We all know about the blog. KevinMD has been one of the most influential online voices for physicians, and one of the first venues to seriously address physician burnout. But how well do you know the man behind the website?
On this episode, we talk with Kevin Pho, MD an internist, author, and speaker who has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and who Medscape listed as one of the top 20 social media physician influencers in the world (I should know, I was on the committee!).
We discuss the reasons for starting the platform, whether he still practices medicine, and other business revenue streams that sprang from KevinMD. These are insights you won’t find anywhere else! If you ever wanted to share your message with the world through a blog, website, or podcast, this is essential listening!
The Podcast by KevinMD
Dr. Mike Woo-Ming: Hey guys, this is Dr. Mike Woo-Ming. Welcome to another edition of BootstrapMD. This is the podcast for physician entrepreneurs and business owners. My next guest really needs no introduction. You all know his name and today we’re going to find out more about the man who is behind one of the most famous websites out there for physicians, usually practicing board certified internal medicine, physician, a national media commentator, coauthor of the book, establishing, managing, and protecting your online reputation.
I have a little part in that book. His website receives over 3 million monthly page views with over 250,000 followers in Twitter and Facebook sites in major media. Wall Street Journal, Forbes, CNN named his site one of its five recommended healthcare,Twitter feeds. aNd in 2019, I was proud to be part of a committee that named him from Medscape one of the top 20 physician social media influencers. Please welcome Dr. Kevin Pho, Kevin. So nice to have you on the program today.
Kevin Pho, MD: Thank you so much for having me.
Dr. Mike Woo-Ming: I had to put my own spin on the bio cause it’s about all about myself. Kevin, let’s talk about it. KevinMD has been around since, I’ve been on the internet and we’re dating ourselves. You started KevinMD in 2004. Is that right?
Kevin Pho, MD: That’s right. 17 years ago. I was just thinking about that the other day.
Dr. Mike Woo-Ming: One question. Why?
Kevin Pho, MD: I like to say that had a business plan back in 2004 and follow through and visit plan to where it is now. But I really can’t say that because back then, as you probably know, there were like fewer than 50 doctors who had blogs and blogs were just coming up at that time and people know what the heck blogs were.
I remember writing an article. I think it was after one of the drug recalls and the next day a patient in the exam room. They said to me, “Dr. Pho, I read your blog post this morning, and I was really comforted by what you had to say. “And I think that was like my light bulb moment where we can use social media and use the internet to really talk to people. Not one-on-one the examiner, but one to many. And I think that has been a little bit prescient because now, especially with COVID and people are going online to research their health information, we all really need to be online. So KevinMD has certainly evolved over the last 17 years especially with the evolution of the various social media tools and the evolution of how patients are empowering themselves to look for things online.
And I think it’s been tremendously gratifying to be part of that evolution, to help guide patients to relevant health information, to become a platform where physicians can really share their stories, because that’s something that we need more of. We need more of a voice and it’s been very gratifying and rewarding to play a small role.
Dr. Mike Woo-Ming: I think you’re underestimating your influence. It definitely not played a small role at, in, in my life. It is, must see reading and now listening with your podcast, but we’ll talk more about that. I’d like to delve into what you’ve seen in KevinMD. I think for me, one of the first things that I noticed was talking about subjects that were considered taboo.
And what I’m talking to him for is physician burnout, As, back then, it was almost heresy to talk about these things. When did you first start noticing that a lot of your articles were talking about burnout and now, we’re now in a realm where side gigs and businesses on the side is almost commonplace, but when did you first start to see those types of articles?
Kevin Pho, MD: I would say within the last 10 years or so, and especially intensifying during the pandemic, the numbers from Medscape, right? 50% of clinicians report symptoms of burnout. And the number is only going to go up when they repeat the surveys, especially during the pandemic. One of the tenants that I had on my site was that a lot of the conversations running healthcare there were made by people who don’t actually practice medicine, or if they were physicians, they don’t necessarily patients see patients every day. And I found that they will control the narrative of the conversation and a lot of the factors in our lives as practicing clinicians, there’ll be affected by these decision makers who don’t necessarily see patients. So that’s why I think it’s tremendously important, really, for us to have a voice that’s edited by a clinician who sees patients and really becomes a proverbial, safe space for physicians to really share our stories.
And of course, burnout has been in the forefront within the last few years, but after five to 10 years I clinicians are burning out. And I think that’s really a lack of autonomy. I think that there’s a lot of policy experts that are telling us what to do, how many patients to see how many RVU is we need to make.
We have to use these electronic medical records. We have to do 30 click strokes to prescribe a medication. And I think that’s leading to a lot of it and we didn’t really have a place where we can share these stories. So I think that over the last 10 years or so, and especially intensifying over the last few years, I think it’s all the more important to have a physician run platform where we can share these stories.
And not only have policy makers listen to what we have to say, but patients as well, because a lot of patients. Really know what goes on behind closed doors. They don’t know about the struggles that clinicians face in caring for them. And if more clinicians are burning out and struggling to take care of patients, we’re already seeing the great requisite resignation in health care, we’re seeing more and more clinicians cutting back on clinical hours and leaving clinical medicine altogether. And what good are we . It’s not going to help patients if there aren’t going to be any clinicians to take care of them. So I think those are the reasons that really contributed the evolution of sharing these specific stories of burnout.
Dr. Mike Woo-Ming: As someone who has really been one of the pioneers in healthcare and social media… Really in the last couple of years, social media has, is, has been under attack or has not been as fruitful as we think, let’s face it. As a physician, we feel like we have a war on science, a lot of disinformation we all know about Facebook and Twitter.
And sometimes as physicians, I remember I was just recently on a conversation. Peripherally talking about vaccine mandates and boom, I got hit on it. Where is the line and what is our role as a physician, as it pertains to social media in 2021?
Kevin Pho, MD: I’ve been giving keynotes and talking about social media for over 10 years now.
And I have to admit that I’m similar to Mark Zuckerberg, I think my outlook on social media was a little more idealistic in the first few years. And they thought that social media was a place where physicians can share information guide patients to better sources of health information, and really had a more positive, almost naive outlook of how social media can be.
Of course, over the last few years, the whole…. societal landscape has been politicized. And I think social media has played a great role in that. I think I’m a little bit of a realist now. Whereas I talked to doctors earlier that they should really go on social media for the positive things.
But now I think it’s more of a responsibility for physicians to get on social media because as I mentioned before, patients are going online and I think. Looking for health information online is a third, most popular activity that people do on the internet. And now, especially with COVID vaccines and masks.
I think that there’s a lot of false information that is out there. So rather than. Physicians proactively going on and sharing and guiding patients to these reputable sources of health information. I think it’s more, I want to frame it more as a moral responsibility. I think that if physicians aren’t online and guiding patients and providing reputable health information, patients are going to go elsewhere to look for this.
And there’s a lot of pseudo practitioners and there’s a lot of people who are motivated by politics and an ideology that may spread false information. And if physicians aren’t online, then patients aren’t going to be influenced by these false narratives. And so now, whereas earlier on, I think… Physicians, should I always said, physician go online for kind of a more sunnier outlook. I think now it’s more of a responsibility that more of us have to do it because if we don’t, other people are going to feed our patients with information that can hurt them.
Dr. Mike Woo-Ming: I’m going to be honest here. I’m not the biggest fan on posting personal stuff on social media. I’ve looked at your, on your Instagram and your Facebook. You don’t really post a lot, maybe some pictures of the family kind of same thing too. But we all know we have physicians who like their entire life is on desktop and Instagram.
And where do we draw the line? Because I personally have not never found one person saying, you know what? I changed my political view because I read that post on Facebook. It’s a fine line. Isn’t it about what we can share about ourselves on social media?
Kevin Pho, MD: Yeah. The traditional advice is really to separate, especially on Facebook, your personal professional lives, right?
So you have a Facebook page, that’s more professional. It could be associated with our practice and that’s not the place you necessarily want to share pictures with your family, and then you have a more private, personal profile page where you could share a family events. So that’s the traditional advice.
I think one of the things that I always advise clinicians to do is to sometimes share these stories, to humanize the medical profession. A lot of doctors are put on pedestals and I think that there’s a lack of connection. So one of the arguments for social media that I traditionally advise is that sometimes you could just share a little bit about yourself that maybe outside of what they do in the exam room and.
Better connect with patients, but in terms of influencing patient influencing patients and changing political views, I think of course, that’s very difficult. When I talk about the online audience in general, it’s normally divided in thirds where one-third are people who agree with everything that you say.
One third are people who don’t agree with anything that you say, no matter what you do. And then there’s a third that’s in the middle. And whenever you’re trying to go online and persuade people, whether it’s about vaccines and whatnot, it’s really that middle third that you’re trying to influence.
So you’re not trying to go online to influence… everybody that you meet, that’s really not the goal, but if you could change the mind of maybe one or two people out of 10, I think that’s a, really a job well done and the best that we can hope for today’s climate.
Dr. Mike Woo-Ming: And really the, the statistics have brought that out in terms of.
Yes. As a physicians, we still have influence when they’ve had studies suggested that if they decide to get the vaccine, majority of them say the best source is their primary care physician. But it’s really interesting too. I want to know your opinion about how these algorithms it’s now come out, in Congress about how they’ve changed the algorithms to just focus on things that carry emotion, anger, issues, hate speech on there. What’s your opinion of all that. And does it need to be regulated?
Kevin Pho, MD: think overall it’s a harmful, it’s been harmful to society, in terms of playing on emotions, because what generates an emotional response, it’s typically conflict, right?
It’s typically client conflict and inflammation. If you post something that everyone agrees with, chances are, that’s not going to spread as much as something that’s highly charged, highly politicized, and whether inadvertent or not, these types of algorithms are just going to fan the flames and really.
Emphasize the tribal nature of our society. So overall I think if a net negative effect now, what is our role as physicians in this? Do, are we gonna throw our hats into this tribe? And I think it goes back to what I said before is that our job isn’t necessarily to convince people to change tribes, but yeah.
Purveyors of science. I think we do have a responsibility to get online and Hey, this is what we believe to be reputable sources. And there are going to be some out there who still respect science and respect medicine, and still listen to us maybe fewer than there were before given the polarized the nature of society.
But like I said, our goal isn’t to change everyone’s minds. If we could change one or two out of 10, I think that’s really the best that we can hope for. It’s certainly better than not participating in.
Dr. Mike Woo-Ming: I’d like to shift gears just a bit. And we’re talking about it’s been 17 years since KevinMD has been launched.
Can you imagine that you’re still doing this or was this part of that 20, 30 year plan? This little blog that maybe we were doing on the side and is now grown and then also focused on what if you notice what things have to have changed, since, looking back from 2004 to 2021,
Kevin Pho, MD: What we mentioned before, about how highly charged the audience is. I think that. When it first started out. I didn’t think that pretty much every issue is politicized now. And it wasn’t back then the evolution of different media of social media. So it’s not just Facebook, but we have of course TikTok YouTube, LinkedIn various video forums, Facebook Lives.
So it’s so many different ways to express ourselves. I think that’s been exciting. I advise doctors, if they want to go online, they don’t necessarily have one medium that they can stick with. They can choose a medium that suits their strength. If they’re great writers, they can start a blog. If they’re great on camera, they can do videos or podcasts, there are so many different avenues as suits and individual clinician strength. I think that has been really one of the biggest changes and it is it’s pretty big. It’s been exciting to be.
Dr. Mike Woo-Ming: Do you feel that you’ve had to Work on I can’t imagine how many articles you get in a day does, it seems like you’ve had to filter a lot more than before?
Kevin Pho, MD: There’s definitely been more articles, especially whenever you have big health events. I expect, I normally publish about 20 to 30% of the articles that I receive. I’m partial to stories and partial of the personal experiences. I think that like I said very gratified that, that physicians trust my platform and see it up as a place where they can really share their voices and have their voices be heard.
And I’ve heard a lot of stories where a physician would write an article on KevinMD and someone from mainstream media would pick up on it. And then it would lead to a bigger platform to them, whether it’s a newspaper or a gig or appearing on television. So I’m just happy that these physicians have used my size to, to gain more visibility because really it’s all about getting our voices to be heard. And like I said, if I play a small role in that that’s really what keeps me going over the last 17 years and really trying to move the needle. And as a primary care doctor, yes, I can move the needle individually in an exam room. But if I can use my expertise, my motivation, my drive in social media and help get more of our voices heard, I think that’s another way where I can make a difference.
Dr. Mike Woo-Ming: As I love talking about physician entrepreneurship and especially when I interviewed physician entrepreneurs, always like to get insights, of what’s going on. So how much time does KevinMD take? Do you have a big staff? Are you editing all the articles yourself?
Can you give us some insight behind KevinMD?
Kevin Pho, MD: So I’m half-time so I’m still practiced primary care internal medicine. So I see patients about half a week and then the other half is doing the various KevinMD activities. Excuse me. I published four times a day. And I choose the articles that get published.
I do have an editorial assistant that helps me copy, edit about half the articles. I have a technical team that keeps a site up, and that is actually one of the more stressful parts of running a large website is keeping it up and all the technical issues that come with that. But I have a great technical team that I can outsource that to, but primarily it’s me and and my editorial assistant. And that’s it. I keep myself small. I can make decisions on my own. And as you mentioned, I started a podcast last year to expand the reach and influence of KevinMD and allowing people to share their stories in their own words. It’s been fairly nimble.
I’m able to adjust KevinMD to keep up with the trends and I wouldn’t be able to do it if I had such a large staff.
Dr. Mike Woo-Ming: Physician entrepreneurs always have difficulty balancing their clinical life with their business life. When did you decide to make that transition from full-time to half-time?
Kevin Pho, MD: Yeah, so probably a couple of years ago I decided to make that transition, of course, economics plays a role into it in terms of the revenue that KevinMD generates versus the salary I make. My primary care job I think that everyone has to make a decision that’s right for them and their family.
And also whatever feels their professional top. I think that if there was one part of my professional life that I felt was detracting or felt didn’t want to do whether it’s, maybe I’m seeing too many patients in a clinic or even doing to no screening or posting too many articles on KevinMD.
If I ever felt that one part of my professional life… Overwhelmed the other, and just took away from my overall enjoyment of life. I would probably adjust it and say, “Hey, I know that’s not the right balance right now.” I do have balance. I feel energized whenever I go into the clinic to see patients and subsequently I’m still moving along and posting articles and KevinMD and publishing a daily podcast.
And hopefully once the pandemic improves have go back out speaking again, and I manage a physician speaker bureau. And I think that one of the themes that I have on my site is that doctors are more than their degrees. The traditional path of medicine isn’t necessarily so traditional anymore.
We’re not just… training and going to medical school and residency for seven to 10 years, and then staying in a hospital or seeing patients. And as your audience knows that we could be so much more than that. And we can branch off in so many different ways and using my medical degree to. Branch off into media podcasts, speaking, managing a speakers bureau.
And of course, running a internet platform, that’s all been so gratifying to me. It’s never been taught in medical school and it really feeds my entrepreneurial spirit and and really keeps me going!
Dr. Mike Woo-Ming: Did you ever have thought in your mind it’s a bit, cause you got a lot of stuff going on. You got the physician speaking where you help coach you coach, you’ve got the podcast, do you’re saying, you know what?
This is too much. I’m just going to retire as that come up. And when is that time?
Kevin Pho, MD: While it hasn’t. I think that if you enjoy doing. It sounds, obviously the cliche goes, if you enjoy doing something, you’re never going to work a day now life. So I think I’m at that point where in terms of hours, yes, it’s a lot of work if you put it in terms of hours, but if you put it in terms of fulfillment, it’s really not that much work.
It’s something I certainly enjoy. Doing, I enjoy reading the feedback and enjoy exploring podcasts and this listening to physicians stories and hear what they’re doing in their own world. And I’ve just learned so much. And like I said, if I felt that it was too much and I didn’t enjoy it, then I, then you’re right.
I probably would stop. But that time has it.
Dr. Mike Woo-Ming: So we do occasionally on a podcast, a segment it’s fun, but it could be scary and call it five unexpected questions with our podcast guests. Kevin, are you willing to take on the challenge?
Kevin Pho, MD: Sure. Bring it on. All right. I love that. Okay. What are the five unexpected questions?
Dr. Mike Woo-Ming: Number one. What was the last show you binge-watched.
Kevin Pho, MD: Squid game, right? Like everyone else. But then I was recommended another Japanese show, Alice in Borderlands. So now my Netflix feed is full of these death games series. So that’s the last show I’ve been really like, like millions of other.
Dr. Mike Woo-Ming: Yes, I have to admit my wife said, why are you watching this why are you this program? And they go, I’m not the only one it’s number one on Netflix. I don’t know what that says about society, but that’s for another time. But number two, if I find myself in New Hampshire, what would be the best restaurant to recommend type of food?
Kevin Pho, MD: You find yourself in New Hampshire, what’s the best restaurant to recommend. The longer, I think called my New Hampshire rights are going to say that, you can’t even name a restaurant in New Hampshire. I’ll honestly, I have to go down to Boston, dude. I know that’s tough. I’m partial to lobster.
So I’m actually going to say somewhere in Maine, there’s a place called Maples and Kennebunkport, which is where I love the recommend. Because I remember for. The first time that I had such a large hops, it was like, like three pounds. And it was like nothing. And, you have those memorable meals that kind of like stick in the back of your mind and you just remember for the rest of your life.
So that would be in a place called Mabel’s and Kennebunkport, where they fed me a three pound boil lobster. And it was one of the most memorable meals that I have in whenever I’m in that area. I try to visit that.
Dr. Mike Woo-Ming: I think you might have to watch your stats from the New Hampshire on KevinMD, that might be dropping! But thanks. Thanks for that answer, you’ve got so much stuff going on. What’s the Kevin Pho morning routine. what’s an average morning routine?
Kevin Pho, MD: Yeah. I do wake up pretty early to this, get everything done in terms of what I want to post that day in terms of the podcasts that I want to promote.
So between 5, 5:30 or so, and then drive the kids to school. And depending if I have a clinic day, then I’ll go straight from driving to the school, to my clinic. I work three quarters day, so I finish around two or three, and then I go to sports games with my with my daughter who’s a junior in high school or.
Make sure that, things like homework is done. And then in the evenings, it’s a really doing more on KevinMD, whether it’s preparing a keynote or editing podcasts. And I’m not sure if you do your own editing, but editing podcasts. And it takes so much more work than the actual interviews itself.
So I do a daily podcast, so that takes up a lot of time as well. And then, yeah, then the day flies by.
Dr. Mike Woo-Ming: Yeah, I do editing for my podcast, but it’s one of those things that I do and it’s a lot easier for me to remember oh, this part needs to be edited. I do use tools like Descript to help me out.
And it takes out the ums and AHS. But yeah, it’s just one of the things that I enjoy. Number four, what is a surprising fact that most people wouldn’t know about Kevin.
Kevin Pho, MD: What is a surprising fact? Probably that I know probably as much about NFL football as I do about medicine. That’s what I always say.
It’s I’m a big football junkie and I followed a sport pretty closely, not just follow, but I know the ins and outs I study… Professional football. Almost as much as I do medicine. So whenever I watch a game or I’m really interested in the inner workings, the tactics, the strategy, and one of the things that I always say to, to my daughters, If I knew medicine as much as I knew NFL football. I’d be the best doctor in the world.
Dr. Mike Woo-Ming: I assume you’re a Patriot fan.
Kevin Pho, MD: I am a Patriot fan. Yes.
Dr. Mike Woo-Ming: Okay. He went to Michigan, so gotta give love, or you may be retiring really then Tom Brady is and then finally three best books you would recommend to a friend or colleague.
Kevin Pho, MD: Three best books. So I like, I’m actually reading a book about the Patriots.
It’s Better to be Feared by Seth Wickersham. And one of the reasons I liked that book is of course, not only to read about the Patriots, but really what goes behind greatness, what makes something great? And I always like to apply lessons from other industries in the medicine. Because as you probably know, you’ll apply things from other industries into medicine.
You’re always be ahead of the curve in medicine, because medicine is always like one to two years behind every other industry. So that book is particularly interesting because it goes behind the new England Patriots. There are various Superbowl dynasties and the interactions between Bob Kraft, the owner, bill Belichick, and Tom Brady, and really what makes them tick, what makes them great.
And I’m always looking for blessings outside of medicine in order to just better myself, just to be continuously improving. So the second book is Presentation Zen by Gar Reynolds. Fantastic book. It really changed my outlook on speaking because he is a used to be apple and evangelists. And now he’s a speaking coach and. Really he uses the concepts of Zen. He lives in Japan. So a lot of these Japanese influence into keynote speaking, keeping things simple.
And, in terms of the visuals, keeping everything simple and now his influence my keynote style. So I try to speak with as few slides as possible. One of my goals is to do a whole 60 minute keynote without any visual aids and just trying to keep things and as as simple as possible.
And that’s been a big influence in terms of my speech. Career. And then the third one is A Simple Path to Wealth. It’s a personal finance book that is recommended by a lot of people in the physician finance community. And I do recommend it because I think that physicians are deficient in general when it comes to personal finance, if they want to get a start on managing their finances, getting out of debt, because that is one of the ways to.
Be financially free. And I think if you’re financially free for medicine, you come back and that’s going to help with your burnout. So in order to cut back and pursue other interests, you have to be debt-free and I recommend starting at a person. What’d I say that book was a simple path to wealth. So I think that I would recommend those three books.
Dr. Mike Woo-Ming: Kevin, congratulations, you have passed the challenge.
Kevin Pho, MD: Fantastic.
Dr. Mike Woo-Ming: ANd you didn’t even correct me and Cora and remembering that Tom Rady is not the quarterback of the Patriots it’s Mack Jones. But we’ll acknowledge it
Kevin Pho, MD: The next Patriots dynasty hopefully will begin soon.
Dr. Mike Woo-Ming: Get so much information, so much knowledge that you’ve given us today. What’s let’s talk about your podcast. Tell it more about that. And why did you start it? And what can we get you out from your podcast?
Kevin Pho, MD: So I have The Podcast by KevinMD. It’s a daily podcast where you have 15 minutes a day, seven days a week. And it is a show where I can share the stories of really the many intersect with our healthcare system, but are rarely heard from and really Kevin and the authors where they can just tell their stories in their own words.
My job is tremendously easy. Like you’ve been on the show. I just sit back, ask questions. And I’ve learned from so many of the other clinicians that are on there. So it’s available on all the podcasts platforms, the podcast by KevinMD, 15 minutes a day, seven days a week, your daily dose of information, insight, and inspiration.
Dr. Mike Woo-Ming: Yeah, it’s been a really great really wide variety of guests on all aspects of healthcare, not just physicians non-physicians as well, giving this, trying to be better. Understand this thing we called healthcare. Kevin again, it’s been a pleasure. Course, the site, KevinMD. Also, you have other platforms that we didn’t have time to talk about, but if you have a physician speaker usually physician speaking, he’s a coach as well.
I just, I didn’t realize that you coach as well. So there’s so many different aspects of Kevin outside of just being a new England, Patriot fanatic. So thanks again, Kevin, and thank you for your time.
Kevin Pho, MD: Thanks Mike for having me on.