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Physicians as Hospital Influencers: A New Era

David Epstein, MD, MS, FAAP shares the advantages of physicians as influencers for hospitals to engage with their communities to build trust and loyalty.

May 18, 2023

There is no shortage of billboards, radio spots, and television commercials that tout the benefits and accolades of hospitals to encourage patients to choose them for their care. There are hospital rankings in national magazines, individual evaluations on online review sites, testimonials, and patient personal interest stories to showcase a hospital’s clinical and institutional prowess. But, I would argue that these public relations techniques are not the most effective or authentic methods for building ultimate trust or influence in a community.

So, what other resources do hospitals have to establish the reputation that they desire and promote stronger patronage of their facilities?

The answer is people.

 

The Importance of People as a Resource

Who are these resources that hospitals need to look for? Well, they don’t have to look very far. The people that they need are the very people they already employ. The soul of the hospital is the community of individuals and not the physical structure that houses them. These people are the key to establishing the worthy reputation that a hospital so fervently craves.

However, this is not a surprise.

All companies already know this. But, the manner in which people are used is still not correctly executed. They are displayed in commercials and billboards as part of a company campaign that is perfectly aligned with the company brand. One usually sees the typical photo of the physician in a white lab coat with a stethoscope in his or her ears listening to the chest of a smiling and well-appearing patient.

This seems inauthentic and superficial.

It doesn’t really let the personality and humanity of the individual show through, so it ultimately seems contrived and just another routine publicity campaign that doesn’t stand out.

Encourage Individuality as an Authentic Way to Build Trust

So, how can a hospital utilize its most important resource to display the sincerity and authenticity that is required to truly build genuine community trust and see the hospital as a personable authority beyond the magazine rankings and online reviews? The answer is simple. Encourage these individuals to be themselves.

There are many ways in which individuals can be seen to be themselves in an authentic manner. As a physician myself, I am partial to the physician’s point of view. So, the following discussion will focus on how physicians can help solidify a hospital’s reputation in the community better than traditional advertising campaigns. However, these methods are not necessarily unique to physicians and can also be used by other hospital staff.

The Advantage of Individual Physician Reputations

The advantage that individual physicians have over traditionally choreographed publicity campaigns is that they have their own individual reputations and personality. They are not a “thing”. They are human and more relatable if they are allowed to be themselves. While patients are looking for the best hospital to seek care at, they are ultimately looking for the people in that hospital to seek care from because those are the individuals with whom they will be having person-to-person contact during their most vulnerable moments through their medical care.

As a physician, the manner in which we build trust and reputation is by researching certain topics, presenting research at conferences, giving lectures on areas of special interest, educating through writing or other forms of communication, advocating for healthcare issues in public and private, performing community services, and just plain delivering good clinical care to our patients.

These activities and others build a reputation and show medical colleagues and the general community who you are and what you do. This can result in a good reputation or a bad reputation, depending upon the perception of activities pursued and clinical outcomes obtained. But, at the end of the day, the hope is that all activities and outcomes are seen as good and result in a favorable reputation.

With a single physician, their reputation extends not only to the patients whom they care for, but also to the friends they have, their family, and the community in which they live, as well as the colleagues they come in contact with through their interactions in the medical field.

For example, as a pediatrician, I’ve been asked about adult medical problems by family members and friends.

Am I an expert in adult medicine? That would be an emphatic, “no”. But, do my family and friends trust my opinion? That would be, “yes”.

I treat kids, but the trust in my judgment in medical matters extends beyond my area of expertise. I am sure that I am not the only medical provider who has experienced this phenomenon. However, as requests and questions extend beyond my level of comfort to comment or advise, I admit my lack of expertise in these areas and refer to others who may know better. This only further establishes trust and the relationship strengthens.

The circle of influence of any one physician is ultimately smaller than a large hospital, but the relationships are stronger.

Surveys put the trust in physicians over that of the hospital or medical system.

 

The circle of influence of any one physician is ultimately smaller than a large hospital, but the relationships are stronger. Click To Tweet

The Benefits of Social Media and the Concept of the Influencer

Enter social media and the concept of the influencer.

When we think of social media and influencers, we often think of people with millions of followers, like Kim Kardashian.

However, one doesn’t need to have millions of followers to be an influencer. A much smaller audience can suffice, especially if it is in a niche area like a particular area of medicine or a medical subspecialty.

These smaller online communities can still have a significant impact on the individual and community. As mentioned previously, each physician already has a sphere of influence through the work that they have been doing over time. In their network, they influence decisions and perceptions of healthcare in a way that can supersede the work of the publicity of health organizations. The network that a physician establishes over time leads to trust and devotion that a hospital or health organization only wishes it could rival. So, how does the network of the established individual physician translate into a benefit to a particular hospital?

The Potential for Physician Networks to Benefit Hospitals

 

The benefit to hospitals, if they decide to take advantage of the established resources that are standing right in front of them, can be found by bringing all of these individual physician networks together.
The business model is well established as hospitals or health organizations have acquired individual physician practices or groups to bring them into their healthcare network.
The same should be considered for the reputations of the individual physicians that are already working with them as a model for communication and marketing. Each individual physician is already an influencer in their own sphere.
If an organization was to bring many physicians together to form a group of micro-influencers to represent the hospital in their own individual way, the impact and influence on the reputation and community connection for a given hospital can be greater than any single mega-influencer.

Physicians have not been formally trained in social media communication and marketing. However, it should probably be part of the medical school curriculum at this point because of its importance in education, marketing, and public relations these days. Hospitals should encourage and support their physicians in the social media arena because there are not only opportunities to benefit the hospital directly by amplifying the hospital’s influence in the community but also educate and advocate for the public health that is so needed in this era of medical misinformation and disinformation. A hospital that amplifies the voices of its staff physicians wins on service to its community and to its reputation to solidify its standing as a trusted community partner.

 

“If an organization was to bring many physicians together to form a group of micro-influencers to represent the hospital in their own individual way, the impact and influence on the reputation and community connection for a given hospital can be greater than any single mega-influencer.”

 

Physicians should be supported online by their hospitals and institutions because it is currently the primary method of reaching the public and the desired target audience for any given hospital.

The easiest, most cost-effective, and most efficient way for a hospital to gain exposure in this day and age is through social media by harnessing the influencers that already work for the hospital and believe in its mission…the hospital’s own staff. Magazine reviews and rankings, billboards, television commercials, and radio spots can bring name recognition to a hospital, but it is the personal touch and connection of its staff that builds the trust and respect that fosters patient and community loyalty.

As a healthcare consumer, are you more likely to utilize a hospital or medical system based on the reputation of and connection to its physicians or the name recognition of the hospital or medical system based on conventional advertising?

All opinions published on SomeDocs-Mag are the author’s and do not reflect the official position of SoMeDocs, its staff, editors. SoMeDocs is a magazine built with the safety of free expression and diverse perspectives in mind. For more information, or to submit your own opinion, please see our submission guidelines or email opmed@doximity.com. Do you have a compelling personal story you’d like to see published on SoMeDocs? Find out what we’re looking for here and submit your writing, or send us a pitch.

All opinions published on SomeDocs-Mag are the author’s and do not reflect the official position of SoMeDocs, its staff, editors. SoMeDocs is a magazine built with the safety of free expression and diverse perspectives in mind. Do you have a compelling personal story you’d like to see published on SoMeDocs? Submit your own article now here.

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