#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.
“[Social Media] is overwhelmingly where patients and caregivers are. Physicians can’t look for excuses not to be there; they’ve got to find a way to meet their patients where they are.”
– Dr. Anas Younes, Oncologist, Lymphoma Expert and Professor of Medicine at MD Anderson Cancer Center
Doctor Anas Younes is an oncologist at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center – one of the most respected medical facilities in the world. As such, exploring the limits of new cancer treatments is perhaps the most important part of his job. For that reason, he tends to be involved in a lot of clinical trials … and the greatest challenge for most clinical trials is to find and engage the patients who’ll join the trials. So Dr. Younes isn’t using social media to scratch a literary itch, or because he’s keen to be on the cutting edge of communications. He’s using social media because that’s where the patients are – and he needs to reach as many as possible, as quickly as possible.
Doctor Younes’ use of the social web started 3 years ago when, as is not unusual, he was frustrated with the process of getting patients into clinical trials using traditional methods like flyers and mass emails. He recognized that he was getting so many flyers himself that he barely had time to look at them all anymore, and saw that more and more spam filters were weeding out his emails. He eventually tired of such low-tech methods, and began to focus his attention on a medium that he hoped would yield better results, faster.
“My audience in social media isn’t just other oncologists – I’m now able to reach patients and their caregivers directly in ways that I never could before.” According to Dr. Younes, an average of only 3% of eligible patients participate in clinical trials – even though they may have tremendous benefits – because they simply aren’t aware of them. Now, through the strategic use of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube in particular, he’s able to reach more doctors AND more patients.
And it’s been working. Not only are his patients glad to be able to stay connected with him online (“They’re proud that their doctor is out there and visible”), more and more patients are finding HIM through those channels. He admits that he doesn’t have time to interact with patients as frequently as he’d like online – but he does stay quite engaged. One of the things he feels has really helped is that MD Anderson has begun to embrace and encourage social media in a big way. While he is primarily self-trained, MDA is now helping him and other doctors to make the best use of their social channels – how and who to follow, what and when to retweet, whom to engage, etc. “MD Anderson saw the value right away – and they’ve begun to actively enable us as doctors to be engaged online.” According to Megan Maisel of the MDA communications team, their success in engaging through social media comes as a result of the passion of their physicians, like Dr. Younes, as well as the leadership team. “Our provost and executive vice president, Dr. Raymond DuBois, is particularly active on Twitter and he sets an example for others at MD Anderson to follow,” she says.
When I asked about his interaction with other doctors, Dr. Younes shared a couple of surprising revelations. “Twitter can be really distracting,” he said. “It’s not very intuitive for everyone, and it takes every person a little bit of time to find their comfort zone with using it. But once you do, there’s no better way to stay connected.” In our social media echo chamber, it’s nice to see someone calling a spade a spade – and recognizing that getting started in twitter isn’t easy.
Dr. Younes has come to understand that, “what defines you on Twitter is who you follow. There are a lot of good things out there IF you follow the right people … and look for the right things.” But it it still takes up massive amounts of time, right?
“Trying to keep up with the latest health information using Google or PubMed takes massive amounts of time. I’ve found that I actually SAVE time by using twitter, because my network brings me the most important and up-to-date information without my having to look for it.”
Dr. Anas Younes, MD – the MD Anderson Cancer Center
Dr. Younes’ twitter network includes science and medicine writers like Sally Church and Matthew Herper, who do an amazing job of covering the pipeline of cancer treatments; MD Anderson’s Provost Raymond Dubois; Robert Miller from Johns Hopkins; ASCO’s Michael Fisch; Steven Tucker, a UCLA-trained oncologist now practicing in Singapore – and of course, many others. He also tends to follow more institutions than individuals, which syncs well with his goal of getting instant access to the best information and thinking.
When I asked Dr. Younes about what advice he’d have for other doctors to get online, he highlighted something important that he’s learned about the social media space. “No matter what your focus is, you can’t just talk about the same thing all the time. You have to vary your content and keep it interesting … and only tweet about your core efforts on an intermediate basis. It makes you more credible as an information source.”
To see how Dr. Younes has tackled social media, you can find him on:
YouTube (MD Anderson)