There are few terms I can live without when it comes to social media. One is the term "engagement."
"Engage" your audience. "Engage" your patients. "Engage" your peers. Engage. Engage, Engage.
Do these administrative and marketing types who love this term realize how phony this term sounds to most doctors? In fact, most doctors I know look at me as though I have three heads when I suggest they get involved in social media, much less "engage" with their colleagues or patients. I get the "there's no time," "too risky," or "not interested" rebuff from most.
But I also sense a growing tacit anxiety amongst the doctors unfamiliar with social media for the simple reason that these doctors don't like being late to innovative approaches in medicine. Deep down inside, they might even acknowledge that they should know more about this space, but really just don't want to spend the time to do so.
We should acknowledge, whether we like it or not, that the great majority of doctors are scared of using social media in health care. Sure, a Facebook page with family and friends is generally accepted. But a blog? Twitter? No frickin' way!
But I'd like to suggest something to the physician skeptics out there: don't "engage" in social media, "lurk" instead.
What do I mean by "lurk?" I mean, get an account, follow a group of people with common backgrounds and interests to yours, and don't say or type a thing. Just listen.
Most skeptical doctors have very real concerns about the permanence of what is written on the internet. They also are concerned about the many potential legal pitfalls that can befall doctors who use social media. After all, what might seem appropriate to one individual might be completely inappropriate to another. This might put a doctor on the defensive.
But I believe doctors should still register with a social media service (Twitter, for instance) and reserve a name for themselves. Then they should try following a few people on the service. Then maybe follow a few more. Just look and listen to what is said there, but don't participate. Just "lurk." See what others say. If it agrees with you or is interesting, add those people to your follow list. Follow a journal. Follow a favorite newspaper, local news station or hobby website. Maybe even follow "the enemy" (whoever that might be). But just get used to the process. In time, I can almost guarantee that even the most skeptical of physician will see how these services can bring ideas and insights to them that they simply would never have had any other way. They'll be up on current affairs and might even learn something new before their friends or colleagues without having to utter a word online. And believe it or not, with practice they can even learn how to collaborate with others offline using direct (non-public) messaging.
Now more than ever, beyond all of these things, I believe there's something that social media provides to doctors that they don't appreciate at first. It is something that doctors are missing as medicine transforms from an independent solo or group practice setting to a series of giant corporate conglomerates:
Social media helps restore a sense of professional autonomy.
Doctors know they must keep current in the fast-changing world of medicine, particularly these days. Doctors need to appreciate their colleagues' struggles and concerns as the medical world evolves around us. Doctors need to know what patients are thinking, too.
But the beauty of social media for doctors is that it can help them with each of these needs without anybody knowing if a doctor so chooses. For doctors, I believe social media is a critical tool, but should not be considered an end-all. Just learning how to listen to the social media conversation not only provides an opportunity to participate in the medium IF (and only if) the doctor desires, but permits an instantaneous opportunity to raise one's voice to affect change when it's really needed.
Yep, it's the autonomy, not engagement, that matters to most of us.