Natasha Burgert, MD – The MDigitalLife Interview

Posted by: in Global Healthcare, Healthcare Insights, MDigitalLife, Medical Communications, Social Media Insights & Trends on March 28, 2012

#MDigitalLife is a WCG program designed to learn from and to showcase physicians who are blazing new trails in the digital world – changing the way that medicine is practiced and better health is realized.  You can find previous posts here.

“The content that organizations like the AAP put out is terrific … but it’s intended for an incredibly broad public audience; most of it doesn’t really address the specific issues that my patients are facing.  I see it is as my responsibility to address that content gap.”

Natasha Burgert, MD – Pediatric Associates of Kansas City

When Natasha Burgert came out of her pediatric residency and started practicing, she found that she was facing competition from a source that she hadn’t anticipated: Google.  As a new physician, meeting new patients for the first time, she was finding that they were coming in to see her having already reached conclusions about their diagnosis and treatment without consulting her at all.

Patients independently navigating online information was causing some of Natasha’s patients to make misguided decisions, and it was not her goal to practice one-way medicine for her entire career. She really wanted to partner with her patient families. “The internet has enabled patients to become partners in care in ways that they’ve never been able to imagine before.  That’s a good thing.  The problem is that for every piece of quality health information online, there are 10 that are questionable at best.”

It didn’t take her long to start trying to take matters into her own hands.  She was already using Facebook on a personal level, and wanted to find a way to interact with her patients online, but out of the eye of the general public.  She started a private page, and began sharing relevant health content with a small group of patients.  “I didn’t just want to just hand people a treatment plan and move on,” she says, ”I wanted to work WITH my patients to create and execute a plan for long-term health.”

Natasha doesn’t ever practice medicine in social networks; that is, she’s not giving medical advice to patients.  What she does is to create, curate and share content that is meaningful for her patients generally – and then can interact with them around that content rather than on their personal situations.  When a patient needs to talk about their specific needs, the conversation comes offline immediately and into an appointment, phone call or email.

What that approach has done is manifold; first (and most important) is that it’s enabled an entirely different kind of dialog with her patients when they do come to the office.

“Investing time in relevant and complete posts actually saves me time in the long run. Questions I am repeatedly asked,  like “How do I start solid foods?“, can be answered quickly and completely by directing them to my site. This saves face-to-face clinic time for more specific concerns for their child.”

Natasha Burgert, MD – From How social media has changed my medical practice on KevinMD

According to Natasha, it also allows her to build trust with her patients much more quickly than if their first meeting was completely “cold.”  I was curious about whether that kind of patient trust came because a) She produces up-to-date, relevant,  insightful medical content; or b) Her patients start to know her as a person.

“It starts with the content – that’s the table stakes, as it were.  I need to cross the ‘quality gateway’ with my content.  Patients are really smart, and if I’m not giving them credible, usable, up-to-date content, they’re not going to be interested in going any further.  But once I have, they also start to get to know me as a human being.”

As it turns out, that kind of trust-building is particularly important in pediatrics. “Not only am I likely to be treating my patients for 18 years, there are vital decisions that have to be made in the first 3 visits – such as breastfeeding and immunizations.  If my patients don’t come in with a high level of trust, there’s a chance that they’re not going rely on me to guide them to the best choice for their family.”

In addition to her own blog and twitter account, Natasha is also the online “community manager” for her practice (13 pediatricians in 2 offices in KC – Pediatric Associates of Kansas City) – which consists of a facebook page and a twitter account.  And that leads to the other interesting outcome of her activity online – a more active practice.  “We average one new patient a week who’s come in because they’ve been reading our blog, watching our facebook page or following our twitter account.”  In this day and age of diminishing primary care, it’s impossible to overvalue the importance of new patients – especially those who are coming through an (essentially) free channel.

But it isn’t just that new patients are coming in.  They’re the kind of new patients who are a good fit for the practice – the kind of patients who are prepared to be a partner in care. Natasha told me a story about a expectant father who has a specific expertise in infant car seats.  She had just blogged about car seats within the last few weeks, as it turns out.  “He told me that of all the local sources he’d seen online, I was the only one who actually got it right.”  That’s the kind of parent that absolutely insists on his doctor having the best, most up-to-date information before he was even stepping through the office door. And that’s true for most of Natasha’s patients.

Natasha’s exams look a little different than the typical pediatrician’s visit.  All of the exam rooms in her office have a whiteboard behind the door. She keeps the boards fully stocked with hand-curated bit.ly links and QR codes – so that her patients have some great health content to keep them company in the event that they have to wait.  She also keeps her laptop or ipad with her at all times, because “prescribing” online content is incredibly important to her.  Sometimes she’ll watch a video together with her patients right in the exam room; often she’ll write down (or even text!) a URL to them so an important message can be revisited once they leave her office.

When I asked Natasha what advice she’d give to future doctors about how to prepare for the world after residency, she had an immediate answer – in part because her practice allows residents from the nearby children’s hospital to come and spend a month at a time in the office.

“My advice to residents and med students and residents is that they need to recognize that Google is going to be a constant consultant.  For conditions and treatments that are going to be common in their practice, they need to google those things regularly and get really, really familiar with the search results that are returned.  That way, they’ll understand the framework that their patients are likely to come in with.”  If physicians find consistently incorrect information that is prevalent, they can get EXTREMELY familiar with the very best content to contradict it. “I always know the specific page on the specific site that I can share with my patients to address their most pressing needs.”

When I asked Natasha about other doctors whom she likes to follow online, her voice lit up with enthusiasm.  “It’s a silly thing, really … when you leave your residency and put those two little letters behind your name, it opens up a world of possibilities to you.”  The doctors she follows have followed those possibilities in very different ways – all of them equally valuable, interesting and inspiring.

A sample from the Natasha Burgert reading list:

  • Wendy Sue Swanson – @SeattleMamaDoc.  Brilliant writer, speaker and teacher.
  • Claire McCarthy – @DrClaire.  Wonderful doc from Boston Children’s; terrific, honest voice.
  • Mark Ryan – @RichmondDoc.  Wonderful focus on advocacy for underserved populations.
  • Denise Somsac – @Dr_SOM.  Uses her own family experiences to exemplify clinical issues in an especially impactful way.
  • Danielle Jones – @daniellenjones.  A med student who writes passionately and entertainingly about her experiences.



By: Greg Matthews

Greg Matthews is the the creator and Managing Director of the W2O Group's MDigitalLife - Understanding, Engaging and Activating Physicians in the Digital Age

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