Memo to academic rads: Time to mix, mingle and market online

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 - Garry Choy
Garry Choy, MD, MBA

More than three-quarters of private radiology groups, some 76%, are actively marketing themselves on Facebook, Twitter and the like. Less than a third of academic radiology departments (28%) are following suit—but that’s likely to change, and soon.

So says a co-author of a new study conducted by members of the radiology department at Massachusetts General Hospital and published online in JACR.

The researchers compared social-media activity levels between the 50 largest private rad groups in Radiology Business Journal’s latest Top 100 with the 50 academic rad departments receiving the most NIH dollars. They checked for the presence of a radiology-specific account on the two sites mentioned above plus Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and LinkedIn, then collected data on number of posts, followers and other indicators of organizational and end-user engagement.

MGH radiologist Garry Choy, MD, MBA—something of a radiological Twitter sensation in his own right, with more than 12,000 followers—took questions from imagingBiz.

A robust 42% of the private groups in your study maintained at least three social media accounts versus a meager 6% of academic departments. In a nutshell, what explains the disparity?

Choy: Private practices are in general entrepreneurial by nature. That’s not to say that academic practices are not entrepreneurial, but private practices are in the business of trying new things. They’re more nimble just by the fact that they are usually smaller than academic practices. So they’ve been early adopters of social media for business reasons as well as, simply, their organizational structure.

Why should academic departments, especially the ones that already have too much to do and too few resources to get it done, care about social media?

Choy: I think that they do care, and they are starting to adopt social media as well. I think you’ll actually see that our [JACR] paper will be obsolete in a few years, if not sooner. There will be no significant difference between private practices and academic radiology departments. Everyone will be using social media for academic reasons as well as for marketing and branding. And simply for communication purposes.

What are you basing that prediction on?

Choy: I’m starting to see colleagues in academic practices across the country start to use social media. And having been at [2014] RSNA giving the annual workshop on social media, I’ve seen that the audience mix has really been quite diverse between private and academic practitioners. And the number of attendees at the workshop has really gone up significantly over the last three years.

Do you have any numbers you could share?

Choy: Sure. I don’t know the exact number, but we counted around 160 attendees at this past RSNA, largely practice managers and radiologists, compared to the first year we did it three years ago, when we had just 30 or so. Also, three years ago, the session was on the last two days of the conference. It was kind of experimental, a new topic. And now it’s been moved up to the first two days and split into two sessions [to accommodate all who want to attend].

Of the roughly 160, did you have a rough sense of how many were academic and how many were private?

Choy: My sense was that it was about 50-50. It was really hard to tell for sure, but that was my general sense.

What about those 30 individuals who showed up three years ago?

Choy: I think most of them were with private practices. And over those three years, the questions [have gotten much more focused]. People are now asking, “How can we use social media to drive more business into our practice? How can we use it to get more referrals and increase brand awareness in our local communities? How to use it to advertise our new mammography services? I’ve been spending money on Google ad words, and I want to spend it on social media; should I do so?”

Basically, the private practitioners see social media as another channel through which you can promote your practice and drive more referrals. Across the board, it’s really becoming more mainstream, more acceptable as a way to actually invest your dollars. Before, people didn’t take it as seriously as a reliable method or a real business tool to drive revenue. But now—not only in radiology, but you see it at the hospital level too—you have marketing and public affairs. You see hospitals getting onto social media. You see huge brands investing millions of dollars in social media rather than, for example, broadcast TV and radio advertising. I think healthcare is just catching up and, within healthcare, radiology is just catching up.

Still, a few years from now, I think that the difference between the two practice categories, private and academic, will no longer be significant. Right now social media is still a fairly new form of communication. But, just like with the telephone and the fax machine, it will become a standard tool.

Let’s assume an academic radiology department that has not yet gotten on board with social media. They see your study, they see what their peers and competitors are doing, but they just haven’t made the time to focus on their social media. What can they do to jump in, and do so in a smart way—where they’re not just making a token gesture but a solid first effort?

Choy: They might do something similar to what we’ve done here at MGH [with]. We set up a social media committee consisting of physicians as well as administrators and others, all of whom are interested in trying it out. The group doesn’t have to be large. You just set up a group so that you can properly vet out what type of content you might want to post. Good content is very important on social media, and it’s very important to do the right thing and to do it in compliance with your hospital’s regulations around social media. Having a committee provides a good structure in which you can safely try it out before you continue to invest more time and money in it.

The key is forming this core group of individuals who don’t see this as work. They like it and they believe in it. That’s really what we’ve done here, and it’s worked well. We been able to create good content on a regular basis that’s compliant with hospital policies. And it’s now a sustainable way of moving forward.

What most surprised you as you reviewed the study data?

Choy: The lack of use of YouTube. Video has been around for many years now, not to mention television. And a lot of practices and a lot of departments already have videos showing their practices and procedures and patient experiences. It would be super easy to simply take that video content that has already been produced, often in quite high quality, and post it on YouTube. YouTube has a lot of visibility. A lot of people use it and search it for health information. So it surprised me that, in our study, YouTube adoption for private practices was 20% and just 6% for academic practices. That surprised me because academic practices are more likely to have a lot of video content already available. And yet they are sorely underutilizing YouTube. And so are private practices, really.

It’s clear that you see radiology’s growing adoption of social media as a positive development for healthcare delivery in general.

Choy: I think increased connectivity and communication among and between both sides of the health delivery equation—on the patient side as well as on the provider side—is always a good thing. It’s good for care.

Click here to access the JACR article, “Radiology and Social Media: Are Private Practice Radiology Groups More Social Than Academic Radiology Departments?”