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What happened when a doctor cried on social media

By Ron Harman King, MS  bio

There’s a lot of debate in the healthcare profession these days about social media. On one hand, I’ve heard some good arguments against doctors taking precious time from successful practices for social media and also against using social media to communicate directly with patients, which obviously creates big privacy problems.

On the other hand, let us not forget Facebook has almost 2 billion monthly users worldwide, and Twitter draws more than 300 million. I say no other medium can reach as many people with important public health information so efficiently and so cost effectively. Furthermore, doctors don’t have to be directly involved in social media. This role can be assumed by employed or contracted marketing specialists working on behalf of private practices and health systems.

Social media can cultivate patient trust

Here’s another factor to consider. As a one-to-many communications medium, social media can cultivate a caregiver’s most important asset among the masses: patient trust. I saw this happen to a remarkable degree just recently.

Dr. Rink Murray is a reproductive endocrinologist in Chattanooga, Tennessee. This year, for National Infertility Awareness Week, Dr. Murray used Facebook to tell his own experience with infertility. While in his medical residency years ago, he and his wife struggled through multiple IVF cycles. On the ninth embryo transfer, Christie developed an ectopic pregnancy, began hemorrhaging at home while her husband was on overnight hospital duty miles away, passed out and nearly bled to death before a friend came to her rescue.

Flash forward a dozen years later. Dr. Murray mounts his cell phone to a $20 tripod perched on his desk, turns on the phone’s video recorder, and tells his story in a homemade video posted to Facebook. (You can watch it here.)

Viral video brings flood of praise

Dr. Murray’s 8-minute video went viral. Facebook users watched an average of 500 times a day. Visitors to the practice’s Facebook Page flooded him and his partner, Dr. Jessica Scotchie, with praise in their written comments. “I could hardly see the video through the tears,” one said, “we are so appreciative of specialists like you.” Another wrote: “I watched with my heart in throat. Thank you for opening up to us.”

Others offered hugs and prayers of thanks for the Murrays’ eventual success through IVF and their two healthy children. Over the next month visits to Dr. Murray’s and Dr. Scotchie’s website rose to record levels. New-patient appointments increased 26 percent. Remarkably, Dr. Murray noticed that about half of all new patients brought up the video without prompting.

Now, let’s face facts here. Perhaps most obviously, few physicians have such dramatic experiences to relate. Further, by no means am I advocating for doctors to weep routinely on the internet. Nor for a micro-second do I believe Dr. Murray’s video was a crass marketing ploy. I’ve known Dr. Murray for years and can vouch for his pure motivation simply to inspire others to persevere. Instead, my point is twofold:

First, social media can be a megaphone to demonstrate what patients crave as much as superior clinical skills, and that’s a caregiver’s capacity for understanding and empathy.

Secondly, in my view, the response to Dr. Murray’s homemade video confirms what studies published in peer reviewed journals have shown repeatedly: that trust in a care provider is still paramount in patients’ eyes.

Tender feelings needed in healthcare communication

In a study published in the British Medical Journal, a survey of 1.5 million primary-care patients found that among seven factors in interpersonal relationships between patients and doctors, the sense of being taken seriously had the strongest association with patient confidence and trust in their physicians. American doctors should be concerned about an apparent erosion of trust. In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that only 23 percent of the public feels a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the United States healthcare system.

The good news, according to a 2013 Gallup poll, is that 69 percent of Americans rate the honesty and ethical standards of physicians as a group as very high or high. The not-so-good news is that the U.S. ranks near the bottom of all industrialized nations in public trust in doctors.

These findings suggest there’s plenty of need for trust-building in American healthcare. While I believe the huge majority of doctors are caring, dedicated professionals, unfortunately, perception often lags reality. These docs deserve a better rep

I say that social media has yielded a powerful and free tool to demonstrate directly or by proxy that patients’ physical and emotional well-being is still their top priority. How? By showing a little more human side. Facebook has become a global juggernaut because it’s where people openly share tears, laughs, photographs, videos, personal news, and tender feelings. Why can’t we from time to time do the same in healthcare communications?

EDITOR’S NOTE: The above blog post originally appeared on Vanguard Communications and is re-used with their permission.

Join us on January 17, 2018 at 1pm ET for Ron’s webinar presentation: 4 Digital Trends that Are Transforming Medical Practice in America — and How Your Practice Can Benefit.

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