May 11, 2023

William E. Flanary, MD, Discusses Turning Struggles Into Advocacy During the ACR 2023 Moreton Lecture

Social media is truly a remarkable tool. The ability to relay information to so many people with a click of a button has allowed people to use various platforms to create messages, gain support and make an impact in certain communities. Medicine is no different, with so many issues arising in the field, from surprise billing to the cost of healthcare. Some have found a way to use social media to advocate for these issues, including William E. Flanary, MD, an ophthalmologist who uses his personal medical scares and background in comedy in videos for social media to drive positive change.

Dr. Flanary shared how his interest in stand-up comedy began at a local comedy club. The more he performed, the better his act became, and he seriously considered pursuing comedy as a profession. But, after seeing people much older than him failing to advance in the field, Flanary decided it was not for him, so he became a doctor.

However, a string of medical emergencies began to force him to reevaluate his life. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer twice, which led to mounting personal stress. He decided to deal with his stress by harkening back to an old talent, comedy. After the first diagnosis, Dr. Flanary decided to go back to doing stand-up at comedy clubs because he found using humor to talk about his experiences a helpful way to cope. After his second diagnosis, he decided to use social media to make comedy skits and reach a wider audience, growing his popularity. Four years later, he suffered cardiac arrest in his sleep.

This experience led to bills from recovery piling up. Dr. Flanary dove into how the doctors that took care of him were out of his insurance’s network, which caused bills to be very expensive. The realization caused a focus shift in his comedy stylings to spoof healthcare insurance companies, using his social media platform to advocate for change within the system. When Dr. Flanary began to create content based on prior authorization, particularly around a policy requiring prior authorization before cataract surgery, he noticed that insurance companies got mad and that his voice was being heard. He noted how many people responded to his videos and advocated for change. After his videos inspired other physicians to write letters to Congress and lobby for change, the insurance company pulled back its policy on requiring prior authorization before cataract surgery.

The whole experience showed Dr. Flanary how powerful advocacy on social media can be. He left the ACR 2023 crowd with a message of encouragement, that advocacy is a collective effort and, together, we can raise awareness to continue to help the patients we care for.