Sunday, March 4, 2012

Social Media for Physicians

Social media for physicians: what's all the buzz about?
I've read some great posts on social media in medicine recently.  Here are a few of my own thoughts (in no particular order), after reflecting on some great writing:
1.  Patients--lots of them--are looking online for health information. If doctors are not finding them there, then those patients may be getting information from others who may not have the requisite knowledge, thus increasing the chances of dissemination of mis-information.

2. Yes, doctors understand that they need to be careful and keep privacy in mind. HIPAA has been around for several years now.  Docs get it.  But if they let that hesitancy get in the way, they miss the opportunity to educate.  That is a lost opportunity.

3. The cost of advertising on social media is measured in time.  Yes, it is a doctor's most precious commodity, but it is not like an investment in a many-million-dollar new scanner.  The benefits are definitely worth it. And there is a Return on Investment (not only financial, but also in opportunities for meeting new people and forging new relationships). 

4. Good communication skills should never be forgotten. Yes, doctors still need to know how to communicate with patients one-on-one. But again, patients are already in the social media environment.  Why not meet them there?  See #1.

5. Doctors need to embrace the technology, not just complain about the "new generation" and their obsession with technology (which may not necessarily be true).  The new tools are here to stay.  Either get on the bus or risk being left in the dust.  It's similar to saying "I'm not going to try to improve my practice because I like the old way." That would not fly.  So why are doctors so hesitant to try and taste the water from the social media fountain?

6. We need to role model the balance of this new communication method with "traditional communication" for the trainees.  But did the old way really work?  Unfortunately, the medical profession is less trusted than it has ever been.  Maybe the new generation has ideas for how to remedy this, and some of those ideas will come from social media.  Let's listen and learn!

7. Let's study the impact of social media like we study the impact of the newest drug. Certainly, we know that some drugs work better for some conditions than other drugs.  But what about the impact of a patient education app on real patient outcomes?  Or the impact on physician knowledge and attitudes?  How about a randomized trial of a medical education app to teach murmurs (half the trainees) compared with a simulation mannequin that focuses on teaching murmurs (the other half of the trainees)?

8. It's fun!  I have learned so much from meeting people I never would have met had I not joined Twitter.   Plus, social media is not like email that has to be answered.  If I don't have time today, well, then that is ok.  Some days I may "use" social media a lot, and other days not at all.

9. The opportunity to have conversations with others with similar interests is definitely one worth exploring.  And there are others out there with similar interests, both down the hall, and across the globe.  It is easy to walk 20 feet and ask the colleague down the hall, but what an opportunity to learn from the colleague several thousand miles away!

10. The opportunities to present a clear public health message are undeniable.  Isn't that a responsibility which the medical field should take on and own?


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