“Two years ago, a physician or practice with a Facebook account was unusual. Now if you’re a doctor without one, you’re considered archaic,” says Mehul Sheth, D.O., who practiced as a pediatrician in Milwaukee before becoming a medical consultant in Chicago.
Today’s physicians need to be more savvy about non-medical technologies than ever before. More and more, EHRs, social media and mobile computing are just a few of the trends that physicians and practices can’t afford to ignore.
And if you’re preparing for a job search, you can use your grasp of technology as a selling point.
The lesson: Building your own website
makes you the go-to resource and can attract
Jennifer Thomas, M.D., a pediatrician practicing at Lakeshore Medical in Franklin, Wisc., has shown how a website can be more than just a place to list your address and office hours.
“When I got my first job out of residency in 1998, I was the first new hire in at least a decade, and they had a number of layers patients had to go through to reach a health professional—nurse triage, phone triage, etc. I wasn’t very busy, so I started to hand out my email address, which not many people had at that time,” she says.
By the year 2000, she says, pretty much everyone had an email, and she found herself answering the same questions over and over.
So she set up her own website, drjen4kids.com, and put up notices on her business card and in her exam room.
“One day, the CEO came in and asked, ‘You have a website?’ and I said ‘Yes,’ waiting to be chastised and beg forgiveness. Instead, I got an email saying ‘Good work,’” she says.
In fact, her website was one reason her current employer recruited her.
It’s no secret that websites are often the first place people search for information on a practice. Think of the opportunity lost if a patient searches for a particular physician and finds nothing at all—or several listings, but no real information.
The best case scenario?
“The [searcher] finds an engaging, user-friendly website, one that tells the story of the people of the practice,” says Tom Ainsley, CEO of Baltimore Media Group in Maryland. He emphasizes the importance of your site’s “About us” link: “It gives the reader your credentials, personality, provides a sense of ‘Would I be comfortable in their care?’” he says. Consider videos allowing visitors to view the office and even “meet” individual physicians.
“Purchase [YourName].com (you can do it for about $10 on GoDaddy.com) and set yourself up as an expert. You can publish information and post your comments about a new treatment, or something you saw at a conference,” says Ainsley. Such commenting may help enhance your value to a practice.
Questions that come into your site can be your bellwether on local patients’ concerns, especially if you’ve moved to a new community.
The challenge: Setting and following site standards, posting regular updates
Thomas sets some very specific standards for the material she posts, and there is no advertising on her site.
“Have in mind your audience and what you want your site to do,” says Thomas. “Is it just for my patients? Can they contact you after hours? What are you willing to put up with?”
For Thomas, there are certain topics, such as immunizations and circumcisions, that she doesn’t discuss and removes when others post. She finds these are just some of the subjects on which reader comments get really ugly.
“I emphasize that it’s my page. If you want your opinion guaranteed in a posting, start your own page,” she says.
Patient privacy is critical. It’s one thing to post a notice that it’s time to consider flu shots, but don’t post a notice that it’s time for Patients X, Y, and Z to come in for theirs.
To get her information, Thomas says, “I subscribe to AAP Smartbriefs, and do Google searches for specific terms, so my morning is spent viewing potentially relevant stories.” It takes about 20 minutes daily for the research and uploads, time her bosses allow her.
If you’re starting at a new practice, you may have to do your blogging and branding after hours and then, like Thomas did, see how your bosses feel about you tending to your site during the day.
Proposing a blog or website for your new practice is one thing. You’ll also need a plan for how you will maintain it.
“It’s all about details,” says Katrina Wagner, owner of Graphic Beans, a web and graphic design firm in Pasadena, Md. “If patients come into a website that looks like ’99, or the links don’t work, patients will wonder, ‘Can I trust you with my prescriptions, lab test? Will they lose my records?’”
Content is critical—and that responsibility might rest with you.
“Your designer is not generally a content person. I can write my hairdresser’s content, that’s a no-brainer,” says Stephanie Sawchenko, a web/interface designer in Baltimore. But for health care, she emphasizes finding a content strategist familiar with writing health information for the web, directed to health professionals and/or patients (depending on who you’re targeting) so the writing will be clean and free from critical medical errors.
Electronic Health Records
The lesson: Already comfortable with EHR systems? Articulate your willingness to help implement to potential employers.
The good news: Between 2008 and 2010, 50 percent more primary care physicians adopted basic EHR (Electronic Health Records), according to a 2011 article in Healthcare IT News.
“An EMR is the digital information within a specific practice or system,” says Nareesa Mohammed-Rajput, M.D., MPH, FACP.
Mohammed-Rajput, a primary care physician who now practices medical informatics at Johns Hopkins Community Physicians in Baltimore, explains that an EHR contains the system’s internal patient health records and connections to external records, like the patient’s pharmacy, hospitals and Personal Health Record (PHR).
“Using PHRs, patients can fill out medical forms that automatically input into their clinician’s EMR, and their labs and diagnostics can be sent directly to the doctor,” says Mohammed-Rajput. “It’s generally more secure than a fax or letter.”
That security is one reason physicians are turning to electronic records.
“Privacy can be easily protected in computers utilizing appropriate measures,” says Edward H. Shortliffe, M.D., Ph.D., president and CEO of the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA).
It can also be helpful for patients.
“A hospital physician might see that a patient that’s been admitted for something else is also due for a flu shot…so why not deliver it now?” says Sheth.
Experts say even those without computers are finding ways to access health information electronically. Doctors at the Portland (Oregon) VA Medical Center have found that even homeless veterans are using computers at libraries and shelters to access the MyHealtheVet (myhealth.va.gov) portal. It lets them make appointments, check their lab tests, renew prescriptions and more. They’re thinking of expanding access through outlets like VFWs in the future.
Given all the incentives regarding EHRs, why does such a gap in implementation still exist?
Implementation— especially in an already-running paper office—requires commitment.
“There needs to be a champion or leader. There’s a LOT of work, and the overseeing physician can’t be everything, so it’s hard for any doctor to maintain his/her productivity for at least six months. The practice needs to be prepared for that,” says Mohammed-Rajput.
Do you have a special interest in EHR implementation? Communicate that through your job search. A practice’s conversion to EHR could be a great opportunity for a physician who is comfortable with technology and looking to join a practice.
Are you willing to assume this responsibility? If so, it’s critical to determine your potential employer’s true support of the process by asking about the practice’s timeline and the funds allocated for its implementation.
The lesson: Use social media to brand yourself and build trust with patients.
Social media—Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn—is technology that you’re likely already familiar with. And you can’t beat the price; the biggest cost is the time you spend on setup and participation.
Social media can help you build your own personal brand. That brand, built through regular updates or a blog, can help you find or land a job.
Using an outlet like social media, you can get patients to talk, and then address their fears.
Social media can also help physicians connect better with their patients. “That’s critical in an era in which you see four to five people an hour and then you hear, ‘I waited two hours and spent five minutes with my doctor,’” Sheth says.
The challenge: Drawing boundaries, picking the right outlet
Should you ask patients to friend you personally, or “Like” your business instead?
Be wary of the personal approach. What you posted in college may be too friendly for the professional image you’re seeking now for both patients and potential employers.
“Remember, everything you post tracks back to you now,” says Crystal Perkins, M.D., an orthopaedic surgery resident at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, N.C. “This outlet has to reflect who you are both personally and professionally.”
Instead, send people to a Facebook page where people can Like your business. There, you can share your professional opinions and insights into medical news, or information about your organization.
Sheth’s fond of tweeting. If he receives a tweet about new guidelines for managing obesity, for example, he’s able to use that information the same day when speaking with patients.
Twitter is also good for real-time reminders.
“Aurora Health has regular tweets reminding women of prenatal classes,” says Sheth. “Or I saw one concept to use it for diabetes education, sending tweets around 9 a.m. asking, ‘Have you checked your morning glucose level yet?’”
The lesson: Done correctly, technology can multiply your productivity
When it comes to thoroughly embracing a range of technologies, Taylor Sanders, M.D., in Charleston, S.C., is a great example of how forward-thinking doctors are proceeding. Although still mainly an ER doctor, he opened his own concierge practice, Health at Hand, in 2011.
“It’s hard for two working adults to take time off, and so their health goes unchecked,” he says. “I can go to their house on my patient’s schedule and provide more of a doctor/patient relationship,” he says.
A variety of new technologies—mainly an iPhone, a Mac laptop and an iPad—allows Sanders this mobility without fretting over paper records. He uses an app called Doctor Chrono.
“It offers an online database that lets me schedule my patients, fax prescriptions to pharmacies, go in and chart my visit with them.”
The challenge: What kind of practice do you want to join?
Examining technologies such as these can give you great insights as you choose a practice to join.
Before joining a practice, Mohammed-Rajput recommends asking the interviewers about their readiness to change. Ask them how they feel about EHRs.
“Show this article and see how many people think this is a good idea,” Mohammed-Rajput says.
If the answer is, “I’m two years to retirement, who cares?” then the place might not be the right one for you.
Wendy Meyeroff is owner of WM Medical Communications in Baltimore.