Dr. Wendy Sue SwansonStrap on your seat belts and try to keep up! @SeattleMamaDoc gives a fast-paced, highly insightful look at how digital health keeps evolving and what providers must do to provide the best care for patients who are now using every resource at their disposal to research conditions and connect with caregivers. Digital health means more than just being on Facebook or using an EHR; it is being open-minded to partnering with patients and tech innovators.

Show notes

Air Date: February 10, 2016
Guest: Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, a.k.a. @SeattleMamaDoc

0:54 HITMC.com community blog
3:15 Introducing @SeattleMamaDoc
5:31 Virtual Handshake and other digital clinical innovation
7:28 2 reasons clinicians aren’t engaging with social media and how to overcome them
9:30 Your digital footprint vs. your digital fingerprint
10:55 What types of content are more engaging for her followers?
12:20 Learn from guardrails on both sides
13:48 Why is it important to engage not just with patients, but with their families?
16:50 “Sharenting”
22:41 Her #1 piece of advice she’s sharing with patients and families
24:36 Bonus question: If you could join a music group or rock band for a day, who would it be?

Quotes from SeattleMamaDoc

  • “You can’t just follow health care people on Twitter. You have to follow Beyonce! And you have to follow JT. And you have to follow your neighbors.”
  • [When asked if she is offended when patients bring their own research to her] “If it offended me, I would be a total moron! I think that any physician that would be upset by a patient going online doing personal research and bringing those care points to the visit really better question what’s going on in their mind. I get so passionate and fiery about this because it doesn’t make any sense that we wouldn’t want patients and families to be doing research. It’s archaic to think that we would hold all the answers.”
  • “If we can’t even tolerate a Google search before someone comes in, I think we’re rendering ourselves mute if we think we’re experts in that way.”
  • “We can’t provide health care the way that we always used to and hold all of the advice ourselves and not open up to let families to get and research information in different ways. It’s just too expensive and laborious to do it that way.”
  • “I think patients will get their information. Patients will do their research. Then it’s our [providers’] job to be there with them asynchronously, virtually and in person, and be relevant by being a really smart curator.”
  • “Trust your instincts. Use every resource you have; that is your crowd, that is the Internet, that is the specialized health centers in your region, that is the expert conglomerated aggregated care centers around the country, and those are even communities online — things like Patients Like Me. Use your peer networks. Go online and find as much as you can, and then be as squeaky as you need to be to get the best health care you can.

About SeattleMamaDoc

My guest this week is Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, better known online as @SeattleMamaDoc. She is a practicing pediatrician and the mother of two young boys. She is on the medical staff at Seattle Children’s and is a clinical instructor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Washington.

She is passionate about improving the way that media discuss pediatric health news and influence parents’ decisions when caring for their children. She is an executive committee member of the Council on Communications and Media and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. She sits on the Board of Advisors for Parents Magazine and on the board for the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media. I’m a weekly medical contributor with NBC affiliate KING 5 News in Seattle. She is an advocate on the topic of vaccines and was named a CDC Childhood Immunization Champion in 2012. She was named to TIME Magazine’s Best Twitter Feeds of 2013.

You can reach her on Twitter at @SeattleMamaDoc.

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Full transcript

Jared Johnson: Hello, my friends, and welcome to the Health IT Marketer Podcast, the podcast for the heartbeat of healthcare. I am your host, Jared Johnson of Ultera Digital. This is the first and only podcast dedicated to the health IT marketing community. Welcome aboard.

Welcome also to our new listeners. Many of you are clinicians who are now tuning into the program. In 2016, we have been focusing on how clinicians can embrace the digital health revolution, not only in your marketing but also in patient care. So I hope you enjoy these topics and we would love your suggestions on future guests and topics by tweeting me @JaredPiano.

One of my other recent ventures is helping with the recently redesigned HITMC blog. It’s at HITMC.com and the blog is for the health IT marketing and PR community for those who are not still, for whatever reason, familiar with that community. I realize that saying HITMC community is kind of like saying ATM machine. It’s a little redundant, but I think it still fits there. Anyway, in this blog post, I mentioned that I’m commonly asked three questions about this program and so I gave answers to those questions.

The first of those questions was, “What’s the value of a podcast in general?” I mentioned that the value is really simply helping you keep up with trends in a convenient way. About half of our audience listens in the car and the majority, actually close to 90% of our listeners, prefer episodes under 30 minutes so that was one reason why I trimmed to the length of the program several weeks ago based on listener feedback.

Listeners have also been asking for experts who are “in the trenches” so that’s why I’ve been focusing on bringing more clinicians on the program in the last few weeks and you have responded to that. The listenership of the program has almost doubled since the New Year so thank you for that.

The second question I answered is how the podcast is different than other health IT and healthcare marketing conversations happening on LinkedIn and tweet chat. How is this program different? Well, the answer is that this podcast really looks to just augment those conversations that are already happening, especially those that are already existing on social media because it allows us to go a little deeper on certain topics. I’m bringing on marketing experts, I’m bringing on health IT thought leaders and I’m bringing on those guests who are able to go deep and specific about how to succeed and about how to work with a new trend or what to think about it.

I also have current announcements, as you know, that are tailored for the HITMC community such as the previews of the HITMC Conference coming up in Atlanta in April or of HIMSS coming up. Those are a couple of different ways that the podcast is similar and different than existing conversations going on. The third common question I get is, “Hey, what are the most popular episodes?” You will just have to check out the answers to that on the blog. So again, that’s at HITMC.com.

Well, my guest this week is Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, better known online and in the media as Seattle Mama Doc. Dr. Swanson is on the medical staff at Seattle Children’s Hospital and she’s also a clinical instructor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Washington. She’s very passionate about improving the way that the media discusses pediatric health news and influences parents’ decisions when caring for their children.

She’s an Executive Committee member of the Council of Communications in Media and a spokesperson the American Academy of Pediatrics. She sits on the Board of Advisors for Parents Magazine and on the Board for the Mayo Clinic’s Center for Social Media. She’s also a weekly medical contributor with NBC affiliate KING 5 News in Seattle. So she has been an advocate on the topic of vaccines and several other topics related to pediatrics for several years now. On top of that, she’s an author, a well-known speaker and social media contributor so I want to welcome Dr. Swanson to the program. Wendy, how are you doing today?

SeattleMamaDoc: I’m good. It’s nice to be here.

Jared Johnson: Thanks. Do you want to start off and tell everyone something I missed in your bio? Is there anything else you’d like our listeners to know?

SeattleMamaDoc: Well, I’m a practicing pediatrician, which for me is a really important part of my work. I’m down to just a day a week, but I do see patients and families with Everett Clinic, which is a group just kind of north of where Seattle Children’s is, just north of Seattle. That not only keeps me spiritually fueled, but really keeps me in touch with the kinds of questions parents are asking and really the experience of being a practitioner in primary care. Then, just so listeners know, I also have kind of a new role. My role with Seattle Children’s has ultimately kind of shifted and changed. Like so many people in the startup space and so many people in media work, we have kind of made it up as we’ve gone along.

Back in 2009, I started writing Seattle Mama Doc, which is the parenting and pediatrics blog I’ve written at Seattle Children’s. And then, in 2013, I founded Digital Health, a department now consisting of about four or five of us really working to build new technology, iterate technology and really bring in new solutions in the communications space into the hospitals so that all of our docs don’t have to get on Twitter or Facebook but that we can learn the lessons of how social has changed how we exchange what we know and how patients and families search for health information. The majority of my time is now spent running a team working on these tools and then also the other roles that you described.

"SeattleMamaDoc," Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson

Jared Johnson: If you don’t mind me asking, how is that going so far in that digital health role?

SeattleMamaDoc: It’s good. It’s working fine. It’s a work in progress. I mean I think we’ve been successful in the sense that I partnered with an outside startup technology and engineers to build some new technology that we piloted. One is called Virtual Handshake, which you can read a little bit about at VirtualHandshake.org. That’s a technology that we built to try to kind of do the Google search for patients and families before they came and help think about if we could start visits at a new place.

Essentially what we do is when referring pediatricians or family docs and we’re referring it under certain diagnoses, we piloted this in general surgery and also in gastroenterology, and then families would be invited at the time of scheduling into a new community in the Virtual Handshake. For example, say we’re going in to see a surgeon under a diagnosis called Inguinal Hernia, a common abnormality that often baby boys are born with that needs surgical correction. They would then get invited into the Handshake and when they landed there it would say “Hey Judy, we’re excited to see you and baby Mark next Tuesday. Here’s some information, videos, a map and handouts that the surgeon wants you to see even before you come.”

That tool allows families to invite other caregivers in a child’s life in so Dad could be there, the mother-in-law could be in there, a primary-care doctor could be in there and then we created a place for education at the time of discharge from the visit. What we try to do is say “Can we be the physicians and researchers that we want to be before families come? Then after they’re there, instead of handing them paper handouts, could we organize a link to the portal in addition to specific education handouts and our care plan all in one area where not just somebody who’s in the portal can see it, but a place where Mom can invite anyone else she wants in it to see too.”

That’s the pilot that we did over the last year or so and then we’ve done some other education and peer-to-peer healthcare using an app called Tonic.

Jared Johnson: Well, I’m glad they have you involved in that initiative just because what we’re all seeing is this intersection of digital media, digital health and things like social media. In fact, that’s another piece of this puzzle, isn’t it, for clinicians like yourself? What would you say is your top tip for clinicians to engage in social media? What should they do and what should they avoid?

SeattleMamaDoc: Well, first off, there are two reasons that most providers are not using social media. Number one is just time. There’s just no time and certainly no reimbursement for most physicians and care teams that are using social media. We do a couple of things when we join social media. We have a new tool to either narrowcast or broadcast what we know or what our opinions are and we have another tool to hone our listening.

When I entered social media back in 2009, I think I really was thinking kind of in a paternalistic way about healthcare that I could detail kind of through a mommy blog this story of new research, controversial parenting topics and ultimately vaccine science and safety, doing it a different way. The earnest kind of gestalt that’s come over the years that I’ve now been doing it is that the tools are really a profound listening tool so I can go in when patients and families ask, I can follow and build relationships with other like-minded thought leaders, reporters, parents and investigators across the country that help really inform me in an efficient way.

My top tip is to constrain yourself with a certain amount of time, say 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes at night in a place where you want to be and where you feel energized and then think extremely strategically around what problem you want to solve. Maybe the problem is that I want people to really know how passionate I am about preventative healthcare or I want people to know that we have a great resource in our community for smoking cessation or I want families and patients to understand that I’m going to give them updates about our clinic flow when we have flu vaccine or when we don’t, or I want families to understand that I really care about sleep and I’m going to curate links, information and ideas that resonate with me about sleep and they can follow me for that.

If you narrow the focus as opposed to, “I’m just going to go on social media because people tell me I need to do that because I need to be ‘relevant,’” to “Gosh, what do I care about, or where am I being misunderstood, or how do I want to build not just what people call a footprint as a caregiver, care team, professional or expert?” but rather what I like to call the fingerprint. It’s the idea that patients are going to google you as a provider without question. If you don’t work for an organization that has good search engine optimization or a great bio, if you haven’t created a LinkedIn profile, if you don’t have Doximity profile and if you don’t have an otherwise easily-packaged, nicely-controlled bio or statement or purpose of work online, you can start to create a fingerprint.

I say, “Yeah, there’s this footprint of where we’ve been online, but we can also craft for the world who you are, what you do and what you’re best at. I think that’s where these tools can be profound. But by constraining them; using whatever tool you like, constraining it and using it to solve one singular problem can be a really great way for a clinician to just start tinkering around. My hunch is that you will start to feel pretty quickly a sense of connection or an emboldened sense of personal purpose in what you’re doing by even kind of forcing yourself to share what you know in a constrained media tool like Twitter.

Jared Johnson: Wonderful. You just spoke about different types of content that you focused and that you’ve published on your different social media channels. Are there different types of information that you’re finding now that are more engaging to your followers?

SeattleMamaDoc: I think it kind of depends on who your followers are. On Twitter, I have a generous following that I’m very thankful for and I interact with regularly, like 30,000 people, and that group tends to be a lot of marketers, thought leaders, reporters, parents and other bloggers. I have lists that I curate. I keep them private so I can kind of check in. I have lists of pediatricians, I have lists of family docs and I have lists of experts. In that space, what I share and what I talk about and how I listen is really about digital health and the role of physicians, patients and families and peer-to-peer in the health space, whereas my Mama Doc or my Seattle Mama Doc on Facebook is purely parenting information.

I share a blog post that I write, funny posts that come up and videos that come up that are relevant in the parenting space. I share personal anecdotes about my overwhelm with work-life balance or New York Times articles that I think resonate, so that’s a different audience.

Then there’s kind of the LinkedIn space and Doximity and then there are the traditional media spaces that I use really differently. I think not everybody is going to do what I do since my career has really evolved to be about how we communicate in healthcare both as patients and as providers. I like to help clinicians who are researchers or otherwise full-time clinicians or someone starting their own business, for them to just use the tool you like and get on the tool for a while either personally with an account and just lurk. Find role models that you think do a great job and find people who do a really terrible job because those guardrails on both sides are really important.

I remember when I was really early in Twitter back in 2009 and 2010. It was a really intimate space in some ways in terms of the different groups who were working in health IT, but also physicians, care teams and hospitals working in social media. There were a bunch of disgruntled, burned-out physicians out there using pseudonyms or anonymous titles, ranting, but they were great guardrails for me to just watch, follow along, learn from them and really feel like, “When someone sends a message that makes me feel bad or that doesn’t feel right, what does it teach me about how I can be a better leader?”

I love to encourage people also to diversify their audience. You can’t just be following healthcare people on Twitter. You have to follow Beyoncé, you have to follow JT, you have to follow healthcare organizations and you have to follow some of your neighbors. You have to think about learning how the tool is used universally so that you can kind of help iterate, be relevant and kind of take healthcare into a new place.

Jared Johnson: Well, I imagine that helps you be able to engage with, like you said, the different audiences that you have. One of those audiences that are kind of unique, it’s not unique to pediatricians but you definitely have more of a focus on it, is the families of patients, the loved ones of the patients. You talk a lot about patient marketing and patient content, but not as much that I hear talking about the family. Why is it important to engage with their families?

SeattleMamaDoc: Well, I’m a pediatrician, right? Our patients start at the day of life, when they’re born and the decisions that are made on their behalf in healthcare are made by their guardians or their parents. So pediatricians and family docs are always caring for two sets of people in every visit. They’re caring directly for the patient in whom they’re advocating for and they’re caring directly for the family who are the stakeholders in those decisions and loved ones who tend to suffer or feel vulnerable in times of stress and illness.

I write a parenting blog and that’s kind of where I started. I guess that’s the marketing of ideas to parents, not directly to patients and families. I have some teens over the years who have started to follow me in social media, but I don’t interact with them personally about their personal healthcare online. I’m typically writing for family members and caregivers. The other reason that I think so much about family is that . . . and I think people probably have heard me say this many times, but one of our most untapped resources in the health space is the expert patient and the expert caregivers that help support them during times of illness.

We haven’t really brokered a great place for them in healthcare so part of my role in even tinkering around and building that minimal viable product of Virtual Handshake was really to say a couple of things. Let’s get care teams or providers. That means social workers, nurses, nurse coordinators, doctors and surgeons involved in using digital tools to deliver what they know, but let’s also have an organization acknowledge how important it is not just to care for and communicate with the person who’s at the bedside with the patient, but ultimately people in a child’s life that might have benefit of having the education to help support a child, continue a care plan or understand more about what’s going on and that kind of nurturing and understanding that peer-to-peer happens.

Then also, another project that we’ve done in Tonic, which I didn’t really talk to you about was that we created education. We digitized bedside education for families after liver transplantation all about the medicines they’re taking, how and why immunosuppressives work and what to do. In every chapter around where we’re talking about medicines, lab draws and immunosuppression, we have content that’s been created by patients and families as well.

Instead of just saying, “Here’s the kind of paternalistic way that we’re going to tell you what to do,” we’re also going to tee up families who have had a liver transplant before you and their wisdom, their expertise and their experience right alongside the experts of our pharmacists, hepatologists and surgeons so that we can broker the relationships that are really meaningful. Those who have been down that road before you have a lot to share with you, not just because of empathy, but because of their wisdom and their resource. That’s also my hope, that we’re learning that the world is going out and crowdsourcing ideas in healthcare.

Seventy percent of parents are going online and doing so-called “sharenting.” They’re doing it about healthcare. They’re asking their crowd on Facebook about the rash that their kids have. They’re asking the crowd on Facebook if they should be getting vaccines. They’re thinking about where they’re going to get healthcare. Are they going to go to Minute Clinic? Are they going to get it at Target? Do they want it at Walgreens? Do they want it at the regular pediatrician’s office? Are they going to go to the big hospital?

We have to remain relevant by helping understand who the influencers are right now for patients and families. Doctors will always be, I think, the most trusted resource in a time of stress, pain, agony or suffering, but we will always be nurtured in some ways in decision making by all those stakeholders. I think we have to help broker these new relationships.

Jared Johnson: I’m giving you bonus points, first and foremost, for mentioning minimal viable product within there. There were some nice growth-hacking terms in there. I appreciate that. I know that as a pediatrician, there’s no doubt that you engage with the patient’s family members and they’re bringing health information to you. Some of that is from, like you said, the “sharenting” online and they’re bringing some of that information to you in the appointment. As a clinician, does that offend you when they research their own conditions or do you say, “Hey, I’m going to incorporate your questions and research and empower you as a patient?”

SeattleMamaDoc: If it offended me, I would be a total moron. I think that any physician that would be upset by a patient going online, doing personal research and bringing those care points to the visit really better question what’s going on in their mind. I get so passionate and fiery about this because it doesn’t make any sense that we wouldn’t want patients and families to be doing research. It’s archaic to think that we would hold all of the answers in a time of explosive genomics medicine and personalized and precision medicine. The era of [inaudible 00:12:43] is coming where patients and families can hack into their own resources, learn from each other and sequence their genome.

I’ve had the privilege in the last month of hearing Craig Venter speak on two separate occasions. This guy sequences the genome and is now going out talking about prescriptive, precise, personalized future diagnostics that are going to be happening so I think if we can’t even tolerate a Google search before someone comes in, I think we’re rendering ourselves mute if we think we’re experts in that way.

There was a meme about a month or two ago where there was an image of a coffee mug. I don’t know if you saw it, Jared, but it was like this coffee mug that said something like “Your Google search is not the equivalent of my MD.” There were all these doctors that I love. Even an ex-boyfriend of mine had shared it on Facebook. He’s a very esteemed, thoughtful, kind, expert physician. I remember seeing it and thinking, “Really? Is that really your belief? You’re a cancer researcher who knows more about some aspects of healthcare than anyone in the world and yet your patient might bring something to you that you didn’t know about.”

In the beginning of my practice in medicine, which was almost 10 years ago now, I remember patients and families bringing me things about vaccines and I’d say “Oh, I don’t know,” and then I’d google it with them, find them a resource and realize that they had something that they were teaching me whether it was about aluminum or if it was about fetal parts being used in the production longstanding years ago in vaccine development or whatever their worry was.

They were helping actually provide an education for me. It’s my responsibility to go find a source that I trust, understand the science and explain it. But I think we can’t provide healthcare the way that we always used to and hold all of the advice ourselves and not open up to let families get and resource information in different ways. It’s just too expensive and laborious to do it that way.

For me, in building new tools and when we built Virtual Handshake, that was really just about acknowledging that the role of healthcare of hospitals, some specialists and primary care doctors alike in the future is earnestly going to be the art, I think, of great, personalized curation. You can imagine a world where a patient says, “Okay. Here’s my genome.”

It’s something like a 23andMe but institutionalized, where they go, they get their genome sequence, they find out what their risks are and then an organization says, “Gosh, based on this profile, here’s the information that our experts recommend that you read before your 40-year-old visit. Here’s what we think you should read before your 45th-year-old wellness visit. Here’s what we think you should read at 60 and gosh, you just had a new baby. Here’s the information we want you to have at 10 days of life. Here’s the information we want you to have before your 6-month visit.”

How much better is that than trying to pack it all into a 15-minute visit when it’s not personalized or not based on filters and diagnostics and predictability? I think patients will get their information. Patients will do their research and then it’s our job to be there with them asynchronously, virtually and in person and be relevant by being a really smart curator. You go to the MoMA in New York because a curator decided what they thought was most interesting and valuable in modern art. We want to go to a doctor who’s well trained and who knows what’s most important, potentially most beautiful and also most helpful when people are making decisions about their prevention but also about their illness. I’m intolerant of thinking that families shouldn’t be involved and guiding us in ways of what’s important to them.

Jared Johnson: There is so much good advice in there. I love it. I can’t wait to share that with our listeners. We’re winding up here, but before I ask you our bonus question, which is ever so important, is there one piece of advice that you’re sharing with patients and sharing with families right now?

SeattleMamaDoc: It’s hard. I think in the health space . . . I was with a colleague and friend over the weekend who had just given birth and she was talking to me about how poorly it all went in the hospital. Here’s this physician who goes into a trusted hospital, adores her obstetrician and feels like she got kind of bad care. There’s great healthcare. We live in a time of exceptional opportunity and, as I detailed, even a time of great personalization.

I guess if I’d give anyone the advice, I’d say to trust your instincts. Use every resource you have. That is your crowd. That is the Internet. That is the specialized health centers in your region. Those are the expert, conglomerate aggregated care centers around the country and those are even communities online. So things like “Patients Like Me.” Use your peer networks. Go online and find as much as you can and then be as squeaky as you need to be to get the best healthcare you can. I want people to feel that they have a really big role in their health and it’s very hard to feel that way in a system that isn’t kind of designed yet to totally empower that.

There are clinicians all over who value and involve families and patients beautifully, but our health systems are lagging a bit because we want to be so safe. We want to provide valuable care and we want it to be under the guidance of the organizations that kind of supervise the safety as hospitals. But it isn’t yet totally prioritizing the role of patients and families kind of speaking up in a participatory way. We’re making strides, but I just want people to feel they should use every tool they possibly can to get the best care for themselves and the best preventative efforts for themselves and their families.

Jared Johnson: Thanks for sharing that and we do have time for our bonus question here, which doesn’t have anything to do with all this amazing stuff you’ve just shared with us. If you could join any rock band or music group for a day, who would that be?

SeattleMamaDoc: It depends on the day. I’m a little bit of a softy, but I have to just give a plug. My most inspiring musician of my life has been Ani DiFranco. I sang a capella in college. I’m a musician. I played the oboe very seriously in my life. I would give a lot to spend a day with Ani DiFranco on stage. She’s not a band, but she is a rocking artist. That would be pretty cool.

Jared Johnson: She’s an artist, absolutely. There you go. Well, thank you so much for being with us today. Do you want to let everyone know how to find you online if they’d like to get a hold of you?

SeattleMamaDoc: Sure. The easiest way to find me probably is Twitter @SeattleMamaDoc. I’m also on Facebook and I would love to hear from folks about these ideas and I’d love to learn from you. Please be persistent if I don’t. . . . My inboxes can get a little bit overwhelming. I’ve got about five emails and five or six social channels I manage so it gets a little crazy. @SeattleMamaDoc on Twitter is probably the easiest. Thanks so much. I would love any ideas or feedback from this interview.

Jared Johnson: Thank you. The pleasure has been all ours. Thanks for joining us today.

Well, that wraps up our program this week. Let me know what you think about this week’s program by reaching out on Twitter @JaredPiano. You can also listen now on Stitcher Radio. We are there so you can check out previous episodes there as well. You can also subscribe and leave a review on iTunes and you can subscribe on any other favorite podcasting app that you have. Until next time, I’m Jared Johnson and you’ve been listening to the Health IT Marketer Podcast. This program is sponsored by Ultera Digital Marketing Consulting. Take your content further. For a full archive, go to HealthITMarketer.com. Thanks for tuning in and we’ll talk to you next week.