Digestive Disease Week

Digestive Disease Week

Perspective from Harry Sarles, MD, FACG
July 16, 2018
4 min read

Physician Branding 101: Know your why, use goals to drive strategy

Perspective from Harry Sarles, MD, FACG
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Deborah Fisher
Deborah Fisher

WASHINGTON — Physicians should push their own brand or the brand of their organization with full awareness of the goal and the appropriate strategy in place, according to a social media expert at Digestive Disease Week 2018.

“The most important thing ... is to know your why. You really need to know what you’re trying to accomplish,” Deborah Fisher, MD, MHS, AGAF, of Duke University, said during her presentation. “Your objectives, your goals are going to drive your strategy.”

Fisher gave attracting patients as an example goal that many physicians, health practices and institutions want to achieve, but pointed that this goal could be achieved differently by each actor.

“You need to know your individual goals, your organization’s goals before you ever dive in. You need to understand your resources up front and prioritize them for your goals. Then you also need to build your strategy to reach these goals, researching your environment, knowing your audience, knowing your setting, knowing the rules and policies of your organization more broadly,” she said. “Don’t try to be all things to all audiences.”

Steps to take

First, Fisher said physicians must differentiate your brand and determine if your branding efforts are as an individual physician, as a practice, as a smaller unit of a practice or as a health care system.

“Your organizational branding is going to be different than your individual or personal branding. Your goals may differ. Your resources will almost certainly differ and therefore your strategies will differ,” she said.

As an example, Fisher showed Duke Health System, the Duke GI unit and herself.

In the Duke Health System, the primary goal is to have patients make an appointment. The strategy is to provide the necessary information to get those appointments made, so implementation is mainly via the institution website where patients get information. The system provides patient-centric biographies for the physicians with patient stories and testimonials. As it does not drive those appointments, the system itself is not highly active on social media.

Fisher said the lesson to be learned here is: “Do not attempt to be everything to everyone. Goals are informed by both organizational priorities and research.”

Also, Duke recognizes the drain of social media when there is not that return.

“Social media is resource intensive – time, pay to promote – and you shouldn’t invest in it if it does not support your goals,” Fisher said.

Within the health system, Duke GI’s goals were to enhance the reputation of the division, the program and the individual faculty in the division among other health care professionals and research communities, Fisher said. The strategy has been promoting Duke GI accomplishments as a group and individuals as well as engaging with the community. Additionally, the group would share reliable curated news from other sources. They implemented this strategy via social media and site updates and worked with individuals within the group who were interested in becoming active in these areas.

“Tell us your good news,” was the message for those who were not interested in doing it themselves and this has been successful, she said.

Then, Fisher covered her personal branding through her individual, professional account.

“I wanted to be recognized as a key opinion leader. I wanted to network. I wanted to continue my own education and keep up to date. And I wanted to have a voice,” she said.

She achieved this primarily through Twitter where she regularly ranks among the top influencers at gastroenterology meetings and LinkedIn.

“I enjoy it and some of my activity includes the engagement: responding, retweeting, replying, amplifying others’ information that I find interesting, intriguing, thought provoking or just important to know,” she said.

Evaluating the results

Fisher explained that anyone pushing branding needs to measure their strategy and understand the impact of that strategy

“You need to have some sense of ‘is it working?’” she said.

These different stakeholders have different barometers to measure the success of their branding efforts, but that they should be analyzed every so often to ensure each strategy is still effective, Fisher said.

Duke GI, for example, gets a reputation number by which they can compare their recognition among gastroenterology professionals. The health system measures appointments made.

“For myself, I’ve had presentation opportunities, including this one, advisory boards, media opportunities – the Wall Street Journal and New York Times – ... publications in journals about social media and branding, research opportunities,” Fisher said. She has networked in educational spheres and with patient advocates, even influencing policy change at DDW so information could be more widely spread.

“Ultimately, a science that stays in one room is not going to do what we ultimately want to do, which is advance patient care,” she said.

Avoiding pitfalls

Fisher said there are obvious pitfalls to avoid when branding through social media. Unprofessional or unmoderated content, for example, must be contained by knowing who is posting to an organization’s page and maintaining a voice.

But do ensure that voice is being heard, she said.

“It’s really better not to have an account than to have a neglected account,” Fisher said.

When interacting as an individual physician or even as a specialist group, medical professionals must remember not to answer specific medical questions. Rather, they should provide more general information and references while instructing the public when they should be evaluated by their own physician. Additionally, take privacy very seriously, she said.

“Sometimes people forget if it’s a relatively unusual clinical scenario or rare complication or condition, and you post about it, the timing of your post, your known location or even your known health care system could be recognizable and you don’t want the patient or the patient’s family to recognize this scenario when they did not give permission to share this scenario,” Fisher said. – by Katrina Altersitz


Fisher D. Abstract 4235. Presented at: Digestive Disease Week; June 2-5, 2018; Washington, D.C.

Disclosures: Fisher reports no relevant financial disclosures. Please see the DDW faculty disclosure index for a list of all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.