Is a Physician’s Social Media Following More Important Than Their Degree?

Omar M. Khateeb
8 min readDec 12, 2021

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How do you figure out which key opinion leader will move early adopters towards a new technology?

I recently surveyed 10 medical device and biotech executives on their response to one question;

How do you figure out which key opinion leader is best suited as an early adopter?

The answers were all over the place and a variation of the following:

  • “I search PubMed for the person with most publications”
  • “Look at the top 3 conferences and see who was on podium”
  • “I check their training and who they trained with, then map their influence to those people today”
  • “Speak to various physicians and see who they mention most”

All are great answers and are part of my strategic approach for doing the same intel gathering.

However, one major area was not included; Social Media Influence.

Where Attention Goes, Influence Flows

Attention is worth billions of dollars as Google, Facebook, Twitter, and others have shown. So where attention flows, so does energy.

Persuasion starts with getting attention and more specifically going to where the attention already is.

If you cannot get attention, you cannot persuade.

This also goes for trust, relationship building, gathering research, and a whole list of things that go along with sales and marketing.

You go where the attention already is.

So when we look at publications by clinicians on PubMed around social media, it’s clear that it is no longer a fad but a trend.

The reason is simple; physicians are losing more independence.

I saw this begin in 2012 when I left medical school and the trend only accelerated since then.

According to the AMA, in 2018 47.4% of practicing physicians were employed, while 45.9% owned their practices, according to a new entry in the AMA Policy Research Perspectives (PRP) series.

Unfortunately, this trend was accelerated due to COVID.

The Physicians Foundation did a survey showing the majority of physicians (55%) expected a reduction in income over the next 12 months.

Of those anticipating an income reduction, most physicians (61%) expected a decrease of 25% or less, while 39% expected losses of 26% or more, the survey showed.

Notably, specialists were more likely to project larger losses than primary care physicians.

In July 2021, the American Medical Association sounded the alarm on upcoming pay cuts for physician practices and Congress’ alleged indifference about the reimbursement changes.

The AMA pointed out that physician practices are expected to face a 9.75% pay cut Jan. 1, 2022.

What do you think physicians who owned a practice or were part of a small group (aka Small Business) do when they have reduction in income and have to either sell their practice or close down all together?

They go to be employed by either a large practice (>50 MDs) and/or hospital system.

Which means they become employees. As employees, they have less independence.

Physician Psychology & Independence

Years ago I wrote about the Psychological Profile of Surgeons but this profile is largely applicable to all physicians in that they are used to being entrepreneurial and independent.

Culture built over centuries doesn’t go away. When independence is taken away in one area it will find a way to express itself somewhere else. Logically, physicians started with what made sense; more school.

The number of joint M.D./M.B.A. programs in America has grown from 6 to 65 in 20 years. (From 2011 and 2012 alone, the number increased by 25%.)

As the marketplace gets saturated with too many MD/MBAs, physicians have been adopting an asset that is free and more unique.

That asset is having a presence and influence on social media.

Is Physician Influence on Social Media Real?

The mistake that industry often makes is thinking that physicians are immune to changes going on in society.

Industry execs think physicians put on a white coat and go into work a different person than the consumer they are at home (conditioned by Amazon, Facebook, Instagram, NetFlix, Youtube).

But confirmation bias is alive and well. Maybe Im influenced by my bias for this to be true?

So what does the data show?

  • Neurosurgery is a rare specialty, yet a LinkedIn search shows 7,800 neurosurgeons in the United States alone.
  • Nephrologists not only have an active hashtag on Twitter #NephTwitter where they hold monthly journal clubs, but they also have the Nephrology Social Media Collective Internship, a 12-month, mentored training program during which selected interns participate in a curriculum of lectures, activities, and projects that aim to increase their knowledge, proficiency, and confidence in the use of social media.
  • 2020 also saw numerous physicians launch their own blogs and podcasts. This isn’t social media, but content is all about distribution. Most of these podcasts has its own social media handle on Twitter and Facebook along with the physician having their own.
  • Due to the pandemic, Twitter rushed to verify physicians and other health experts to combat misinformation. While many physicians took part to provide reliable information on COVID, this also invited many to take advantage of getting on Twitter to get the coveted “blue check mark” verification.
  • In 2018, there were over 2000 healthcare providers on Twitter who tweet more than once per day and have at least 300 followers.

The New KOL: Physician Influencer (PI)

While getting on podium and publishing papers will no doubt have a place in evaluating key opinion leaders, it is no longer the main driver.

Social media influence will be a powerful factor when evaluating who will attract early adopters and influence the herd to stampede towards a new standard.

The reason is that like all human beings, physicians are persuaded by things like social proof (e.g. number of followers), authority (e.g. being verified via blue checkmark) and scarcity (e.g. who are the few putting out the content everyone else reads?).

Where attention goes so does influence. There’s a reason why there are congressional hearings about how algorithms play a factor in influencing what people see during elections.

Who are some of these influencers? The following are some names that I evaluated and feel have the influence based on the following criteria:

  • Do they post on social media more than 3x a week?
  • Do they produce their own content?
  • Do their peers engage (like/comment) with their content?
  • Are they known for a niche?

One thing to note is the physician influencer is not like other social media influencer.

They often dont have hundreds of thousands of followers. However, what’s more important is that they own a niche and have influence over key populations within a subject matter.

Here are a few that I found:

Dr. Sandra Weitz: Private Practice

Dr Weitz is an anesthesiologist/pain physician who built a pain management business with multiple clinics and an ambulatory surgical center. She went on to sell to private equity and now focuses on giving back to the medical community by coaching private practice physicians. Her website is The Practice Building MD

  • Niche: With a paid group of 326 private practice physicians, Dr. Weitz helps physicians start their own practice as well as established practices scale. She focuses on the business of medicine

Dr. Qasim Butt: Nephrology

Dr. Butt is an interventional nephrologist with a Youtube channel of 1,820 subscribers as well as 6,570 subscribers on LinkedIn

  • Niche: Kidney health for the general public as well as emerging technologies and therapies for physicians. He is also starting to focus more on value-based care.

Dr. Cory Calendine: Orthopedic Surgery

Dr. Calendine is an orthopedic surgeon with the famous saying of “Savoring Life to the Bone”. With 8,157 followers on LinkedIn and 12,900 followers on Instagram, his content focuses on the day and the life of a surgeon as well as technology.

  • Niche: Orthopedic technologies such as robotics, AR/VR, navigation and more

Dr. Scott Sigman: Orthopedic Surgery

Dr. Sigman is an orthopedic surgeon who is also know as “The Fro” thanks to his iconic hair and hashtag #FollowtheFro. He has 28,500 followers on Instagram and 10,822 followers on LinkedIn. He is also the host of the most popular orthopedic surgery podcast The OrthoShow which I had the pleasure to be on.

Niche: Opioid-sparring orthopedics, specifically the use of laser therapy.

Dr. Andrew Sauer: Cardiology

Dr. Sauer is a cardiologist in academia that posts about the latest in cardiology but also focuses on wellness. His posts are brave and quite vulnerable as he shares the joys and struggles of being a father and husband while also being a busy physician. He has 12,838 followers on LinkedIn and 6,610 followers on Twitter.

Niche: Wellness, self-development, and leadership.

Dr. Brent Lacey: Gastroenterologist and Personal Finance

Dr. Lacey is a gastroenterologist who started a blog named “The Scope of Practice” only a year ago. That blog has since blown up to be the most followed physician blog on personal finance and productivity.

Niche: Personal finance and productivity as it relates to private practice.

Some other Physician Influencers (and this is only LinkedIn) are:

The medtech industry can no longer ignore the data and numerous examples of the physician influencer.

This is why having a plan that helps capture attention and channel demand online is crucial.

It’s not enough to just do this through the company’s social media page.

Physicians have been conditioned like all of us to be a new kind of buyer.

The kind of buyer that wants to see who they’re doing business with and have access to information online without having to speak to a sales person.

That also involves being engaged with on social media through thoughtful posts, messaging, and comments that allow them to learn more about you and what you do.

They don’t want you showing up unannounced to the office or operating room. They never did.

So here’s my prediction — the future key opinion leader will be evaluated by industry and peers based on their ability to develop a following, consistently put out content, and engage in discussion on social media around their niche topic.

This will produce a new wave of software tools that help industry quantify a physician’s influence on specific platforms based on data points that go beyond just number of followers but also tap into things like:

  • What other physician influencers follow this person?
  • What is their average engagement per post?
  • What is their average reach per post?
  • What topics have they spoken about ahead of new technology being adopted?
  • How many decision makers who follow their niche topic were influenced in adopting new technology within that niche?

The list goes on but that’s for another time. For now, ask yourself this question;

“Who is influencing other physicians online that is not on podium, hasn’t published a lot, but somehow has garnered the respect and trust of their peers?”

Enjoy the deep dive.

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