Screen Shot 2014-08-07 at 8.40.12 PMMy friend, now former friend, Kelly Mello Woodsum, executive director of the New England Society for Healthcare Communications, tagged me earlier today to take the ALS Awareness Challenge: either donate $100 to ALS or create awareness by creating a video of a bucket of ice water being dumped over your head. Kelly wouldn’t let me go the donation route. This is about participating in a viral social media program to drive awareness for ALS, so $100 is the cheap way out.

See my amazing video below. Note that I used an elaborate 3 camera set up. Of course I did all my own shooting and editing. No crew. No hair and makeup. No grips. Not even an audio guy. Having completed the challenge myself, I now have taggged the following individuals to take the challenge because of the admiration I have for each of them: Chad Campbell, Julia Bowen Sorensen, Susan Radican McDonald, Nick Zaharias, Jim Rattray and Donald Jones. You must now face the challenge! #icebucketchallenge #ALSawareness

Screen Shot 2014-08-05 at 9.13.35 AMLast week I led a blogging 101 training session for physicians and other healthcare professionals who blog for the Hospital Leader blog of the Society of Hospital Medicine (SHM). It was a great experience. (Special shout out to Brendon Shank and Meghan Mallouk of SHM.) The bloggers ranged in experience with some having blogged for several years while others were relatively new to blogging. I thought I’d share some of the blogging tips I shared within that session. One of the first things I spoke about was the “blogging mindset” that eventually develops, if given a chance. From my perspective, a new blogger can tell that he or she has achieved the blogging mindset if blogging begins to fit within the context or flow of his or her life. To be successful, especially for a physician blogger, blogging should not be a hassle. As the physician travels through the work day, he or she should get to the point where certain things (journal articles or a patient experience, for example) trigger an idea for a blog post. Eventually, throughout the week, the physician blogger will note various things that are blog post worthy. It might be a news story on NPR that he or she hears in the car. Or it might be news of an upcoming conference that seems particularly interesting and relevant. Making note of those things – rather than sitting down and brainstorming (forcing) topics for future blog posts – that is the blogging mindset. This approach allows your blog posts to be more spontaneous and in the moment, requiring less planning and labor.

Here are some of the quick tips I shared with the group from the Society of Hospital Medicine:

  • Be truthful – Not only should you always strive to tell the truth, but you should also be true to yourself.
  • Be interesting – The world doesn’t need yet another blogger droning on. What’s interesting about your perspective? What will others find interesting about you and your blog? One key is to write about things that interest you. Your interest will show through in your writing.
  • Find your voice – This is essential. Blogging, especially for business people and medical professionals who are not used to writing in such an informal manner, can be a struggle. What is your voice going to be as a blogger? Often it is the voice that makes you interesting.
  • Be patient with yourself – While you are working to find your voice, be patient with yourself. It can take time to find your voice and certainly it takes time to develop a blogging mindset. So be patient with yourself. Keep moving forward. And don’t get discouraged.
  • Balancing the fear of writing too little with the fear of writing too much (both can be sins) – Blog posts should vary in length depending on the subject you are addressing. Sometimes you’ll want to write a very short post that directs your readers to an article, video or blog posts. I call those “redirect” posts. These can be one paragraph in length, and that is perfectly acceptable. You’ve done your job by providing a resource to your readers. At other times, hopefully not too frequently, you’ll want to write a rant or manifesto. Those tend to be longer. My suggestion is to use subheads to break up the copy and try embedding images/graphics to add interest. In general, I feel that a good blog post will average four paragraphs. Please know, not every blog post needs to be a major literary work; 300 to 400 words is optimum.
  • Have a point – This is a really common challenge that many bloggers face: they leave their readers asking “So What?” Before writing that next blog post, ask yourself why you plan to write about this particular topic? Are you providing a new perspective? Sharing a valuable resource? What’s the point? What’s the hook?
  • Write with conviction – Don’t be afraid to take a stand and express a perspective. Having conviction will make you interesting.
  • Write when you have something to say – The best blog posts are often written in the moment!
  • Short sentences are best – Say no more.
  • Avoid using deceptively cute headlines – Ultimately, your blog post has to deliver on the promise of the headline. Avoid creating false expectations with clever headlines that mislead the reader. These are busy people and they won’t be fooled a second time.
  • Prepare for rainy days – I like to keep a running list of blog post ideas. I use the “notes” App on my iPhone. This helps when I hit a dry spell and just can’t find inspiration for that next blog post. And believe me, it happens.
  • Be generous – Generosity is a major theme in my blogging life and my overall professional life. I seek to share good content that may be of value to other healthcare marketers and communicators. When you’re writing blog posts, be sure to link to sources that your readers may find to be of value. It is okay to send readers away from your blog to an original source. Have courage. They’ll appreciate the information and will be back.

There you have it. A list of tips for healthcare professionals who blog – or may aspire to blog. What did I leave off the list?



Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 5.26.37 PMI meet a fair number of social media haters. It is a fascinating phenomenon. For some reason people have a visceral reaction to social media. On the business side of things, we’ve learned that in marketing discussions we will often get a better response if we refer to “digital media” rather than social media. Unfortunately, for many people, when you mention social media and social networks their minds immediately go to “that group of activities that is a huge time suck and is of no real value.”

I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that people find community within social networks. There is research that substantiates the fact that when people interact on social networks, their bodies emit oxytocin, the same chemical that is produced when close friends share a great hug. (Check out the research of Dr. Paul Zak.)

“Interactions on Twitter and Facebook seem to lead to oxytocin spikes, offering a powerful retort to the argument that social media is killing real human interaction: in hormonal terms, it appears, the body processes it as an entirely real kind of interaction.” (Source: “Meet ‘Dr Love’, the scientist exploring what makes people good or evil,The Guardian, Sunday 15 July 2012)

Online, people seek out communities of shared interest. These are niche communities made up of individuals who share certain commonalities. When it comes to health, those commonalities could include a chronic condition, rare disease, terminal illness or interest in fitness. But for those of us who don’t belong to health-oriented online communities, we can see the same phenomena at work on our Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, just to name a few. (I also see it on Instagram and LinkedIn, and to some degree on foursquare.)


I promised my wife that I wouldn’t write any more blog posts about my father and his recent death. That pretty much guaranteed the fact that I would mention him in at least one more post! If ever there was a question about whether all of this online activity truly results in community-building, watch what happens on Facebook when a friend of yours has a loved one pass away. The outpouring of support is remarkable.

Having only 271 friends on Facebook is a testament to the fact that I am highly selective when it comes to accepting friend requests. So it was remarkable that, when I first shared news of my dad’s death, the initial post received 71 comments. These weren’t just “likes.” These were people who took the time to write a comment and express their condolences. Similarly, dozens of online friends left comments on my blog to share their support. And it meant a great deal to me. The support was immediate and heartfelt.

People will argue that many Facebook friendships and online relationships are superficial. That is true. The online world is very much like the “in person” world (although I am not a fan of the distinction). Each community, no matter how large or small, is made up of a number if individuals with some common interest. However, one thing you can count on is that the level of involvement on the part of various individuals will vary greatly. Some people are very active in their communities while others play a more limited role. There are leaders and there are those who are just find living on the periphery. Why would online communities be any different?

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 5.45.16 PMWhen I first started using social media there was a lot of talk in the media about the “cocooning” of Americans. At the time, much of that was attributed to the impact of television, but I also connected the idea with the impact of emerging social networks. I can remember being concerned that these new technologies would exacerbate this cocooning phenomenon. The impact would be further isolation and less social interaction. It is now my perspective that, at least in my experience, digital media have allowed for enhanced social interactions and allow for a greater sense of connection, rather than isolation. Through social media niche communities are given an opportunity to flourish in a way that was very difficult in the past. Using the example of my father’s death, in the past most of the people who I engage with on Facebook would have had no way of knowing that he had passed away and that I was going through a tough time. The same would be true if I were to suddenly find myself dealing with a chronic illness. In the old days, how long would it take for people to find out? Today, if I choose to share it online, dozens of friends within my community will immediately have the opportunity to lend me their support and advice.

Don’t Hate

Sometimes we are all too quick to judge phenomena that are new and unfamiliar. Those who demean “social networks,” “social media,” “online communities” and online friendships, have not taken the time to examine the power of these platforms and the interaction that takes place within them. Online patient support communities, above all, fill so many important needs of their members. I’m excited to play a role in bringing online health and patient communities to those seeking support, guidance, friendship, camaraderie and health resources.

Dan and Kerry photoMy sister Kerry has been undergoing treatment for Stage 3 Ovarian Cancer for the last several years. She has done remarkably well (multiple rounds of chemo and multiple surgeries) and has exceeded the expectations of her medical team. When she was first diagnosed, she was treated at UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco, and felt like she was receiving exceptional care. Later, she moved to Florida to be closer to my parents, and began treatment at a local community hospital that has a comprehensive cancer center.

Over the last year, Kerry has expressed doubts about the sophistication of the cancer program at the local hospital and wondered if they were doing everything that could be done for her. Among other things, it concerned her that the cancer center had no clinical trials for ovarian cancer. She also felt that their diagnostic equipment was outdated, given what she’d experienced at UCSF. So, for the last year, I’ve suggested that she visit a major cancer center for a consult and a review of her treatment plan. At the very least, this would help to put her mind at ease. She looked at a number of different options, including a few that I recommended (MD Anderson, Duke and UNC), and surprised me a couple of weeks ago by announcing that she was heading to meet with the team at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Right away! I was elated to hear the news, in part because I have worked with MD Anderson and hold the organization in high esteem, and in part because Kerry was taking charge of her situation rather than simply let things happen to her.

Last week Kerry headed out to MD Anderson. Before leaving she seemed nervous and apprehensive. I called her on her second night in Houston and she was thrilled with her decision. She sounded empowered. She was glowing. Suddenly she had the resources and expertise of a major cancer center at her finger tips. And they will remain a resource long after she returns to her home in Florida. Prior to this, it seemed that she felt trapped and uncertain of the path she was traveling. That’s never a good thing, particularly when it is your life that’s on the line.

So today I am celebrating the power of an informed second opinion. And I am grateful to everyone at MD Anderson for taking such good care of my sister. The care provided at most community hospitals today is solid (exceptional in some cases), and certainly not every illness requires a trip to an academic medical center. But, when the need arises, healthcare consumers should feel comfortable seeking out the expertise available within major academic centers. It is not a betrayal to seek out a second opinion. In fact, it can be a smart thing to do. Programs have limits and strengths. But not all programs are good at encouraging patients to seek out other options with greater resources and/or expertise in a specific arena. In those cases (and many others), the patient has to be his or her own greatest advocate, get educated and seek out alternatives. Power to the patient!

Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 2.41.56 PMLooking for an event to attend in late September? Or perhaps your organization, like so many others, is chasing the holy grail of “patient engagement?” On September 30-October 1 in Bethesda, Maryland, the ENGAGE forum will discuss the leading innovations and latest strategies in improving patient care and healthcare delivery. MedCity ENGAGE is an executive-level event featuring the most innovative thinking from payers, providers, policymakers, health IT and beyond to highlight best-in-class approaches to one of the biggest challenges in healthcare: patient engagement. It will feature speakers discussing the current attempts to innovate in care delivery and reimbursement, along with the innovations that will form the backbone of technological infrastructure.

According to MedCityNews, the producer of the Engage forum, attendees can expect to gather a number of take-aways, benefits and insights from the event:

  • A better understanding of the current care environment and the major policy and market drivers behind care innovation
  • Perspectives from federal policy leaders on future government support of patient engagement
  • Perspectives from health leaders on the business case for exceptional patient engagement
  • Insight from engagement experts from a variety of different fields and how to apply those principles to healthcare
  • Access to innovators “in the trenches” and demonstrations of the latest technology platforms to communicate with and encourage patient behavior.

For information about the event, go to: http://events.medcitynews.com/engage/


Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 8.02.25 AM

Here’s something you don’t often see: An awards competition where the entries are free. This is the second year for the Multicultural Health Marketing Awards. This competition recognizes the best creative advertising of a health product or service targeting African-American, Hispanic, Asian, or LGBT consumers. (These are creative awards, so it is not necessary to present metrics with each submission.) These can be campaigns from pharma, medical devices, hospitals, insurance plans, OTCs, consumer products, NGOs, government, academia, or anything that is marketing health information to a multicultural market segment and has run on any media at any point since July 1, 2013.
Click here to download entry form: http://form.jotform.us/form/41601102792141

Finalists will be notified in late August/early September and award winners will be announced at the Multicultural Health Marketing National Conference on October 16. Nominations close on August 8, 2014

For the last year I’ve been going around the country, presenting at conference, sharing my perspective on the future of physician relations. Below is the draft of an article I wrote recently that captures some of those views. (This is much longer than most blog posts because it was written as an article for an industry publication.)

The Digital Future of Physician Relations

The digital future of physician marketing is upon us. It hasn’t washed over our industry like a tsunami; rather, it has been a gradual evolution that has followed the slow but steady adoption of health information technology and digital communication tools by physicians. The emergence of the social or digital physician has been documented by numerous studies from organizations such as Manhattan Research, QuantiaMD, and ZocDoc, and written about in peer review publications including the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) and the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association (JAMIA).

It is now evident that physicians find value in interacting with other physicians via social platforms. Physician-only online communities like Doximity, QuantiaMD, Sermo and Medscape Physician Connect have become the leading digital gathering places for doctors seeking professional camaraderie, support and guidance. Within these online communities physicians can securely collaborate on diagnoses and patient treatment. Currently, one of these online communities, Doximity, has a membership that is so vast it includes one in three U.S. physicians.

Once it became apparent that physicians are gravitating toward digital platforms, it was only a matter of time before healthcare communicators and strategists recognized the opportunity presented by digital physician marketing.

Step One: Adoption of Digital Communication Tools for Physician Marketing

Many healthcare organizations, hospitals and health systems have taken the first step into the realm of digital physician marketing. This involved the integration of digital tools into the overall physician marketing program. The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center was an early adopter when it launched its www.physicianrelations.com portal for referring physicians. This was just the beginning of its initial foray into digital marketing. Next it added a Twitter feed specifically targeting community physicians, a paper.li daily electronic newspaper that aggregated MD Anderson Faculty Tweets, and a Facebook page with oncology resources for health care professionals.

Other organizations like Tufts Medical Center would follow MD Anderson’s lead. Tufts Medical Center has introduced its www.TuftsMedicalCenter.tv website – a video repository and resource center for referring physicians and consumers. On the site, specialists and subspecialists speak to specific health conditions, medical procedures and therapies. For the busy community physician, the videos are easily accessible and a convenient resource when considering a potential patient referral. Tufts Medical Center and Floating Hospital for Children have launched a referring physician microsite designed to simplify the referral process for the physician and allow for a better patient experience. The physician microsite gives referring physicans up-to-date quality information, contact information for the physician liaison team and access to a number of helpful documents that can be downloaded as PDFs. The downloads include a quality brochure, patient brochures, talking points for physicians making a referral, directions to the medical center, and profiles of specialists.

Similarly, Signature Healthcare in southeastern Massachusetts, about 20 miles south of Boston, has launched its own digital platform designed to reach referring physicians. The microsite (SignatureMDExcellence.com), part of a broader physician marketing program, has proven to be a valuable tool for physician retention and recruitment – two important considerations in the highly competitive eastern Massachusetts healthcare environment. Online videos of Signature Healthcare’s employed physicians are showcased on the microsite and leveraged across a number of digital platforms including YouTube, Facebook, Google+ (often ignored by marketers), and Pinterest.

Finally, Cooper University Health Care successfully integrated digital tools into its physician relations program when it created the South Jersey Medical Report. The Report is a full physician marketing program targeting employed and community physicians. Elements of the program include a physician microsite rich with video content featuring Cooper specialists, a dedicated physician Twitter feed, a traditional physician newsletter available as a paper document and electronically, and a mobile application.

Healthcare organizations like Cooper University Health Care, Signature Healthcare, Tufts Medical Center and MD Anderson dipped their toes in the digital communication pool when they integrated these digital tools into their overall physician marketing programs. However, for these organizations and others, there looms an important question regarding how the digital age will impact the structure and function of the physician relations department.

Step Two: Defining Digital Roles within Physician Relations

The physician relations department has always been an aggregator of content relevant to the referring physician. Typically that content, once gathered, was distributed to medical professionals and practice administrators by way of newsletters and collateral material handed out during practice visits. Today, how does the availability of, and the need to distribute, large quantities of digital content impact the function of the physician relations team and, specifically, the physician liaison? One of the challenges facing physician relations departments in the current health care environment is how to handle this abundance of content and the addition of these new digital communication channels, often with fewer financial resources and a reduction in FTEs.

The Digital Content Marketer

In response to these challenges and opportunities, the roles within the physician relations department may need to evolve or change. One new position that seems likely to develop is that of the digital physician relations content marketer. This individual would be the point person within the department responsible for aggregating digital content and for disseminating it across numerous digital channels. Content would be aggregated on a primary platform developed specifically to meet the needs of community physicians. That could be a microsite, the “for medical professionals” section of the organization’s website, a LinkedIn Group or a blog. By continually updating the content, the information would be attractive to search engines and improve rankings.

The digital content marketer could also manage the department’s daily digital outreach to physicians and practices. This would involve using electronic marketing and social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and others) to post links to specific pieces of content that referring physicians may value. Of course, the digital content marketer will also have to monitor social channels and respond to Retweets and questions from followers. Active listening would an important part of this job, noting and then responding to requests from physicians and practice managers.

The Digital Physician Relations Specialist

It is likely that the physician liaison’s role will need to evolve as well. Although many physicians are now comfortable with digital communication tools, many are not. We are now only part of the way through this transformative process. This means there exists a significant opportunity to educate community physicians, clinicians and employees of the practice about ways to access information about the medical center via digital channels. An important part of the liaison’s role moving forward will likely involve using practice visits to familiarize these individuals with the digital platforms being used by the healthcare organization and acquainting them with the range of information available.

Another potential future role for the physician liaison involves them becoming digital physician relations specialists. This would significantly expand the reach of the liaison by adding digital communication to their role. Today, liaisons are limited in the number of practices they can visit in a day. However, with the help of social media, they can freely disseminate information about their organizations and reach out to practices far and wide, no longer encumbered by the obstacles of geography and time.

For the digital physician specialist, in addition to the traditional functions of a liaison, a portion of each day would be spent using social media to post content linking back to the organization’s digital hub (website, blog, microsite, etc). They would Retweet information shared by “faculty tweeters” and direct community physicians to the organization’s online resources for referring physicians.

Is It Time for Digital Physician Relations?

The question is no longer about the relevance of digital physician relations. Rather, the question today is whether your organization is going to embrace it now and get ahead of the curve, or play catch-up on the back end. Digital adoption among physicians will continue to grow. They will increasingly turn to digital communication to reach out to other physicians and to help them do their jobs more efficiently and effectively. They will actively look for trusted online resources that meet their professional needs. For medical centers and health systems looking to engage community physicians, these digital platforms are the next frontier. It is within the digital space, as a new feature of the physician relations program, that the hearts and minds of the new “digital doctors” may be won or lost. Effective communication requires that the information be delivered in a manner that fits within the context of the end-user’s professional life. As physicians’ appetite for digital information grows, so too must our digital mark


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,619 other followers

%d bloggers like this: