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The Social Physician

November 30, 2010

Please note that Pharma 2.0 has moved to my corporate site: Ellerin Health Media. However, I wanted to post this here in case you were looking for it!

Today I am releasing a white paper that has been nearly a year in the making. It took a long time because I actually put a lot of thought and effort into it! It is called The Social Physician and covers what I believe signals a change in physician mindset – the willingness to engage publicly about matters of medicine from health delivery to reform to health literacy to patient responsibility. I’ve been quietly following the emergence of physicians who blog, tweet and post video over the past couple of years. Having worked with doctors for nearly two decades, it amazed me that some would be comfortable airing views so publicly. My experience has always been that doctors talk to each other but not really outside the circle. But today physicians are getting social. I was curious what was driving this change.

To find out I decided to interview ten doctors around the country who are actively engaging in social media. Some will be familiar names to those among the social health intelligentsia – physicians like Dr. Kevin Pho of, Dr. Val Jones of and @EndoGoddess a/k/a Dr. Jen Dyer, a pediatric endocrinologist. But others may be new names to you, like Dr. Richard Just, a leading medical oncologist in southern California who has been practicing for 35 years, and Dr. Felasfa Wodajo, a bone and soft tissue tumor surgeon in northern Virginia who does double blog duty at OrthoOnc and iMedicalApps.

The exploration was fascinating and led me to findings that I had not really expected. Physicians embrace the social sphere for many reasons, as you’ll see when you read the paper, but the majority do so to connect with patients. It’s not about practice marketing or patient acquisition, though. It’s about being able to use their hard-earned knowledge in a way that helps people and pushes medicine forward. I am more optimistic now than I have been in a long time about the future of medicine, and the nature of the physician-patient relationship.

Here is the white Paper: The Social Physician. I would love to hear your feedback. Please post here or email me at


Pharma 2.0 has moved

November 28, 2010

I’m moving Pharma 2.0 to my company site – Ellerin Health Media – to keep everything together. Hope you’ll join me there. I’ll be forwarding the URL soon but wanted to keep it live for a little while. Thanks, as always, for your readership and support.

Join me at 2 upcoming digital events

November 2, 2010

I wanted to make readers aware of two upcoming events. One is on November 17th in NYC – Social Media Boot Camp for Healthcare Executives.  This is a must-attend for all of you who:

  • Know what Twitter is but have never actually used it — nor understand why anyone would
  • Have heard that patients are “talking about their conditions” but you’re not sure where to find them
  • Have a Facebook page but didn’t know that hospitals, non-profits, even pharma brands had them, too

The idea is to help those who have not had an opportunity to get grounded in social media get up to speed quickly.  Many folks do not understand what makes new media channels like Twitter, YouTube or Facebook relevant to their professional lives. Beyond the general social venues, in the health space there are physician-only networking sites, disease-focused forums, patient and doctor blogs and drug review sites to keep tabs on.

The goal of the 4-hour immersion session is to provide participants with the tools they need to understand and engage in relevant social media effectively, efficiently and knowledgeably.  I will be teaching a portion of this  organized by NYC Health Business Leaders.  So will my friends at Heartbeat Ideas, including CEO Bill Drummy, SVP of Strategy & Client Services Nadine Leonard and VP Marketing Solutions Janelle Starr. Heartbeat is graciously hosting the program at their amazing HQ on Hudson Street.

Another conference I will be attending is Marketing to the Digital Consumer – A Healthcare Perspective on November 10th and 11th in Parsippany, NJ. Bill is speaking twice and the Heartbeat gang will be there along with many others in the digital space. Topics that interest me include:

  • Digital Won. Now What Do We Do? A Trail Map for Health-Care Marketing in a Digital World
  • 5 Pharma Digital Marketing Trends & Consumer eHealth Trends Brands Need to Know for 2011
  • How Online Patients are Transforming the Doctor-Patient Dialogue
  • Understanding the Center for Digital Democracy’s Opposition to Interactive Marketing for Health Care Communication
  • The Great Digital Debate: How Should Health Care Marketers Appropriately Use Digital to Effectively Communicate with Consumers?
  • Market Research Session – Three Perspectives on the Use of Digital Marketing in Healthcare
  • Pharma Digital IQ Index: Ranking the Digital Competence of Pharmaceutical Brands

Please let me know if you’ll be attending so we can meet up or tweet up @bunnyellerin.

Markle Foundation and the Blue Button

October 19, 2010

Having just attended a fantastic session on electronic records at Google last week (organized by NYC Health Business Leaders, of which I’m a co-founder), the acronyms PHR, EHR and EMR are on my mind.  Data recently released by The Markle Foundation caught my attention. Markle is a leader in connecting health and IT, and they appear to be monitoring how well the health IT stimulus dollars are being spent. In particular, they are concerned about the individual, and how individuals will be able to access his/her medical data easily. Markle conducted research among physicians and consumers and found that about 70% of patients and 65% of doctors agree that patients should be able to download and keep their own copies of their personal health information.

In August, Markle put forth an idea – the Blue Button.  Medical practices, hospitals, insurers, pharmacies, and laboratory companies would place a blue button on their site to let patients know that they can download their information through a secure site. To see this in practice, visit the Dept. of Veterans Affairs’ website: MyHealtheVet.  More than 60,000 veterans have downloaded their medical records since the initiative began in August.  CMS launched a Blue Button on MyMedicare that allows its 47 million Medicare beneficiaries to electronically view, download and print their complete medical records.

Another interesting finding in the Markle study is that 93% of people rarely or never ask for medical records in electronic format from their doctors. I’m among that 93% and I know why. Any time I ask for a copy of anything – just on paper – I get “the look” from the office staff. The one that suggests, “It’s too much of a burden.”  No longer. I’m wearing a Blue Button for my next visit.

mHealth Defined

October 13, 2010

I remember attending a small event about 18 months ago that focused on the convergence of mobile and health. It was sponsored by a digital agency and the audience was made up of pharma people. The panelists were from mobile or digital research companies. One of them said, “If you didn’t get the Web right, forget about it. Move on. Mobile is where you need to focus.” I laughed then, but today I agree. mHealth’s potential to influence wellness and health outcomes worldwide can not be underestimated.

Susannah Fox of the Pew Internet Project posted a video of her talk The Power of Mobile, which she presented in September at a Mayo Clinic event.  I highly recommend viewing this video, or at least reading the transcript.  Susannah always provides so much more than data – her insights are what I look for.  In her words, “Mobile was the final front in the access revolution. It has erased the digital divide. A mobile device is the internet for many people.  Access isn’t the point anymore. It’s what people are doing with the access that matters.”

So what are people doing with mobile? Quite a bit. The lexicon can be confusing (at least to me) – many terms are thrown around like mobile health, mHealth, wireless medicine, telemedicine, telehealth. I happen to like the simplicity of mHealth. For a realistic definition, I turned to Dr. Felasfa Wodajo, a bone and soft tissue tumor surgeon in northern Virginia who is also senior editor at iMedicalApps. In his opinion mHealth refers to the use of mobile technologies to promote health and treat disease, especially when one of the users of the technology is a patient.

Here are some concrete examples of mHealth (in my opinion):

  • A liver transplant patient receives a text message reminding her to take medication
  • An ER physician receives an incoming patient’s EKG on his smartphone
  • A patient with arrhythmia wears a monitor that records and transmits cardiac events wirelessly to his cardiologist
  • Community health workers in rural Malawi use SMS to coordinate emergency care and track patients
  • A neurologist whips out his Blackberry and checks ePocrates before e-prescribing a new drug
  • A PCP uses the iStethoscope app on her iPhone to listen to a patient’s heartbeat and emails a copy to the office

For me, the best example of mHealth happened about a month ago when I took my son to the dentist. I checked in and the administrator immediately handed me an iPad and asked me to update my information. I was floored.  The patient intake form was a bit cumbersome, but I happily complied and supplied all of the requested information. I am hoping that my other physicians will embrace mobile, too.

FDA, Novartis and Facebook

August 25, 2010

Whether or not FDA releases formal guidelines on social media anytime soon, it is clear that they are monitoring what their pharma constituents are doing. The good news is that today there is much more to monitor among the CDER crowd. The bad news is that FDA’s DDMAC continues to focus on minutiae. Remember those 14 warning letters in March 2009 referring to sponsored links.

The latest missive to emanate from the hallowed halls of “The Agency” was sent to Novartis, which is quite a progressive company when it comes to social media. The FDA letter cites Novartis’ dissemination of content using a Facebook Share widget on Tasigna’s branded site. Tasigna, obviously a Novartis drug,  is indicated for certain leukemia patients (Ph + CML).  The letter states: “The shared content is misleading because it makes representations about the efficacy of Tasigna but fails to communicate any risk information associated with the use of this drug. In addition, the shared content inadequately communicates Tasigna’s FDA-approved indication and implies superiority over other products.”

Many of my colleagues in the agency business got right on this case and did a thorough job of dissecting the issues.  Among them was Jonathan Richman of Bridge Worldwide and the amazing Dose of Digital blog who released a Digital Alert that covered all the bases and recommended solutions. Jonathan was correct in pointing out that DDMAC was not going after social media at all –  they were still harping on the fair balance issue (the content, not the medium). He wrote, “The FDA argues that the content in these META tags should include fair balance (risks, side effects, warnings, etc.) since they had the drug name and indication. The FDA did not have an issue with Facebook sharing in of itself, but rather the content that the site generates automatically, which cannot be changed by the user.”

Another good take on the brouhaha comes from Wendy Blackburn of InTouch Solutions who publishes ePharma Rx. First read FDA WidgetGate: Implications and Recommendations and then Pharma Social Media Live and Learn.

Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media

August 12, 2010

Much happening as it relates to social health and medicine (not socialized, just social). Mayo Clinic recently announced the formation of  its own Center for Social Media. The mission is to speed adoption of social tools that lead to better health behaviors and outcomes, both internally within the Mayo system and externally across the country and globe.  No hospital system or institution has done more to harness the possibilities of social than Mayo. They post a range of high quality video content on YouTube (a must-see is the video of the elderly couple playing the piano in the Mayo atrium, which went viral and now boasts over 7 million views); they have nearly 66 K followers on Twitter; their Facebook page has 23 K fans.  Plus they have a News blog, a podcast blog and a Sharing blog where patients, relatives and employees can write about their experiences. And let’s not forget their amazing – and free – repository of medical, disease and treatment information for consumers:

So Mayo has quite a bit of experience to share. Services they plan to offer through the Center for Social Media include social media training for healthcare employees, consulting and coaching for healthcare organizations, conferences and events, and resources like guidelines and toolkits.

Much of the credit for Mayo’s success in this sphere goes to the unstoppable Lee Aase, who is the Manager of Syndication and Social Media for Mayo Clinic and is among the new Center’s leaders. By day Lee runs the Mayo social operations and by night he is the august Chancellor of Social Media University Global (SMUG), a free online higher education institution that provides practical, hands-on training in social media for lifelong learners. I had the pleasure of appearing on a panel with Lee last November at Northwestern during Kellogg’s annual Healthcare Conference. I had heard of Lee and knew of his rock star status within social media circles but had no idea what a nice person he’d turn out to be. Warm, approachable, engaged. And how could you not like someone who starts a social media talk with Martin Luther and the theses? BTW, Lee has 35 of his own.

One of my favorite physician bloggers, Bryan Vartabedian (@Doctor_V) of 33 Charts, wrote a good blog post about what Mayo’s move represents. I particularly liked his point that “health care social media isn’t owned by marketing.” Right on. Its utility goes so far beyond marketing and advertising and public relations. It is about education, research, care delivery, improved outcomes.

Finally kudos to the upper echelons at Mayo for supporting social media. Others take note.