Daniel Choi, MD, an orthopedic spine surgeon at Spine Medicine & Surgery of Long Island (N.Y.) realizes the importance of connecting with his patients before they even step into his operating room.
He uses his social media accounts, including a TikTok account that has amassed 33,500 followers and 809,100 likes in the last three years, to show his patients his passion for all things spine.
From videos explaining the intricacies of his job, to patient testimonials on his work, to videos showing his love for K-Pop group BTS, Dr. Choi tries to create a personal connection with prospective and returning patients at a time when major health systems are moving away from personalized healthcare experiences.
Dr. Choi opened his own practice less than two years ago, during the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At a time when small practices were increasingly facing consolidation and buyouts from major health systems, Dr. Choi wanted to open a clinic with a local, patient-centric focus.
"I try to put the patient first in everything we do. That's a huge part of our practice culture and we try to really teach our employees that that is our first and foremost duty. If you are working for us, that's one of our expectations, that you put the patient first in all you do," Dr. Choi told Becker's.
Though Dr. Choi finds success in his patient-centric approach, being a small practice in an increasingly corporatized field has its challenges.
His practice struggles to compete with major corporations for top talent.
"I think that the biggest challenge I am seeing, and that most independent practices and small groups are seeing, is healthcare consolidation. This is on all fronts. You see insurers, health systems and private equity getting bigger. It's an increasing corporatization of medicine and trying to compete against consolidated entities," Dr. Choi said. "When you are competing against these entities, they have bigger marketing budgets, greater purchasing power, they can purchase benefits for employees at cheaper costs, which allows them to be more attractive employers. It is tough to compete for talent in this marketplace."
Along with competing for top talent, Dr. Choi finds himself competing for insurer attention against major corporations.
"Contracting with insurers and payers is getting more challenging because they want to deal with bigger entities that are responsible for more lives," he said. "If you are a solo practitioner, they don't even want to sit at the table and contract with you."
Though being an independent practitioner has its struggles, Dr. Choi believes that his way of doing business, and caring for patients, is paying off.
"I think independent practices are busier than ever, and I think that's mainly due to the fact that with big corporations, patients feel like their personal relationships are getting lost in the shuffle," he said. "We can provide personalized services as an independent practice, which is in high demand in the marketplace. We can be more agile and nimble than larger practices, and really cater to patient and employee needs."
And though Dr. Choi does not have the same marketing budget as some of his major competitors, he has found that his ability to harness social media has been a major asset for his practice.
Through YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and Facebook, Dr. Choi has built an internet presence that draws in followers.
"In the age of social media, you can see physician-related content directly on social media, and it's like you are meeting a practitioner before you go into the office," he said. "All patients are Googling their physicians before they go to meet them. That Google search is your first introduction before you even shake hands. You can let review sites dictate your reputation, or you can be active on social media and control the narrative. Don't let a few people who are disgruntled by a receptionist they didn't get along with dictate your reviews. If you leverage social media, you can control the messaging."
And as smaller practices are growing more concerned about being eaten up by private equity, Dr. Choi is happy to continue to use his resources to grow in the private practice space.
"I have mixed feelings about private equity in healthcare. I think ultimately, they're trying to maximize profits for shareholders and that's a strong incentive to make systems more efficient and deliver more care with fewer dollars. That could be a good thing, but it could also be detrimental to patients and physicians in the long run," he said. "Physicians are supposed to put the patients first in their decisions. That's not something you necessarily get with private equity."