Interview: Dr. Richard Rand on Social Media as a Teaching Tool

As the owner of Northwest Center for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery in Bellevue, Wash., Richard Rand, M.D., backs up his professional expertise with an educational resume that includes medical school at the University of Michigan, plastic surgery training at Emory University and 10 years as Chief of Plastic Surgery at the University of Washington Medical Center.

Today, he’s still highly academically inclined, an approach he’s maintained both in his practice and via social media, including answering patient questions on RealSelf.com. In fact, as of April 2012, Dr. Rand has answered more than 5,200 patient questions on the site so we thought we’d ask him a few of our own.

Richard Rand MD practices as a plastic surgeon in Seattle, Washington

Dr. Richard Rand talks about social media and relevancy to a plastic surgery practice

MediBeauty.biz (MB): How would you describe your involvement with social media?

Richard Rand (RR): If you look at the various opportunities in social media, I’d say I’m exceedingly lean on some and heavily in on others. We have a Facebook page; I’m planning to more blogging, and I’ve spent a substantial amount of time on RealSelf because I’m comfortable with the format and the concept. I really enjoy the broad reach they have and the education opportunity it gives me.

MB: How did you get started?

RR: I practiced academic plastic surgery for 11 years and I very much enjoyed the educational aspect. It not only involved teaching residents and students but also teaching patients because they needed to understand what their options were. So when my wife and a friend of mine came to me and said there’s this website out there that offers you the opportunity to answer patient questions, I decided to get on it.

MB: Was there an a-ha moment when you realized the role social media could play in your practice?

RR: Working with Eva Sheie at Strategic Edge, we thought it would bring traffic to my practice website, give me exposure and perhaps an advantageous position in Google searches. But it really hit home when I began to have patients coming in who’d say I really liked your answers on RealSelf. I’ve had many patients say that.

MB: Obviously, patients are using social media to become more informed consumers. Is there a similar benefit for doctors?

RR:  You learn about what’s out there. This questioning from patients keeps me in touch with what’s on patients’ minds and what the media is teaching them to want. Social media keeps me in tune with that to the point where I’m prepared for those people when they come in in person.

MB: Are there other benefits to participating in such Q&As?

RR: I enjoy reading other doctors’ answers. Even though I’ve done this for almost 30 years, it’s still enjoyable to hear others’ spin on the same subject. Sometimes it’s confirmation or affirmation that what I’m doing is still the right thing to do. Or I’ll come across a new technology I’m not familiar with and read the answers to see if it’s proving to be usable. I can use social media to sort out the reality of new technology – what’s hot, what’s not.

MB: How much time do you spend online?

RR: If I work a 13-hour day, I probably spend a solid hour online in lots of little bits. I check my email fanatically and I’d say I go to RealSelf, Monday through Friday, at least 10 times a day, and on the weekends, probably three times a day. I even get on the site on my iPhone when I’m out of town.

MB: Is there a risk to spending too much time online?

RR: There can be. People may think you must not be very busy doing what you’re supposed to be doing. Personally, I’m almost too busy to handle it, some of which has to do with the fact that I probably get no fewer than six to 10 email requests for consultations every day. But what I do [in terms of types of procedures] is extremely limited and all of those people want exactly that.

MB: That suggests that there’s a pretty good return on investment (ROI).

RR: If a doctor wants to be an educator and help patients get through some of the smoke out there, social media can satisfy that desire immediately. On the other hand, if booking surgeries is your only rubric, you probably won’t think it’s worth your time. And while it’s hard to quantify what the impact of social media is on my practice, I can say my business has climbed steadily and grown and grown and grown beyond any previous year.

MB: Any advice for doctors who are still on the fence about social media?

RR: When people ask whether or not they should get involved, I ask them first of all if they enjoy talking to patients. Some doctors don’t – they’d rather operate and let someone else deal with the rest of it. That’s not how I am. I like the whole aspect of meeting the patient, doing the consultation, doing all the follow-up. If you don’t like answering questions in person, you won’t like answering them online.

MB: Some people consider social media a magic bullet that will solve all their marketing problems; others, that it’s a big waste of time. Where do you stand?

RR: I don’t think you can hold social media responsible for converting patients into surgeries. For me, it provides benefits both in terms of personal satisfaction and by bringing patients to the website. At that point, it’s up to me to convince them that this is the right place for them. Social media is a great tool but you still have to do all your own due diligence.

About Rob Lovitt

Rob Lovitt is a longtime writer and editor who believes every good business has a great story to tell. He has written for dozens of magazines and websites, including NBCnews.com, Expedia.com and the inflight magazines of Alaska, Horizon and Frontier airlines.

, ,

  • http://twitter.com/seery Tom Seery

    Thank you Dr. Rand…great insights!

  • http://www.delucaplasticsurgery.com/ William DeLuca, MD

    Question for Dr. Rand (and/or any other MD on realself who answers several questions per day): How do you manage to answer so many questions per day/week. What’s your system? 

    Do you use a program like Dragon Dictation (or iphone’s speech-to-text), type in your answers by hand or dictate them (in between patients) and have a member of your staff post them after transcribing?

    I still use an analog tape recorder for my case notes, but would certainly make the transition over to a digital system like Dragon if it allows for me to dictate my answers directly into an answer form on RealSelf.com.

    Thanks,
    Dr. DeLuca

    • Dr. Tom Pousti

      Hi Dr. DeLuca,
      Yes, I use the Dragon Dictate which allows you to dictate directly onto Realself which is very useful.  I also try to answer questions inbetween cases. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/docblinski Darryl Blinski

      Being a novice to “social media” I’m still learning daily. But it has helped advance my practice into the 21st century. My “way” of using/doing REALSELF is as follows: If I have an early morning surgery, which is 80% of the time, I in the time before the surgery starts answering questions. Recently, I now ONLY respond to photo posted inquiries, again in most cases. I believe without  a posted photo very hard to advise to the written question. So I type enter 90% or i-phone dictate the other 10%. I rarely respond between patients, if ever. At end of day I might respond to a few more, with posted photos. It becomes an exercise pattern for me, just like my daily 2 miles walks. So in a day I might respond to 10 postings, that should take 30 minutes at most. Hope that answers your questions. Regards Darryl J. Blinski, M.D., Miami