#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.
“If you try to conduct online research without your doctor’s help, it can lead you to some pretty scary places. Your doctor can help you to be more targeted and objective about what you seek, and provide more context around what you find.”
“I know I shouldn’t have, but I looked up on my symptoms on WebMD …” “I read on the web somewhere that …”
Linda Pourmassina, an Internal Medicine practitioner practicing at Seattle’s Polyclinic, hears these sentence fragments every day. She’s progressive enough in her practice that she encourages her patients in their online research … but she also provides some cautions to them as well. “When you’re feeling sick – experiencing symptoms – it’s perfectly normal to want to find out, proactively, what’s happening to you. But what you may not know as a patient is that you’re unintentionally putting your own biases and filters – or lack thereof – into your research,” she says.
“What is it about our stories that make them so much more impactful or appealing than medical knowledge or scientific data? This seems to be irrespective of demographic, as I observe in my practice … It can be mind-boggling and frustrating from a data-driven perspective. All this effort towards public and individual education for the empowerment and engagement of patients seemingly gets thwarted by simple, yet impactful, stories by people who have never even taken a biology class.”
Linda Pourmassina, MD – Excerpted from “The Power of the Story (or The Inadequacy of Stats and Data)“, published October 31, 2011 on Pulsus
There’s no question that doctors who are comfortable online themselves find it easier to help patients feel comfortable too. It was no surprise to Dr. Pourmassina that her patients were conducting online research – but what was more surprising was how much trouble they had finding information that was actually helpful to them. “Sometimes it can be hard for the layman to distinguish between credible, objective information sources and someone who’s just trying to sell something.” Those concerns eventually became significant enough that she built a presentation on “Finding Credible Information Online” – and delivered it to a group of King County employees as a part of the “Healthy Incentives” series of lunch-and-learns. As a result of her experience, she’s begun to assemble a catalog of credible online health resources – such as the NIH’s DASH Eating Plan.
Dr. Pourmassina’s experience with social media started relatively recently – about 18 months ago. And it wasn’t because she was bored. She was seeing patients constantly, dealing with a long commute and a generally hectic life. “I found myself needing to reflect on what I was doing and how I felt about it. Without that, I think that the risk of physician burnout can get pretty high. I was in a place where I found myself wanting to rediscover the beauty of medicine.” For Dr. Pourmassina, someone who’d always enjoyed writing, creating a blog – essentially an online journal with an audience of one – was a natural. Thus, Pulsus was born in 2010. And it’s no accident that her first post, “The Vanishing Oath,” was shared as Dr. Pourmassina’s review and analysis of Dr. Ryan Flesher‘s 2009 documentary film of the same name
“… any health care reform movement would be remiss if it did not take into account what is going on in the minds and hearts of these individuals on the front line. Bureaucracy and the ‘business of medicine’ have resulted in a silent departure of physicians from clinical work.”
When asked about Pulsus’ audience, It’s clear that she’s still the primary audience … she writes about things that are meaningful and fulfilling to her; and feels that if they’re interesting to others as well, so be it. But the subject of her writing is broad: There’s material there for physicians, patients, and really anyone who’s interested in the physicians’ unique perspective on healthcare. Twitter was another matter altogether. At first, Dr. Pourmassina couldn’t possibly imagine what value would justify spending any of her precious time there. Against her better judgment, she started an account (@LindaP_MD) and started following a few doctors – Kevin Pho, Bryan Vartabedian and Wendy Sue Swanson notably among them. It wound up being hugely influential – and encouraging – for her.
“I found that there were so many people out there who were experiencing and thinking the same things I was. For me, Twitter’s become a community that allows its members to draw insights, inspiration and encouragement from one another. It’s opened so many refreshing new doors for me.”
Linda Pourmassina, MD
When Dr. Pourmassina joined the Polyclinic in 2011, she wasn’t sure how her new colleagues would respond to her social media activities – if they even noticed them. She’s been pleasantly surprised at the support she’s gotten … it was clear to the staff that her activities would only benefit the practice. And while she hasn’t specifically tracked where her new patients are coming from, they’re definitely coming. In fact, she’s had to be really disciplined with her writing and networking due to the patient volume she’s built in just over a year. Justifying the time isn’t difficult, though. “I’ve gotten used to knowing the latest news and trends first – and having the benefit of my peers’ reactions to them as well. I’m almost never left with ‘that blank look’ that so many doctors experience when their patients ask them about the latest trends.”
Dr. Pourmassina’s digital interactions have taught her something else, too, that she wants especially to share with aspiring physicians, med students and residents. And it’s that “MD” is not the end … it’s really the beginning. For most of the last 100 years, people have decided when they’re 18 or 19 that they want to be doctors – and that was essentially their last career decision. But it’s not like that now … even though it typically takes 11 years to get from pre-med to their own practice.
“If one looks simply at the changes in one-to-one provision of healthcare and the doctor-patient interaction (including EMR adoption, shorter appointments, patient portals, concept of e-patients, generational changes in expectations, creation of midlevel providers, rise in urgent care facilities, and healthcare social media), one realizes – like the old Oldsmobile commercials – that this is not your father’s medical system anymore.”
When you’re trendspotting and networking on the web, it makes it a lot easier to be aware of the changes that are coming down the pike – and to position them as opportunities in your own career. It’s going to be fun to see where they take Dr. Pourmassina.
To meet Linda Pourmassina online, you can connect with her:
On her blog, Pulsus
On Twitter, @LindaP_MD
… and a very small and targeted selection from Dr. Pourmassina’s recommended reading and connection list:
Wendy Sue Swanson – @SeattleMamaDoc
Kevin Pho – @KevinMD
Bryan Vartabedian – @Doctor_V
Jordan Grumet – @JordanGrumet
Greg Smith – @GregSmithMD