Connecting in the 21st Century

Technology and social media necessitate new ways of communicating

Certainly those of you in the “midcycle” of your professional careers can easily remember when, as interns, you tried to reach an attending physician only to find he/she was “out for the evening, but a message would be left.” That was before pagers and cell phones and computers and the Internet.

Fast-forward to the 21st century; our practices have evolved in the past 20-plus years. No more can a subspecialist serve only one hospital and maintain a robust practice. Our patients have become mobile and decentralized; they will not come to the “big hospital” in town, but rather they will go to the satellite clinics in the suburbs or to the local hospital. All this necessitates a redesign of our practices to follow our patients. The same thing has happened with regard to how we engage our communities and advertise the services we offer. Gone are the days when a cadre of referring physicians knew who you were, knew what you stood for and knew of your quality of care. Competition to provide services has become intense; patients use the Internet to research who you are before they even schedule an appointment in your office. Patient peer-to-peer referrals have become the norm.

Currently over 50 percent of the world’s population is under 30 years old, Google® and Facebook® have become accepted norms in communication. Indeed, one in five couples now meet online. Our children are learning their lessons on iPads, not blackboards. LinkedIn® signs up a new member every minute. If Facebook® were a country its members would make it the third largest country in the world. As Erik Quailman, bestselling author of Socialnomics, put it, “We don’t have a choice on whether we do social media, the question is how well we do it.” Generations Y and Z consider email passé. Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and Britney Spears have more Twitter followers than the countries of Sweden, Israel, Greece, Chile, North Korea and Australia. How’s that for reaching out?

Sales of ereaders have surpassed traditional book sales. Universities are no longer even assigning email accounts. If Wikipedia were made into a book it would be 2.25 million pages long and would take 123 years to read. Ninety percent of consumers trust peer-to-peer recommendations—think Yelp® and Angie’s List.® Only 14 percent trust advertisements. Welcome to the social-media revolution!

Facebook,® Google,® LinkedIn,® You Tube,® Yelp,® Bing®: that’s the world our patients live in. Fast and furious, it impacts all of us. Our ability to control our message—who we are or, more importantly, how we are perceived in the social media—is critical to our business success. It’s already happening. Many of your colleagues are experimenting with Facebook® pages and Twitter® accounts, reaching out to their customers, their patients. Just when I was getting used to our webpage, it’s passé! I may be old-fashioned, but I certainly am excited about getting involved in the new media. As we said in the ‘60s, “Be there or be square.”

I look forward to your comments,

Robert Provenzano, MD
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Connecting in the 21st Century
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3 Responses to Connecting in the 21st Century

  1. Tony Cusano says:

    As physicians our goal is to take keep our patients healthy, or as functional as possible given any illness they have. We must rethink our stance toward reaching that goal, and in a sense, get back to the future. We used to regularly visit patients in their homes, but technology and the need for efficiency in practicing medicine in a more complex system precluded that. Social Media give us the opportunity to get back to it.
    One proviso for Provenzano, however (sorry, Bob, couldn’t resist). Communicating with people in person, and even more via social media is fraught with peril for misunderstanding (anyone who participates in interactive blogging will recognize that problem at once). I have spent time explaining to a very intelligent patient that because they were on an ACE Inhibitor, even a minor illness that was accompanied by a loss of of appetite, or some nausea and vomitting, should prompt a call to decide if the medication should be held, or the possibility of kidney shutdown could occur. At the end of the visit, he said, “Okay, so to recap, if I get nausea and vomitting from this medicine I should stop it immediately and call you.” The message I was trying to convey was lost on him. And that was with a written instruction sheet in his hands. It took another 5 minutes to re-orient him.

    “…Still, a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest…” – The Boxer, Simon and Garfunkel, 1969)

    Social Media is a great tool that will allow us to reconnect to our patients, but it will not make us more efficient because we cannot control how people interpret what we say, or what we write. So constant feedback looping is imperative. That’s just the nature of what we do.

  2. Rahim Kassamali says:

    I agree that patients have easy access to social media specially since almost everyone has smartphones. But communication via electronic media with the patients has risk of miscommunication and may get hacked. Hence the social media has to evolve a lot before we can us it safely for our purpose.
    It was nice meeting you in Orlando Roundtable BTW.

    Rahim Kassamali

    • Robert Provenzano, MD says:

      It was great to meet you, also, Rahim.

      Thanks for the comment. I agree, miscommunication is definitely a possibility. For the moment, a nephrologists best use should be pretty cosmetic–keeping to tauting services offered and small communications with patients. Possibly sharing resources, etc.?

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