Engaging in social media is now common practice. Platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook pack a lot of power to connect professionals and to engage and educate patients. With the potential to reach millions comes some serious concerns, but with a little caution and foresight, clinicians can help build their practices and the exchange of information while protecting their reputations and sensitive patient information.
The Pew Research Center, a nonprofit and nonpartisan research organization focusing on the impact of the Internet on Americans across a range of demographics, recently found that 85 percent of adults are online, 72 percent are active on social networking sites, and the vast majority had used the Internet to find healthcare information in the past year.
Recent reports from Forbes and the Harvard Business Review have sung the praises of maintaining a social media presence while pointing out that no two sites are alike nor are the objectives of those logging on. Twitter, they say, is an especially good way for professionals to stay engaged in the stream of information, including breaking news and current events in their fields.
A Tool for Staying Current, Being Heard
Get onboard or get left in the dust, says Westby Fisher, M.D., a cardiac electrophysiologist at NorthShore University Health System in Evanston, IL. “If physicians don’t join social media, they will fall behind the curve of what’s happening in medicine today. You don’t have to participate actively. You could just lurk and learn from others.” He explained that many people refrain from ever posting a single post or tweet and log on only when it strikes them.
Dr. Fisher’s Twitter feed (handle: @doctorwes) is replete with links to news as well as conversations with colleagues, including Kevin Pho, M.D. (Twitter handle:@kevinmd), an internist based in Nashua, NH. Dr. Pho’s blog, KevinMD.com, is touted as the most-read physician blog on the Internet and his recent book,Establishing, Managing, and Protecting Your Online Reputation: A Social Media Guide for Physicians and Medical Practices, is widely cited as a resource for physicians interested in taking the plunge into social media.
Having an online presence can not only maintain and protect a doctor’s reputation; it can also humanize their practice, making it more accessible for patients and the public, asserts Dr. Pho. “Patients want a window into our world,” he said. “They want to know what it’s like behind closed doors and they want to hear about the challenges we face. I think it’s important to share that information.”
Dr. Fisher launched his popular blog, drwes.blogspot.com, in 2005, and like Dr. Pho, he uses Twitter to promote blog content and filter for cutting-edge studies and other publications.
Even as social media and blogs can bridge the gap between healthcare professionals and patients, they can also serve as an interface between physicians, researchers, and journalists seeking information, which can lead to exponentially higher access for the lay public. Catastrophic situations, such as the Boston Marathon bombing, provide an example of social media at its finest. When chaos breaks, doctors may be far from their desks. Clinicians with smartphones can take advantage of portals like Twitter for updates on the emergency, and patients can use hashtags like #ImOK, created by C. Michael Gibson, M.D., FSCAI (handle:
@CMichaelGibson), during the Boston crisis, to let their families and friends know they are indeed okay.
Controversy and Concerns
Despite the rapid uptake of social media engagement among healthcare professionals, no small number remain cautious or opposed to joining in. Many cite concerns about maintaining professionalism or privacy, and they remain skeptical about the accuracy of information posted and content being taken out of context. Others have heard stories of tweets gone wrong, messages intended just for the tweeter’s followers that went farther into the Twittersphere as a result of retweets and replies.
“That’s a key take-home message,” says Herb Aronow, M.D., M.P.H., FSCAI, a 2013-15 SCAI-ELM Fellow and interim medical director of the cardiac cath lab and director of the Comprehensive Vascular Program at Saint Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor, MI (Twitter: @herbaronowMD). “Twitter is a social space. Anything you put out there has the potential to go viral, so think before you post. If you’re not comfortable having it read by the whole wide world—your children, your friends and your patients, for example – don’t post it.”
No Cardiologist Left Behind
Whether to engage in social media is a personal decision, but it would behoove clinicians to check it out before ruling it out, adds Dr. Aronow. To help, SCAI will soon post a series of how-to videos on using social media. The videos will include best practices for physicians as well as basic information on how to get started, how to grow a following, and tips for getting tweets noticed. SCAI is also planning to ramp up social media options at the SCAI 2014 Scientific Sessions in Las Vegas.
“At SCAI 2014, we plan to leverage new meeting app functionality to enhance the overall conference experience for attendees,” says Dr. Aronow, who is leading the working group on this activity. “The app is mobile-device ready and will allow integration of multiple social media capabilities, enabling users to participate in real-time audience response, review meeting content, communicate with other attendees, interact with speakers and other experts, and post user-generated content.”