Social media has become indispensable for politicians to reach voters, but it's also a crucial way for voters – like physicians – to influence decision-makers and public opinion, a panel of state representatives and social media consultants said at the Texas Medical Association's Advocacy Retreat on Saturday.
"I hope each one of you gets how important your voice is on social media, especially about issues pertaining to health care and improving health access for your patients," said state Rep. Julie Johnson (D-Carrollton).
The three panelists were Representative Johnson's social media consultant Chelsea Roe, president of Leaven Strategies Group; state Rep. Sarah Davis (R-West University Place); and her social media consultant, Jerod Patterson of Patterson and Co.
Representative Davis agreed that physicians make a difference on social media, especially when countering medically inaccurate or misleading information. She specifically cited Peter Hotez, MD, the head of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, for his frequent Twitter posts debunking immunization myths. She said she's seen many other physicians effectively dispute medical misinformation on social media.
"I just want to say thank you to all the physicians who actually do get engaged when people do say nonsensical stuff," she said.
That public involvement can reduce the number of medical fallacies gaining currency on the internet, Mr. Patterson says.
"Social media is self-policing," he said. "If somebody puts out a false narrative and it's not countered by somebody [who is informed and objective], then the false narrative will win."
Although social media also is a great way to communicate with lawmakers, physicians often can be more persuasive simply by saying “hello” in person, Representative Davis says.
"The best thing you can do is just call us and say, ‘I want to come by and meet my state representative during the interim,’ and any state representative is going to take that call,” she said.
Aside from getting to know each other, the physician and legislator can discuss potential bill ideas, or bills for which a physician's testimony would be valuable. That way the relationship is formed before the high-pressure 140-day legislative session, when lawmakers are short on time.
"You want that relationship," she said. "I want to rely on you. And the only way I can do that is if I know you."
Representative Johnson agreed, saying physicians also should seek out lawmakers at public events, even when those lawmakers don’t represent them directly. Recent meetings with physicians led her to file bills, even though the physicians did not live in her legislative district, she says.
"Come to things where you know legislators are going to be," she said. "Don't be so limited as to just who your personal representative is. Go to [officeholders] who care about health care. And go to people who are willing to be strong advocates."