Today's physician marketplace has become more competitive than ever before. There are approximately 800,000 working physicians in the U.S., and this growing base of new doctors is vying for a disproportionate pool of prospective new patients. While those doctors who choose to enter a specialty field clearly have a distinct advantage, in terms of establishing a healthier "market share" of patients (just by virtue of their specialized training and clinical credentials -- versus, for example, a general practitioner), the bar for attracting and retaining qualified patients is increasing for every active licensed practitioner.
Doctors employed by a hospital will have access to a more ready stream of new patients, of course, than an independent, private practitioner, but even hospital-affiliated physicians still need to "market" themselves to new and prospective patients to grow their reputation and foster a value proposition for their knowledge and services.
Thanks in large part to the Internet and the plethora of resources now readily available to consumers, patients are becoming increasingly educated about their health care options and are far savvier about how they research and find a doctor for themselves and their family. Patients are seeking a medical professional whom they deem to be a true expert in their area of specialty -- in essence, a doctor who is also a "thought leader." Within the context of the medical field, a thought leader is someone who not only runs a successful, solvent medical practice, but who also serves as a beacon of leadership for other health care practitioners to follow and emulate. Physician who are thought leaders may be academics; may serve on the advisory boards of hospitals, research institutions, or foundations; may be frequently quoted in the health care, general, or business press; and above all, are respected by patients and their peers.
Developing an effective thought leader identity is not just to build a great practice but also to build a strong public presence. This does not mean you need to become the next Dr. Phil, but it does mean that you need to join and ultimately lead important conversations in the medical community.
The good news is that social media has made joining these conversations easier than ever before. Academic and care-focused communities have sprung-up across the web with many a caring doctor engaging those communities by writing articles, participating in podcasts or webinars, answering questions, commenting on blogs, etc.
One of the biggest barriers, however, to physician involvement in social media is time. With doctors being run ragged seeing upwards of 30 patients in a day, coupled with a never-ending list of administrative "have to's," most doctors simply don't have the time to get involved in online communities and/or market their practice. And that is really unfortunate because ultimately a medical practice is a business, and without that community involvement and marketing, the practice will simply die. That is why doctors need to develop an intentional action plan that allows them to do efficient, targeted outreach enabling them to manage and elevate their reputation while building broad awareness about their services and credentials. Having a solid web presence tied into two to three established social media outlets can go a long way in this regard.
Thought leadership through social media -- it's an old concept with a new delivery. Those who can master it will have the opportunity to emerge head and shoulders above their peers.
Mark Britton is the founder and CEO of Avvo.com, a free social media platform that provides a health and legal Q&A forum and directory which rates and profiles 90 percent of all doctors and lawyers in the U.S. Avvo recently launched "No Question Left Unanswered," a campaign aimed at providing trusted answers by licensed doctors to a million consumer health questions in 2012.
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