The popularity of social media and online communities has created countless web sites offering medical advice. Some physicians wonder what role they should play – or even if they should get involved at all.
S. Larry Schlesinger, M’71, of Honolulu, Hawaii, and Brooke R. Seckel, M’69, of Boston, Mass., recently took the time to answer our questions about their choice to be active online. The two surgeons are among the top 100 most influential board-certified dermatologists and plastic surgeons in social media as compiled by RealSelf. The list honors board-certified doctors who are among the most active and highly rated on the online community where the general public poses questions and finds answers about cosmetic surgery, dermatology, dentistry and other elective treatments.
Both Seckel and Schlesinger point to the fact that an increasing number of patients use the internet to find doctors and check their credentials. “Over 68 percent of patients search online to help them make health care decisions,” says Seckel. Schlesinger emphasizes the point, saying “the choice is to engage online communities or be invisible.”
An online presence not only makes finding a doctor easier, but it also allows patients to become more informed about medical procedures and make better decisions about which doctor to choose. Schlesinger points out that although many patients still find doctors through traditional referrals from friends, family or other doctors, “patients are still going to the internet to validate their decisions.”
Seckel says that “patients who come in for consultation after reading on RealSelf are usually very well informed. An informed patient is often more likely to understand their goals, be aware of complications, able to complete a better informed consent and understand the recovery period. This typically makes management of these patients much easier and facilitates communication.”
Patients aren’t the only ones who benefit from online medical communities like RealSelf. By offering their advice to patients online, doctors like Seckel and Schlesinger improve their social network ranking on Google and other sites, increasing the likelihood that patients will come across their names when searching for a doctor online.
Competition for page views and clicks will only increase as more people turn to the internet for medical advice. For now, the surgeons remained focused on educating patients and increasing the quality of care. Seckel says that his goal is to “educate and teach objectively and honestly,” and for his part Schlesinger says that “those practices which are transparent and engage online drive quality and patient satisfaction. The practice thrives and patients benefit.”
Schlesinger offers plastic surgery services in three locations in Hawaii. He was the first plastic surgeon in Hawaii to be chosen as physician of the year by his peers in the Hawaii Medical Association. With more than 30 years of plastic surgery experience, he has performed more than 18,300 plastic surgery procedures.
Seckel practices with Boston Plastic Surgery Specialists and is an assistant professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School. He is chairman emeritus of plastic surgery at Lahey Clinic where he founded the Lahey Clinic Department of Plastic Surgery and the Lahey Clinic Residency Training Program in Plastic Surgery.
By Jack Carmichael