Social Media: its Antics, its Power, and its Expanding Necessity in Health Care


“Social media is power to connect and be heard.” – Dr. Kevin Pho

Social media is something we all love to hate. It’s annoyingly addictive and a time drain. We put content into the ether, we check over and over again on the performance of that said content, and we become giggly when that image, quote, article or idea gets even the smallest response. Indeed, each “comment,” “like,” or “share” is a small pat on the back, an affirmation that others agree, enjoy, or support our behavior – online or off. Social media plays on our co-dependent tendencies like a perfectly pitched drum.

But, it’s true. We must admit. More and more, social media is a necessity for professional and personal fulfillment.

Social media takes time, commitment, consistency, and thought. But if done right, social media can launch careers, connect people in ways never before possible; it can drive revolutions and elections; and for our purposes, connect innovation to physicians and patients in a dynamic, two-way discourse that can lead to better health care at cheaper costs for more people.

“Twitter is the social soundtrack for life,” Deb Roy

Why is social media really important? 

  • Collaboration: With social media you can open dialogues across different industries and communities. You can share your work in an open forum, and can get invaluable feedback from the people who matter most. You can join forces to get messages heard and affect real change.
  • Innovation: There is a lot of noise and chatter online, but if you are creative, have great stories, ideas, and are open to sharing those thoughts to your audience in strategic and playful ways, you can easily rise as the authority on that topic. Fact: 55% of academic Twitter users received PhD less than five years ago. The new wave of thinkers is online.
  • Inspiration: Follow experts and observe stories unfold. There is immense potential for knowledge sharing. You can grow within your field, and keep ahead of the curve.  You love your work, you’re excited about your work, and building your online community will only help drive, motivate, and empower you in your work! The more the public rallies around your idea, services, or products the more support you’ll have. Be inspired and inspire at the same time!
  • Engagement and Fun: Your conversations online exist in an open and public forum. Build your influence by proactively engaging in your community. By using hashtags to track conversations, you can improve on what, how and to whom you speak. You can experiment with different ways to communicate your stories and ideas at low costs and with immediate results. Share random bits of interesting information, cartoons, quotes and inspiring imagery. Don’t be scared to be authentic.

Great! Start a blog! Start Tweeting! Make a Facebook page! Yes! Yes! Yes!

No. There’s work to do before dumping yourself into the limitless abyss that is social media communications. Something missed far too often in all those articles out there that talk about how to strengthen your online footprint is the strategy behind your social media adventures.

So before jumping onto WordPress to create one of the next “100 Must Read Blogs”, ask yourself: What is my goal? What is my objective in creating an online portfolio? Do I want to attract patients to my practice? Do I want to become an authority in my field? Perhaps I want to help patients between visits, suggesting healthy lifestyle options. Or maybe it’s that I want to engage with people out there doing amazing things in health care innovation?

Don’t get flustered. If your eyebrow raised because you want to incorporate all of those ideas into your objective, don’t worry! It’s possible. Perhaps not all at the same time, and not through the same conversations or communities, but it is possible.

So what’s the breakdown?

How much time and frustration really goes into creating an online, fun, engaging, evolving – effective – profile? Or in simple terms, what’s the effort involved in listening? My advice is to give it what you can, but try not to exceed three-five hours weekly. What matters most is quality in strategy and content. Social media is a creative storytelling mechanism. Take your time with it, get to know it.

Here, look at some people and organizations who are thriving within it (and because of it.)

People and organizations doing it right

This is by no means a comprehensive list of all those excelling in their charge forward online, but these are a few that I think are doing magnificently. They have leveraged social media in strategic ways to inspire, drive cutting edge conversation, and to help deliver ongoing, quality care to their communities. They’ve allowed their conversation to be promotional, while at the same time, enriching. They know what their goal is and who will help them reach their goal. Most importantly, however, they’ve figured out how to listen.


  • ZocDoc has over 100,000 followers on Facebook and over 8,000 followers on Twitter. They have an active blog, where guests regularly write columns relevant for physicians. Being a connector of patients and physicians, having a strong social media presence makes sense. ZocDoc establishes its values, uses images to engage and uses strong content to educate and inspire. They also position themselves as an approachable company, which is critical if they are claiming to connect good physicians, with credible reviews, to the patients who need them most.
  • HealthcareDIY, a joint venture by Jane Sarasohn-Kahn (14,000 Twitter followers), author of the blog, HealthPopuli, and founder of THINK-Health, a strategic health consultancy, and Health Union, a health care marketing and communications company. The vision of HealthcareDIY is to “provide a bridge between organizations serving the health industry and consumers, who play a growing role in making decisions, shopping and paying for health care.” Jane has written for various publications, has been at featured at multiple health-related conferences, and is indeed an authority in health care innovation and health 2.0. You can bet that HealthcareDIY has helped attract business to Health Union, and THINK-Health.


  • Paul Sonnier: Founder and organizer of LinkedIn’s Digital Health group, now with over 20,000 members. Paul, in many ways, curates and is center stage for the discussion around digital health.
  • Dr. Kevin Pho: A physician with over 80,000 Twitter followers, a blog that has over 1 million monthly visitors, and over 1,000 contributing writers. He is hailed as one of the great authorities on social media and health care, and most of it is because of how he has managed himself online.
  • Dr. Natasha Burgert: A Kansas City pediatrician who helps educate and engage with patients about various things in health care from body image to rear-facing car seats and healthy eating. Her Twitter following is near 8,000 and her practice has over 1,000 Facebook fans. (If you’re curious, check out her disclaimer related to HIPAA compliance.)
  • Dr. Val: Founder and CEO of Better Health, a network for popular bloggers who contribute to Better Health blog for syndication purposes. Through this site, Dr. Val supports and promotes health care bloggers. By being the uniting force, and authoring her own blog for many years, Dr. Val, who has 18,000 Twitter followers, has enabled great connections and opportunities for herself, as well as for others.


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Susan E. Williams (@estherswilliams) explores experiments at the intersection of health care and technology, particularly around how mobile apps, games and sensory apparatus change the way we pay attention, understand, and make decisions about our bodies, emotions, and behavior. Susan received her BA in cultural anthropology from Columbia University and her MA in East Asian Culture, with an emphasis on Japan, from New York University. She is on the board of Health 2.0 Seattle, and works (and believes) in social media communications for health care and science.