The term “social media” has attracted considerable
interest. Opinions about the concept
vary widely, a result of many factors including a) the purpose by which it is
aimed, b) the age, background, and audience of the person either sending or
receiving the information contained, and c) the specific format being used.
Social media has great potential in the medical profession
as a means to enhance collaboration between physicians and enhance
communication between health care providers and patients. However, there is also a potential downside:
specifically, the consequences relating to unprofessional behavior.
Examples of unprofessional behavior were identified in a
survey of physicians’ of Twitter (JAMA). This
study found that while only 3% of tweets were unprofessional, they could have
important consequences because they could potentially violate patient privacy,
be sexually explicit or discriminatory, or contain objectionable profanity or possible
conflicts of interest. Well-documented, albeit
very isolated, examples of physicians and other health care providers losing
their hospital privileges after posting patient-specific data on Facebook also highlight
potential consequences of misuse of social media.
The events prompted the American Medical Association (AMA)
to publish a policy this year on “Professionalism
in the Use of Social Media,” which outlines how physicians can engage in
social media in a way that supports “personal expression, … foster[s]
collegiality and camaraderie within the profession,” and “provide[s]
opportunity to widely disseminate public health messages and other
communication.” The policy offers the following six tips:
Never post identifiable patient information
Set high privacy settings for your social media
profiles. It’s important to routinely
monitor your online presence, including “Google-ing” yourself, and viewing your
Facebook profile from the view of someone who is a friend and someone who is
not. Do not tweet anything you’re not comfortable with the whole world seeing,
even if your account is private.
Maintain appropriate professional boundaries
with patients answering specific questions but avoiding extraneous exchanges of
Separate personal and professional content
Let someone know if you feel one of their
postings on a social media site is unprofessional for a health care
Recognize that what you post online can affect
not only your reputation, but the reputation of your institution and the
medical profession. This is particularly
the case if you identify yourself as a physician or medical professional on a
social media site.
The bottom line is this: physicians have a plethora of
special concerns that they need to take into consideration in exploring the use
of social media. But, with a little bit
of caution and a lot of common sense, social media is a worthwhile endeavor. As
I wrote in my last JACC President’s Page: social media
and the Internet “will offer unparalleled opportunities to reach the global
world of cardiovascular specialists, patients, and society as a whole. It will
provide opportunities for people to define and optimize their own individual
approaches to learning, their own learning portfolios—the definition of
personalized learning.” It will offer
patients access to information relevant to their own personal needs.
By picking and choosing how you engage and who you engage
with, social media can do whatever you want it to. For example, if you want to
use it to learn more about a topic, you can use Twitter to follow others who
tweet on the topic, basically using Twitter as a news aggregator. If you want
another way to educate your patients on cardiovascular issues, you can start a
blog that discusses topics that came up during your work week (without
discussing patient specifics, of course). Or, if you’re interested in
networking with other health care professionals online, you could join the ACC LinkedIn
group or Facebook
fan page -- or any other cardiovascular-focused group, of which there are
many -- to do so. Social media truly is a source of endless possibilities. You
are limited only by your creativity and time.
There’s a great report from Ellerin
Health Media (.pdf) that shows examples of approaches that physicians have
taken on social media structure to optimize its value.
Here are some useful links if you’re interested in learning
Do you use social media? What sites are you on and how are they
useful to you?