We recently read a very interesting new article outlining the opportunities for social media (SM) in medicine. The authors, who are on staff at the Hershey Medical Center in Pennsylvania, presented a very comprehensive review of the various SM formats, how each can contribute to medicine and as importantly, the potential SM pitfalls.
Of particular note is that the article appeared in Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology, a professional journal. This is one of the few journal articles we’ve seen that has extensively explored the pros and cons of social media in a manner specifically intended for physicians.
The authors’ definition of SM included Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, as well as tools that foster user-generated content and collaborations such as blogs, social networks, wikis, and video-and photo-sharing sites. According to their statistics, use of SM by physicians increased from 41% in 2010 to 90% in 2011; it’s no surprise that among medical students, usage has hovered around 90% in that same time frame.
They acknowledge that there are inherent dangers to SM in that it can blur professional boundaries, serve as a conduit for the display of unprofessional behavior, contribute to building an irreversible online image, open the door for fines, litigation, and imprisonment, and serve as a massive time and financial drain.
However, the bulk of the article delves into the possible benefits of SM—improving communication with patients, enhancing professional development and contributing to public health and research. They provide examples from Facebook of clinical trials that have successfully recruited participants; a YouTube campaign that informs folks about interventions to prevent heart disease; and Twitter posts that help the CDC track flu outbreaks and sharing flu-related updates.
In the closing paragraphs, the authors suggest that funding agencies consider supporting research projects that take advantage of collaboration between SM site developers and health researchers. They also mull over unanswered questions about how best to optimize SM networks to enhance patient and community health and how to engage influencers within specific networks. They also remind us that over the past 5 years, SM has led to remarkable achievements that range from the overthrowing of governments through public uprisings to the collective solution of complex mathematical problems. It’s likely just a matter of time until SM has the same impact on some of the world’s most complex health challenges.
Tell us about how you’re using social media and whether you have a social media policy plan in place. Have you been able to measure the ROI of your SM efforts? How do you protect the privacy of your patients and staff while harnessing the impact of powerful SM tools?