The healthcare landscape is experiencing a shift as social media allows global communities instant access to a variety of medical professionals. For digitally-inclined physicians, the social media revolution provides a vehicle to efficiently reach a wide captive audience. MDs active on social media post anything from YouTube videos on COVID-19 transmission prevention, to Instagram inside looks at everyday life at home or within the clinic, to tweeted tips on health policy, human rights, or general wellness. The influence of medical professionals through social media is rising steadily with unpredictable effects for employers.
Initially, some of the most influential physicians on social media, (Dr. Oz -The Dr. Oz Show, Dr. Sanjay Gupta - CNN) acquired notability as medical experts through television fame, while others (Dr. Eric Topol, The Patient Will See You Now, Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, The Diet Fix) established platforms by authoring best-selling books. As a result of paid product promotions, book sales, or contracted speaking engagements, these docs have cultivated income streams from public attention, using social media to extend their reach through multi-tiered marketing.
But the newer wave of well-known physicians has relied on social media to launch reputations as personable, compellingly helpful and accessible doctors. Some of these social media personalities include Dr. “Mike” Mikhail Varshavski (5 million YouTube subscribers, 2.8 million Instagram followers), Dr. Atul Gawande (235,000 twitter followers), and Dr. Jennifer Arnold (268,000 twitter followers). Lists of MD “influencers” are easily found with a simple online search. Part of the appeal of these medical experts is their reassuring presence through day-to-day posts, which are immediately available and relevant. Their willingness or ability to respond directly to comments or questions varies by individual.
Surely the potential added income derived from active social media pages is a nice perk, but doctors with “influencer” status may soon expect added recompense from their employers. The assertion being that the public relations and advertising accomplished through their digital platforms is an additional direct benefit to their employer. This raises some obvious questions: Should healthcare systems expect to pay premium compensations to employ influential doctors? Are there conflicts of interest when physicians post paid promotions? Are there risks to patient privacy? Does a physician’s virtual reach benefit, or perhaps possibly threaten, a medical practice? If a potential benefit exists, can it be quantified and translated into a form of value-based compensation?
Physician compensation models have regularly included incentive pay in the form of clinical productivity bonuses or renumeration for administrative duties performed. In theory, compensatory models could be adapted to consider influence. However, there would be much to reflect on in the development of these hiring packages, such as: What degree of notability constitutes an “influencer”? Multiple ratings exist to quantify influence, but at what point does the outcome reach a true value proposition? Employers would also have to consider how to put a value on influence in light of the Stark Law, the Anti-Kickback Statute, and other laws that restrict how and how much physicians are paid.
BFMV’s approach to valuing the services of physician influencers includes analysis of market data for well-known, wide-reaching physicians. We recognize that, in certain circumstances, the compensation studies typically used to value physician services may not be relevant resources. We also look at the different activities and contributions of physician influencers and value these contributions accordingly. Most importantly, we determine value with an appreciation of the laws and regulations that set physician influencers apart from those in other industries.