk to patients it’s not that well known after all. And that hack is to Google your doctor or hospital. I always ask patients “How did you chose me?”, “How did you find me?” and what I see is that more and more of them say “Well, I just found you on the web”. I think you can tell a lot about the doctor or the medical practice by how they reveal themselves online. I think if a doctor does not have an online presence that actually says a lot about the person. In this day and age when you can do everything online, you can book a vacation online, you can do your banking online, you should actually be able to do some of your healthcare business online as well. So if a doctor does not have an online presence, I think that’s very telling. So if a doctor does have an online presence, you can look what type of information they are presenting. Do they have a Twitter profile? Do they have some other type of social media presence? Or if you go to their website, is it easy to navigate? Are forms downloadable? Are they making it easy for you? I think today, doctors should have some form of online presence. So Googling your doctor or hospital can be very helpful from a patient perspective.
MC: We recently wrote about prescribing technology on MedCrunch. There are so many apps and services that can track diseases or help patients in some way. You are a practicing physician, have you ever prescribed technology yourself?
Kevin: I have in a way. Many patients right now are just at the beginning of mobile health apps. What I do is I try to guide them on their online quest for information. I tell them what to look for on a health website, who’s writing the content, if they have an agenda, do they want to sell something etc. What to look for on a reputable website. So I start from there. For the people who are looking for apps I recommend apps and services that monitor weight, monitor exercise, look at cholesterol levels. But for the majority of patients I want to teach them the basics of where to go in order to manage their health.
MC: Kevin, it was such a pleasure talking to you. Thank you very much for your time and wisdom! People are going to love this.
Kevin: Thank you very much, it’s been great talking to you. I am a big fan of what you guys are doing on MedCrunch and best of luck to you.
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