Dr. Strong, Meet Mr. Friedman

As social media manager for Community Health Center, Inc. in Connecticut, I try to build healthy communities using online tools. It requires trying to stay on top of news about technology and health care and spending time thinking about things like the relationships between doctors and their patients.

Last week, I read two interesting articles. The first was the Health Topics report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project. It said

Eight in ten internet users look online for health information, making it the third most popular online activity among all those included in the Pew Internet Project’s surveys.

Of that, 44% of Internet users have looked online for information about doctors or other health professionals.

Let me digress for a moment. I am writing this on my own blog on my own time and it expresses my own opinions and not necessarily those of CHC. This blog post also has a little criticism of CHC. It is generally poor form to criticize one’s employer in a blog, even if such speech may be protected, but I am hoping that the criticism will be taken as something constructive and I will be given a chance to help address the criticism.

CHC does not do as good a job as I wish it did in providing information about its medical providers online. We’re having some good discussions about it, but it isn’t there yet. On the other hand, many health organizations fail in this category, and some make CHC seem stellar.

This brings me to the second article I read last week, and the title for this blog post. A Texas television station ran a story about Doctors asking patients to sign gag orders to stop unfavorable online comments.

To me, this is a red flag. I’m a free speech fanatic. Any doctor asking me to sign something like this is sending a message that they aren’t very good and they want it hidden. It is sort of like the doctors offices that have big posters asking patients to support tort reform. A doctor that is telling me that they are really concerned about how much money they could be sued for also seems to be telling me that maybe they aren’t that good. Side note: I recognize the issues of malpractice insurance premiums, so this second concern is not as prominent for me, although I will admit that I’ve left practices because of their strong advocacy for tort reform.

Back to the gag orders: A few years ago I heard Tom Friedman talk at Personal Democracy Forum. He was talking about the power of the Internet in politics and the importance of political figures having websites. The phrase that I remember him saying was something like,

On the Internet, either you do it, or someone does it to you.

These doctors that are asking patients to sign gag orders are missing this key aspect of what the Internet has done for American life. We have more of a conversation. Good doctors join in conversations with their patients. They make their practices patient centered.

CHC, from what I’ve seen is a leader in patient centered medicine. There is much that can be written about that, and I hope to, over the coming days. Unlike the doctors from Texas, CHC, as well as other high quality health centers around the country should take Tom Friedman’s lead and facilitate patients talking about their practices. Those who fail to do so are perhaps hiding their light under a basket.

By encouraging comments, we may get a few negative comments. No matter what you do, you are likely to get a few. If you are lucky, they will be ones that you can learn from, and get better. However, I suspect that CHC, given its great staff, will get many more comments like the one on the Google Place page, Community Health Center Inc: Gellrich Gabriella MD:

Finally!! Real doctors who listen to the problems of their patients rather than just giving a nod and pretending they understand or care. Everyone from the reception desk to the physicians were helpful, knowledgeable, and respectful. I had no problems contacting them on the phone to set up appointments in the two years of going to them. They are, in my humble opinion, the best health care providers in the Danbury area.

One friend said that perhaps Friedman has it wrong and instead of saying ‘they will do it to you’, he should have said, they will do it for you. Politicians, and doctors, who are afraid of the public, are likely to be afraid people with ‘do it to them’. Politicians, and doctors, who are well respected should hope that the public will ‘do it for them’. CHC has every reason to believe that its patients will spread the word and do it for us.