There has been a fair amount of attention to healthcare providers’ use of social media over the past few years. Wanting to establish clear expectations from physicians and students, several professional societies have released guidelines on the use of healthcare social media (#hcsm). The main theme amongst these guidelines instructs physicians to maintain a separation between their public and private persona.
One must analyze why these well-intentioned professional organizations have taken such a strong position on preventing e-contact with patients. Stories of online media content getting people fired, preventing a hire, and even landing people in jail serve as a warning that we must be mindful of any information we share online. Given the ease with which we can “Google” anyone, it is no surprise that forward-thinking career advisors (as early as high school) recommend a proactive approach to the creation of an online public profile account, in order to take ownership of your virtual identity. While medical board regulations clearly define improper patient contact, none specifically prevent physician and patient interactions in real life – which sometimes are unavoidable in small communities where a physician and patient may be neighbors. Thus, the use of social media (#SoMe) should be no different and standard ethical principles should govern our online presence.
Perhaps the larger issue at hand is the rapid evolution of social media. Sites have overtaken each other as the most popular sites for networking continue to evolve. MySpace, a one-time favorite and highly popular site in the online community, has become irrelevant. Facebook continues to hold strong, though it has certainly had to accommodate the consumer need for other modalities of #SoMe, like Twitter, FourSquare, LinkedIn, and Instagram.
Recently, my Twitter activity has picked up dramatically. It took off after attending the recent American College of Surgeons Clinical Congress, where I wasted no time joining the live Twitter feed using the hashtag (#) for the congress (#ACSCC13). It was one of my favorite aspects of the conference – I was able to share interesting quotes, facts, or my own reflections during a session. Twitter helped me connect to others in my area of interest, hear an interesting fact on a session I missed, and network with others at the ACS at all levels (attendings, residents, and students). I even connected with people who did not attend the ACS but have shown up in my feed via a RT (Re-Tweet) or MT (Modified Tweet) by another colleague. You can read a Twitter recap of the congress here.
In fact, engaging in social media (#SoMe) has kept me engaged in surgical and healthcare discussion and education in the months following the #ACSCC13 almost daily. Since the ACS, I have been able to learn at a distance from conferences I have not attended – all through the Twitter conference hashtags (#AAMC13, #AAP13, #APHA13 to name a recent few). The incorporation of electronic programs – instead of paper – and applications with conference schedules accessible from smart devices have dramatically changed the way conferences are conducted. I would say that the use of electronic programming and use of social media, such as Twitter, has enhanced the learning opportunities. For example, articles tweeted by conference attendees can be accessed directly from a tablet. Personally, I easily obtained a link from @heatherevansmd for a webinar on Google Glass – a new tool that she is incorporating in the OR and graciously demonstrated at the ACS. I have exchanged opinions on topics ranging from the use of healthcare social media (#hcsm) to the woes of the Affordable Care Act (#ACA) to the lack of #womendocs in higher ranks. I was invited to write this blog, in fact, via Twitter messaging by @jsuliburk.
Perhaps one of my favorite aspects has been engaging in healthy academic discussion about healthcare with professionals in medicine, public health, advocacy, and yes, even patients! While they are not my personal patients, hearing their perspective on a variety of topics such as the #stigma of lung cancer, the need for leadership in healthcare (#hcldr) certainly has its own value; this type of discussion is something that I am unlikely to gain in traditional interactions during clinical activities that are simply not built for that type of discussion. In fact, e-patients recently contributed to research on medication side effects through the website PatientsLikeMe. My use of #hcsm has been informative, fun, and dare I say an addition to my surgical education/development?
As we switch from traditional classroom to the extended e-med education, guidelines will certainly have to adjust with it. While we cannot expect physicians (and students) to maintain completely separate public personas, maintaining a private account for personal interactions with family and friends is certainly acceptable. However I would argue that demands on physicians to engage in e-leadership activities is growing. Our presence online will be there, as patient ranking websites often populate most of physicians’ results when Google is searched – is this the only thing we want your patients or potential patients to see?
What are your thoughts on #hcsm?
In how many different social media services you currently have accounts?
Is it overrated? A waste of time? How should surgeons manage their online identity?