Category Archives: Social Media

Has Social Media Made Me A Better Doctor?

This month I hit a milestone on my Sina Weibo microblog; I finally reached 10,000 fans. It took more than two years, and I suppose I could have sped it up by paying for fake zombie fans. However, I preferred to earn this honor with good old fashioned hard work. Ten thousand fans is a tiny amount compared to many Chinese microblogs, including several at my own hospital like our pediatrician Cui Yutao, who has an astonishing 1.3 million fans. But since I write mostly in English and not native Chinese, it’s a very respectable amount for a laowai’s Weibo.

Presently I manage two popular, mature social media sites: my Weibo for Chinese readers, and my older health blog for expats. But as I pop open the baijiu to celebrate, I can’t help but wonder what impact have these sites truly had? And what lessons, if any, can help other doctors interested in social media? Weibo 10000 fans

I believe the first question is the easiest to answer, with a resounding yes: a doctor’s social media writings can have a major positive influence on a community — much larger than their clinic population of a couple thousand patients within a few square miles radius. My blog’s articles have been read almost a million times by readers in 198 countries and territories, and some of my articles helped improve public health awareness on hot issues such as air pollution and food safety in China. It also provided helpful information during times of crisis such as the Fukushima radiation scare — as well as our current crisis with H7N9 avian flu.

While my expat blog found instant impact, I was always acutely aware that my audience was relatively small, consisting only of the few hundred thousand English speaking expats in China. What about the other 99% of Beijing, who are just as hungry for information about the same issues? I was especially disturbed that I could instantly flash emergency air pollution AQI from the US Embassy site to my expat readers, but local Beijingers around me usually had no clue about these ‘crazy bad’ emergencies.

So how could I reach the rest of China even if I didn’t know much Chinese? It certainly wasn’t Facebook or Twitter, the obvious choice in many other countries but a non-starter here. The answer was obvious: Sina Weibo. All the newspapers and marketing reports had breathlessly covered Sina Weibo’s meteoric rise and impact in China, so I opened an account and started typing away. The language barrier wasn’t insurmountable, because even if only 5-10 percent of Weibo readers can read English, that is still a potential audience of tens of millions. That dwarfs the entire population of expats in China.

Weibo’s reach and impact truly is amazing. On my expat blog, a successful article will be read a couple thousand times over its first month. On Weibo, my most popular posts receive tens of thousands of views — often in just the first couple hours. It’s an extraordinarily rapid and powerful tool to share information.

Two years and 3,000 posts later, I must admit that I now have a lot more fun writing on my Weibo than my blog. Weibo is much more intimate, interactive and immediate, and also is fast to write — no small benefit for a busy physician. I also feel a deeper satisfaction from my Weibo, mostly because I sense that my Chinese audience is even more starved for credible health information than most expats. In a country where only 10 percent trust their doctor, my Weibo audience is truly grateful to find an online doctor they feel they can trust. Expats know they can turn to trusted, famous health websites like the Mayo Clinic, US CDC, and many others. I occasionally ask my Weibo fans if there are similar trusted health sites in Chinese, and sadly no one can come up with one.

My Weibo is also very satisfying because in China there are so many health issues that seem basic to expats but have little awareness in China. Air pollution and food safety discussions on my Weibo are just as popular as from my blog. However, I find more satisfaction discussing less obvious issues, such as using proper car seats for infants, which is scandalously uncommon in China, with only 3% use reported in a recent China Daily poll. I still find it frightening to watch grandparents hold infants in the back seats, truly having no idea their precious grandchild is totally unprotected in any serious crash. Every few weeks I repost a graphic video showing test dummy babies fly into front windows, and another handful of parents will rush out to buy a car seat. I’ve pushed multiple similar issues such as bicycle helmets, another depressingly neglected issue in China. I snap a photo of me in my bike helmet, upload instantly to Weibo, and spark a healthy discussion all over China. In the same vein, I upload a photo of water jugs baking in the summer sun at an uncovered warehouse, and thus spark a debate about bacterial contamination of delivered water jugs — an issue that few still seem aware of, given the massive and increasing popularity of delivered water. Or I post images from the supposedly upscale Sanyuanli food market in the summer, showing piles of unrefrigerated, uncovered meat, and my followers will discuss the virtues of proper food safety.

Doctors: Engage

As a family doctor, my judgment of a patient’s health involves not just their symptoms but also their relationships with their family and their community. Therefore, a good family doctor actively strives to improve the health of their community. Because of my social media, I am deeply satisfied that I have helped improve the health and wellness of many more people than just my clinic patients. There are a lot of smart primary care providers out there, energized with ideas and helpful advice they would love to share with a group much larger than their clinical load of patients. My general advice for anyone interested is to go for it, but be careful. First, you will need to review your hospital’s social media policy, if they have one. If you work in an enlightened organization such as mine, hopefully you would be encouraged and supported in your efforts.

Want To Use China's Twitter But Don't Know Chinese? Here's How.

How many of you use Twitter to find health information? I have a Twitter account to spread information, but here in China I cannot access it, so I’ve become a big fan of Weibo, China’s microblogging website that is similar — but far superior — to Twitter (my Weibo account is here; my screen name is “医生圣西睿智Richard”). For those of you who haven’t heard the word “Weibo” — you will soon. already has over 150 million users and has quickly become the must-use microblog site for middle and upper class Chinese.

I think anyone interested in China, and especially those who are learning Chinese, should use Weibo and start reading other people’s blogs. It’s a great way to practice your Chinese! I’m finding Weibo to be a terrific medium to convey health information to Chinese people, and I’m starting to see a lot more expats logging on. The major issue for non-Chinese is the language barrier, as the website is only in Chinese. Once you log in each time, you can write in whatever language you want, but the interface is tricky if you don’t know any Chinese characters. This will change by the end of the year when they update their software, but for now it’s a bit mafan for foreigners.

Now, as of last month, anyone can use Weibo in English — by using the Weibo app for iPhone/iPod Touch/iPads. Here’s how:

If you already have a Weibo account and use the iPhone app, converting to English is easy: just click on the “More” icon (更多) in the lower right corner of the app, then click on the “Settings” icon ! (设置) just at the top; then click on the “Language” icon (多语言环境) in the middle; hit “English” and you’re done!

If you don’t yet have a Weibo account: it’s easiest to go first to the website and make a new account, then download the Weibo app to your iPhone and then login via your email and password. The hardest part is registering if you don’t know Chinese:

Step 1: Go To On the right side of their screen is a big green button which you should click on. See the image below:

Weibo Sign Me Up

Step 2:  registering a new account. You can choose to get a confirmation via mobile phone or by email, but I think email is easiest. If your Chinese is nonexistent, I strongly recommend you use Google’s Chrome browser both now and whenever you visit any Chinese website. The main reason is one of their awesome features; you can instantly translate any webpage with a click of the button. See the image below for the example on Weibo: click on “Translate” at top and the page becomes passable English. By the way, if you click and it says “error”, keep clicking! It works almost 100% of the time.

Weibo Set Up Registration Page

OK, now we can see the instructions in English, as seen in the next image. Just follow the image below; the trickiest part is picking a strong password and a cool Weibo screen name. Once you are done, hit enter, follow the confirmation instructions in your email or mobile, and you’re now on Weibo!

Weibo Registration Instructions in English
Weibo Registration Instructions in English

Step 3: Download the Weibo app to your device. This part is easy for anyone who has an iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad. Just go to your app store, search for “Weibo” and download the official app from Sina (it’s probably listed in Chinese; their official app download page is here). When you open it for the first time, you have to enter your email address (the top field) and then your password (the second field), and then hit the left button. Then you follow the instructions above under “if you already have a Weibo account” to switch the app to English.

Step 4: Become my fan. My Weibo screen name is “医生圣西睿智Richard“. No, it’s not a very catchy screen name but it gets to the point; in Chinese it means “Doctor Richard Saint Cyr”. I usually update my Weibo a couple times a day with health tips and public health alerts. I usually write in English but am also trying to type more Chinese. You can see my Weibo account here.