WhoDocsFollow - DoctorsThis is the 3rd of 4 posts in our updated series – Who doctors ACTUALLY follow, 2016 edition. The first two posts can be found here:

For those of you who haven’t been following along, the idea is that we wanted to publish some lists that weren’t just based on subjective criteria . . . but on something completely objective. We took a panel of 20,000 twitter accounts operated by physicians & mapped back to an NPI number from the MDigitalLife Health Ecosystem database. We mapped out all of the accounts those doctors follow (~5 million of them), and created a list of the 1,000 accounts they follow the most. You can see the breakdown of that thousand in the first post linked above, and more detailed methodology notes at the bottom of this post.

Over the last several years, we’ve seen some important trends emerging relative to physicians’ use of public social media channels. Among them are that doctors, because they’re trusted more than any other source of online information about health by patients, by their peers & by the media, have developed significant audiences. We’ve also discovered that online physicians tend to be VERY tightly networked – meaning that when a doctor reports (or creates) something newsworthy, it’s likely not only to be seen by other doctors, but questioned, debated and re-shared by them many times over. [NOTE: These phenomena have been documented at length in the MDigitalLife report Missing the Forest for the Trees: The change in physician roles that the healthcare industry missed, as well as in multiple posts on this blog]

What that means is that online doctors have achieved an inordinately high level of influence in online conversations about health. Furthermore, it means that understanding which doctors are most-followed by their peers is absolutely critical for healthcare companies who want to understand how information travels through the online network of physicians we monitor. As reported in last week’s post, almost 20% of the top thousand most-followed accounts belong to other doctors (196 of 1,000).

In other posts in this series, we’ve shared the top 10 most followed in the category – and we’ll do that here too. But we’re also going to look deeper – and I’ll explain why. The top 10 most followed doctors by doctors contains some “no-brainer” choices.

  1. Kevin Pho, MD (@KevinMD)
  2. Sanjay Gupta, MD (@drsanjaygupta)
  3. Atul Gawande, MD (@atul_gawande)
  4. Mehmet Oz, MD (@droz)
  5. Eric Topol, MD (@erictopol)
  6. C. Michael Gibson, MD (@cmichaelgibson)
  7. Andrew Weil (@drweil)
  8. Vinny Arora, MD (@futuredocs)
  9. Wendy Sue Swanson (@seattlemamadoc)
  10. Linda Girgis, MD (@drlindamd)

A couple of points about the top 10. First, it’s great to see Kevin Pho at the top of this list, where he so clearly belongs. I don’t think that any other doctor has done as much as Kevin has to bring the physician’s voice online through his blog (KevinMD.com – one of the most important medical publications in the world, and a home to hundreds of physician authors) and his 2013 book, Establishing, Managing, and Protecting Your Online Reputation: A Social Media Guide for Physicians and Medical Practices. Second, it’s great to see Dr. Oz moving down from 3rd on our 2014 list to 4th this year (why?). Third, it is incredibly encouraging to see doctors like Vinny Arora, Wendy Sue Swanson and Linda Girgis making this list. They’re all doctors who, while they’ve gained some media notoriety over the years, are really just practicing doctors who have gone above and beyond the call of duty over a period of years to help the entire care delivery system to be better. 

It’s pretty obvious, though, that the top 10 is heavy with an unusual kind of doctor. They’re people who have a lot of followers, yes. But they generally have a lot of followers for a reason other than being a doctor. There are a few archetypes I want to call out here, and I will do so with a firm warning that this is where we enter some pretty subjective territory. Some of the doctors among the 196 most-followed-by-their-peers fall into a few unique categories:

  1. Media/”Celebridocs”. These are people who are widely known less for their doctoring than for their media position. This is no bad thing – they are playing a hugely valuable role – but they are different. I put docs like Sanjay Gupta, Dr. Oz, Dr. Weil and Dr. Richard Besser (#41 on the list) into this category.
  2. Futurist/Explorer. These are docs who are known far more for their widely-known and discussed views on the future of medicine than for the practice of it. Also – no bad thing. In fact it’s a great thing … but it sets them apart. I put doctors like Atul Gawande, Eric Topol, C. Michael Gibson, and Bertalan Mesko (#40 on the list) in this category.
  3. Government/Policy Expert. I put people like Tom Frieden of the CDC (#11) and presidential candidate Ben Carson (#32) in this category.

But as I reviewed the list, only 13 of 196 doctors fit into one of these categories (again with the caveat that this is a very subjective, Greg-based categorization). That means that 183 of these docs are basically regular folks who happen to believe that connecting online is extremely valuable for themselves, their peers, and their patients. I’d like to highlight just a few of these relatively unsung heroes (there are many more highlighted in the MDigitalLife report, Missing the Forest for the Trees: The change in physician roles that the healthcare industry missed.

Bryan Vartabedian, MD (#12), perhaps the first and leading thinker on the broader implications for physicians to be online, and the author of the seminal book on the subject, The Public Physician.

Mike Sevilla, MD (#14), who was once known as Doctor Anonymous. One of the first doctors to explore social media with his blog and podcast, he’s still one of the shining examples of how to leverage social media to connect with his peers & patients, and to humanize medicine.

Rich Duszak, MD (#19) and Brian Stork, MD (#195), who are great examples of how to lead a specialty (in this case radiology and urology respectively) into the social media world.

Wen Dombrowski, MD (#21), who has played an enormous role in uniting and leading the digital health community online.

Matthew Katz, MD (#51), Mike Thompson, MD (#79), Deanna Attai, MD (#97) and Jack West, MD (#161) who have each started and/or lead important online communities of physicians and patients in the oncology space.

Zubin Damania, MD (#23), who has started an entirely new kind of clinic and perfected a new art form – the medical satire video. His Dr. House of Cards series qualifies as sublime comic genius.

Neil Floch, MD (#13 and #165), the only doctor to have TWO accounts on the list. Dr. Floch’s drive to educate and add value to his online audience is incredible & he’s done an amazing job connecting his online activity to the success of his practice.

Howard Luks, MD (#28), the doctor who perhaps most embodies the ability to use social media (particularly video) to help his patients to understand and feel comfortable with various kinds of treatment.

John Mandrola, MD (#39), who started blogging years ago, and emerged as a leading thinker in the Cardiology world through his blog at TheHeart.org – Trials and Fibrillations.

Louise Aronson, MD (#78), who has helped not only to humanize the medical profession as a result of her brilliant fiction writing (A History of the Present Illness), but has created platform to help enable other physicians to embrace a more public persona.

Rasu Shrestha, MD (#120), is the Chief Innovation Officer at UPMC – one of the institutions that is really pushing the limits of how care is delivered and experienced.

All of these doctors (and thousands more) have gained the trust and respect of their peers based (in part, at least) on the work they’ve done online – be sure to give them a follow and check out their work. Be sure to tune in tomorrow for the final post in the series – with a special twist.

A SPECIAL LIMITED-TIME TREAT for PEOPLE IN THE HEALTH ECOSYSTEM (Doctors, patients, reporters, caregivers, people who work for hospitals or healthcare companies, etc.):

Our team will be launching a new demo at this year’s South by Southwest Interactive conference. If you’d like a sneak preview that shows you how YOUR twitter handle compares to your peers in the health ecosystem, just share a little information about yourself (http://j.mp/EcoJoin1) so that we can create a (completely confidential) mapping for you.

Connect with MDigitalLife on Facebook | Twitter – @MDigitalLife

Follow Greg Matthews on Twitter @chimoose


WhoDocsFollow - Doctors


More detailed methodology notes:

Using the proprietary MDigitalLife Health Ecosystem Database, we created a special panel of 20,000 twitter accounts operated by US Physicians matched to an NPI number. We then aggregated every account followed by the doctors in that panel (~5,000,000 twitter accounts), and created a list of the 1,000 twitter accounts with the most US physician followers. Of the thousand, 211 belonged to accounts that are not a part of the health ecosystem (almost all of them entertainers like @JimmyFallon or athletes like @KingJames. The remaining 789 all fell comfortably into one of our health ecosystem categories. These posts are based on insights derived from that list.