Helen: Welcome to Health Literacy Out Loud. I’m Helen Osborne, President of Health Literacy Consulting, founder of Health Literacy Month and your host of Health Literacy Out Loud.
In these podcasts, you get to listen in on my conversations with some really remarkable people. You will hear what health literacy is, why it matters and how all of us can help improve health understanding.
Today, I’m talking with Dr. Kevin Pho, who is an internal medicine physician and founder of the very popular and award-winning health blog www.KevinMD.com.
Kevin’s unique perspective as a practicing physician and healthcare social media leader have been recognized by hospitals, medical societies, universities and mainstream media that includes the “CBS Evening News,” CNN, USA Today and The New York Times.
I met Kevin when my New England chapter of the American Medical Writers Association chose him as our honored speaker. I’m delighted that Kevin also agreed to talk with us on Health Literacy Out Loud.
Kevin Pho: Thank you for having me on, Helen. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Helen: I know you are so active and passionate about social media, but why should the rest of us be?
Kevin Pho: I think social media gives everybody in healthcare a platform to be heard. Speaking as a physician, I think it’s tremendously important for doctors to be heard because there’s a lot of health information online and more patients than ever are going online to research their health information.
Sometimes the information that they’re reading online isn’t always the most reliable. Social media gives doctors a visible public platform where they can either share reliable health information or guide patients to better health websites.
Helen: I’ve got a couple questions for you here. I know you’re a practicing physician. Is it just doctors or all of us who care about communicating this?
Kevin Pho: It’s everybody in the healthcare industry ranging from patients to policy experts to physicians and nurses. It’s important to get the voices of everybody in healthcare to be heard.
Patients can reach out to other patients and other people going through what they’re going through. Social media is a great connector that way.
Helen: I’m glad that you made it really inclusive on that.
When you say “social media,” what specific media are you talking about?
Kevin Pho: By definition, social media is a platform that encourages two-way communication between the author and the audience.
Helen: I like that definition. That’s a little different from what I’ve heard. It’s not just the listing of “do this and do this.” It’s two-way.
Kevin Pho: Absolutely. It could have many forms. For instance, this podcast that we’re performing is a form of social media. A video on YouTube is a form of social media where the content provider can provide video. It could be a blog, Twitter or Facebook.
Social media has so many different forms and it could adapt to the strengths of the person who’s producing that content.
Helen: I’m glad you’re saying that because obviously I love podcasts, but, boy, I can’t tolerate Twitter or Facebook. Get me away from that. I can choose the mechanism that suits me. We all can.
Kevin Pho: Absolutely. I speak to a lot of doctors, in particular, and some doctors are not great writers. They don’t feel comfortable writing a long article on a blog. I encourage them, for instance, that they can go on YouTube and create a video and do what they do every day in the exam room on video.
I think that’s one of the powers of social media. It’s to feel versatile. There’s something for everyone.
Helen: That’s really neat. I really appreciate hearing that.
There are so many ways we can be communicating and so many ways we can receive information. You kept talking about the platform to be heard. How can we be heard above all of that noise? Doesn’t it sound like, what’s the word, cacophony, where it’s coming at you too fast, too much? How can you be heard with all of the social media these days?
Kevin Pho: I think it’s important not only to share information, but, speaking as a healthcare provider, it’s also important to curate all of that information.
You’re right. There are so many people that can have a platform and say what they want to say. When it comes to healthcare, what they say isn’t always the most reliable.
Speaking as the healthcare provider and as an authority of health information, I think social media is a great platform where I can sort out all of that information for patients and curate that.
For instance, on Twitter, I can share reliable health links so when there’s a breaking health story, patients can look at my feed and they know what kinds of articles I endorse. I think that social media as a curation tool is tremendously powerful.
Helen: That’s neat. We have a role in not just producing content, but kind of managing it and making it easier for others.
I think now is a good time that maybe you can share with all of our listeners about your www.KevinMD.com. It’s an amazing platform. I get emails from you several times a week and I’m always clicking on something. Could you describe that for everybody, please?
Kevin Pho: Thank you very much for reading, first of all.
I started www.KevinMD.com about 10 years ago and, honestly, I didn’t know what to expect. It started as a blog where I would share my thoughts on breaking health news.
It got to a point where one day I walked into an exam room and the first thing that patient said to me was, “I read your article on your blog, www.KevinMD.com. I was interested in what you had to say and I was comforted about what you had to say about some breaking health news.”
I realized that social media was a powerful way to definitely connect with patients.
Helen: Wow. That’s really that interactive, two-way communication when a patient comes to you saying, “I read your blog.”
Kevin Pho: Absolutely. I had no idea. This was by no means planned.
Since then, it has evolved onto other platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, where I can do what I talked about earlier, such as guide patients to better health information and share reliable health links.
It’s also broken off into a course where I didn’t expect my voice to be heard by mainstream media. It’s captured the attention of newspaper editors and television producers because they’re interested in hearing what goes on behind the exam room. There’s an interest in what physicians have to say, especially with healthcare reform evolving our healthcare system.
It’s given me so many opportunities and connections that I wouldn’t have dreamed of before I started the site.
Helen: Wow. I can hear your excitement about it and I could see that when we met in person, too.
I’m interested in a few different ways. It’s taken you in a lot of different directions. Give us some examples. I know mainstream media is one. You’re in The New York Times. You’re on TV. Yours is a gigantic blog now. How can we learn from it?
Kevin Pho: I think that there are a lot of people that don’t know what goes on behind closed doors in the exam room.
A lot of patients, in particular, want to know, “Why are we waiting so long in the waiting room? Why does it take so long to get an appointment at the doctor’s office? Why are healthcare costs going so high?” Sometimes they get an opinion from a newspaper article without a perspective from physicians who are actually practicing.
There’s not only my blog, but also hundreds of other physician blogs where they share their stories. I think it’s tremendously important for us to share these stories because it really gives an unvarnished view as to what goes on behind the scenes.
It’s important because sometimes those who make healthcare decisions, the policy experts and politicians, don’t have this underground knowledge. I think it’s important that, if they’re to make healthcare decisions that guide our healthcare system, these stories be heard.
Helen: Your stories get heard by a lot of people and your blog is enormous. Thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of people know about you. That didn’t just happen by accident, did it?
Kevin Pho: It’s taken a lot of time. It’s certainly been incremental. Like I said, I’ve been doing this for over 10 years now and it’s been an evolving process for me. I’ve learned a lot during my time on social media and I’ve listened to patients.
I think one of the things that I wanted to mention earlier is that not only should patients listen to doctors, but doctors should listen to what goes on with patients too.
A lot of the prescriptions that we prescribe and a lot of the tests that we order, doctors, like myself, haven’t gone through these things. We haven’t gone through the patient experience. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from what it’s like to be a patient in our healthcare system as well.
Over the years, there’s been an interest not only from the physician side but from the patient side as well. We want to know what goes on in each other’s worlds. That’s really the biggest thing that’s been so gratifying during my social media journey.
Helen: That is so neat. You’re really an inspiration as you go through that.
Our listeners are not all Kevin Pho and don’t have this huge audience ready and waiting for us, or even 10 years to create it. What can we be doing now to get our message heard and use that platform in ways that make sense?
Kevin Pho: It all depends on what your goals are. Before you even set foot on social media, you need to ask yourself, “What are my goals for it? What do I want to get out of it? Do I want to share my story, advocate for a cause or debate healthcare reform?”
Then there’s a social media platform that fits any goal that you want. For instance, if you want to advocate for a cause, there are so many nonprofits and patients who’ve provided great, powerful blogs, or they build Facebook pages where they can spread their message.
If people just want to curate information and share reliable health articles, it’s easy to do that on Twitter.
I think that depends on what their goals are and what platform best fits their needs and personalities. Go out and learn about it and adopt it.
These platforms are constantly evolving and changing. There’s a new one that comes up every few months.
Helen: Is there also a part about being willing to take a risk? I know that from these podcasts. I got this started and people didn’t really know what podcasts were. It’s still an emerging technology and medium.
You said you didn’t know what you were in for, too. Is there some characteristic you and I share that maybe others could bring on, like “just go try it”?
Kevin Pho: Absolutely. You have to risk being vulnerable. You have to risk failure. This is a new medium. There are no guidelines. There are no textbooks on teaching us how to do these platforms or forums.
I’m sure over the time that you’ve been doing these podcasts you’ve learned a tremendous amount from the very first podcast that you’ve done.
It’s the same thing for me with social media. I’ve learned so many things about blogging, interacting with the audience, moderating comments and sharing stories that I wouldn’t have known in the first days.
You have to take a risk. You have to not be afraid of being vulnerable and putting your story out there.
Helen: Then the beauty of these media is that you can keep changing it and adapting it.
Kevin Pho: Not only changing and adapting it, but the audience will tell you what to change and adapt. One of the strengths of social media is that two-way communication. If you put something up that touches a nerve and isn’t quite what you wanted to receive, you’ll know about it immediately.
Helen: That’s wonderful.
I know you bring in many voices. I don’t know how you could possibly sleep or do anything else for as active as your website is and everything else you’re doing in your life. It’s not just you doing the writing. You bring in other voices too. How does that part work?
Kevin Pho: Over the years, the platform has grown in visibility, and I wanted to share that platform with other doctors who may not have a platform to share their story. I currently have about 1,500 healthcare voices that share their stories.
Helen: Fifteen hundred?
Kevin Pho: That’s right.
Helen: That’s huge.
Kevin Pho: They’re mostly physicians and other healthcare providers who want to share their story and their opinion as to what it’s like to practice in the healthcare system.
I also have a strong proportion of patients because, as I mentioned earlier, it’s important for physicians to hear the voices of patients as well.
As a doctor, I don’t know what a lot of patients are going through in our healthcare system, so it’s important that we in the healthcare profession know what it takes to be a patient in our healthcare system.
Social media, and my site in particular, is a great forum where we can exchange these views.
Helen: I hope that all of our listeners go to www.KevinMD.com. We are certainly going to have a link to your web page.
There’s one last question, Kevin. You talk about all of the positives of this. I’m hearing the energy. Are there any cautionary notes?
Kevin Pho: I think it ties into the concept of being vulnerable. Speaking as a physician, I think there are a lot of doctors who perhaps share too much. They violate patient privacy.
Like I said before, there were no rules to guide their actions. Now there are more stringent rules. Yes, there are some physicians who have gone too far and revealed too much, and we who watch these episodes learn from them.
I think that, yes, it’s good to be vulnerable, but there is a risk sometimes of sharing too much. You need to be careful of where to draw that line and make sure that line is somewhere that you’re comfortable with.
Helen: Thank you so much for putting some parameters around this too.
Kevin, thank you for doing all you do and sharing it with listeners at Health Literacy Out Loud.
Kevin Pho: Thank you very much for having me on, Helen.
Helen: Wow. As we just heard from Dr. Kevin Pho, there are so many ways to communicate our health message, but communicating our messages clearly is not always easy.
For help, please visit my Health Literacy Consulting website at www.HealthLiteracy.com. While you’re there, feel free to sign up for the free e-newsletter, What’s New in Health Literacy Consulting.
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Did you like this podcast? Even more, did you learn something new? I sure hope so. If you did, tell your colleagues and tell your friends. Together, let’s let the whole world know why health literacy matters.
Until next time, I’m Helen Osborne.