SoMeDocs Harbors the Physician Going Online

JANUARY 15, 2020
Kevin Kunzmann

It was 2018, and Percy Francisco Morales, MD, was lonely online.

The bilingual, Houston-based cardiologist considers himself an excellent communicator. Cardiometabolic diseases are complex, and treatment strategies are constantly shifting. Over years, Morales built a translational bridge to his patients.

While most in his specialty pursued academic writing and research—and tout among each other—Morales stayed fixed on patient education. Where does that pursuit lead? His colleagues had medical journals. He had, well, the internet.

Morales went online. He created a blog under the moniker “Dr. AFib,” joined social media, and tried to build a brand. The good news, he learned, was that he was on to something. No one was trying to do what he was doing; he found a niche.

The bad news was that no one was doing it. He had no path to online patients, no community to connect with, and few colleagues endorsing this idea. It was only through parsing physician-only social media groups that he found all three with just one connection.

Dana Corriel, MD, was using the groups to pitch her new “Doctors on Social Media” project: a community dedicated to aiding physicians marketing, designing, and promoting materials online.

What’s more, it could bring physicians together. Morales was intrigued; Corriel invited him in.

Today, Dr. AFib has a professional website, 2000-plus Facebook followers, a Twitter account, and 1600 YouTube subscribers to his educational videos. Morales told HCPLive® he routinely receives “thank you” messages on his platforms; he’s already helped more patients online than he has in real life.

In just 2 years he has made an impression on thousands of patients he’s never met. He didn’t know that was possible until Corriel made an impression on him.

“I’ve never even met her in person,” Morales told HCPLive, “but I feel like I know her.”

A Novel Career

Corriel quit clinical medicine last November so she could better help healthcare. It sounds contradictory, but her years spent as an internist led her to realize the problems were greater than the output of a single physician.

“I recognized my own health and happiness was so affected by the way healthcare was broken, that it was being transmitted into the patient,” Corriel told HCPLive. “My patient care was affected by my unhappiness. And all these new laws, the insurers, the EHRs, and all the middle men were affecting my unhappiness.”

It wasn’t until Corriel joined online communities that she began to recognize these systemic failures—and really, that opportunity only came from force of will. She had taken a three-year leave from practicing to focus on her third child. With her spare time, she looked to create something new.

She started a self-titled blog, publishing streaming thoughts and observations she had about her career and life outside of medicine. She also began to create graphics, post photography, and join private groups on social media. Most were community-based; few physician groups were mobilizing in the early 2010s.

Corriel ventured off her blog in May 2016 to write a column for KevinMD. It was regarding a post she saw in a private Facebook group, in which the poster shared personal information about their physician while ranting about their quality of care. She was appalled at this one-sided attack—which included doxing, no less—and took it to task. “It took twenty-five years of schooling to earn my title as medical doctor, but I may need to gear up instead for my role as media defender,” she wrote at the time. “I don’t think I’d stand a chance.”

This problem would become the driving force behind Doctors on Social Media. There are no true public relations for physicians, Corriel argues. In a national healthcare system riddled with faults from the top down, it is somehow the caregivers at the baseline who have served as the scapegoats.

“Everyone appreciates it as a business, because the US is run like a business,” Corriel said. “But the second you start to have that mentality, you’re devaluing what it means to be a physician—and if that’s the case, it shouldn’t cost us so much in money and time to get to this place.”

Physicians needed a platform and power to create their own brands, to share their own messages. Most trying to do so just feel like Morales did: limited support for their unique message, and no resources to help spread it.

So Corriel found them, and brought them to her network. The community grew into the thousands, and its name condensed: SoMeDocs.

A Blank Canvas

Shikha Jain, MD, was approached by Corriel with a unique opportunity more than 2 years ago. Corriel’s physician-only Facebook page was growing fast, and she needed social media-savvy doctors to help moderate all the discussions.

Jain recalled to HCPLive that “warm, fuzzy feeling”—the kind someone gets when their work is validated—that came with that message. All her career, the oncologist was siloed by her specialty, by her institutions, by her profession. Her joining social media years ago bucked against what her colleagues expected of her, and yet it was quickly proving beneficial, because people like Corriel found her.

“She’s been able to bring people together across disciplines, countries, and divides that existed previously when this social media world wasn’t open to physicians,” Jain said.

Jain helped moderate the Facebook page. She talked posting strategies with Corriel, and began to gain a sense of the roles social media could play in truly benefitting medicine. She was quickly an authority on the topic, and invented opportunities were presented to her: speaking engagements, panel discussions, a TEDx talk on gender parity in healthcare. She was hired as the first ever physician director of media for the Rush University Cancer Center.

She helped found the National Women in Medicine Summit, a now annual conference in Chicago. When she invited Corriel to speak at the inaugural meeting, Corriel turned right around and used SoMeDocs to help publicize the meeting.

These opportunities to promote each other to greater heights, which seem to appear out of thin air, are actually among the most deliberate benefits Jain has seen from embracing social media. She recalled a recently published study which showed women in healthcare who use social media have been able to advance their career while also better supporting colleagues. Her dynamic with Corriel—a collaborator before the two ever met—is proof for those findings.

Now Jain is waiting for her field to realize what benefits entire institutions could have from embracing this medium.

“Academic institutions are going to realize it’s necessary not only to participate, but to utilize the best strategies to engage with future patients, future employees, and physicians,” she said. “It can be used to disseminate research, it can provide better practices. We’ll see increased engagement at that level.”

Jain sees Corriel’s departure from medicine as an embrace of that message. She also considers it courageous.

“I know, with the physician, that type of decision is not made lightly, and it’s not made because of there being no other option,” Jain said. “Her mission is to help as many people as she could, and she thinks she couldn’t do that while practicing.”

An Outlet

It was a horrible day. Even by the standards of a Chicago-based emergency department, it was horrible day.

As the medical director of his department, Harry Karydes, DO, anticipated stress every day. But he was trained, no matter what, to keep moving, keep working.

An infant, not even two months old, was rushed in. He was going into cardiac arrest. Karydes attended to him, but it was too late. The infant died. Almost in a daze, Karydes found himself staring at a computer screen. He was checking the list of patients he had left to see that day—12 in all. Not a single minute was given to the infant’s mother, to the staff still shock, not even to himself. Just, back to work.

Karydes caught himself in front of the computer again that night. He was Googling ‘physician burnout’. “My God, I’m there,” he thought. “You’re not looking for a particular thing. You’re there.”

What’s more, he couldn’t find the help he was seeking. The top results centered on negative aspects of burnout: the prevalence, the driving factors, the shared stories. Karydes realized he searched the wrong thing—he was already burnt out. He wanted to learn about physician wellness.

So he did. He joined social media and discussion boards like SoMeDocs. He became inspired by these new thought leaders, and created his own blog and podcast series. As he joined the online community, he realized how lonely he had become in his professional one. He found Corriel, and she helped him connect with more people.

“As physicians, we’re all leaders by default,” Karydes told HCPLive. “But she epitomizes the role of a servant leader. She really wants to make sure you’re taken care of.”

Karydes has now blogged and podcasted about physician wellness under his platform Medicine Revived for about a year. He has aspirations to eventually host a TedX discussion on physician wellness, further embedding himself as a source on physician wellness—a source which he himself could have used on and before that horrible day.

“That’s what the physician needs,” Karydes said. “We learn medicine really, really well. It’s when we’re in a crisis that we don’t have tools.”

A Way to Grow

Morales’ opinion of Corriel is strictly shaped by her online persona. He’s never met the woman who helped jump-start his platform, but he’s listened to her on podcasts and read her posts—enough to form an idea on who she is.

That may be as much an endorsement of SoMeDocs as it is an indication of where healthcare networking could head. As Morales noted, there’s not a second of marketing, networking, or creative instruction included in becoming a doctor. And yet, at the turn of this decade, a platform like SoMeDocs has nearly 20,000 followers across 3 social media channels. It has a growing database of coached physicians looking to grow brands. It has podcasts, blogs, Tweet chats—almost any medium a physician could seek online.

And it has a founder who still personally invites new members.

Corriel has created an exclusive brand, but she doesn’t operate as if she has. She talks about the opportunities in her new job with great pride—a faculty appointment by Harvard Medical School in an upcoming conference, a designation as a “Top Doctor to Follow” on Twitter by publications, among others—and resolution that this is replicable.

“If little old me can do this, imagine if we collaborated, unified, and did this together,” she mused.

Corriel felt guilt when she realized she wanted to leave clinical practice. She felt a sense of betrayal to her patients—worsened only by the fact that it was to manage a start-up business. That direct line of care she was providing people for decades was lost, but she has conviction that the goal of SoMeDocs is to improve care on a scale greater than she could achieve in an office.

In instances when her platform inspires a doctor to share, or connects a couple of strangers with similar ideas, her decision feels more assured. It’s easy to contrast those moments against the memories of herself a decade ago, seeking what no one thought was valuable enough to create.

“[The reason I started this is] because everything in existence was telling me ‘no.’ It told me it didn’t believe in what I brought to the table, or that I couldn’t say what I wanted to.”

She explained, “I had to create SoMeDocs.”

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