It’s safe to say that we’ve come a long way from the days of AOL Instant Messaging and MySpace top 8. In less than a decade, the applications of social media have burgeoned as the technology has transformed from just a personal networking platform, to a valuable tool capable of connecting people to new ideas, greater information, and even better health.
From dispensing health advice to connecting with potential patients, there is no question that the role of social media within the medical field has expanded rapidly in recent years - and it’s showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Many providers are embracing this valuable new tool, jumping on the opportunity to use social media for networking, medical education, patient interactions, and professional development. And as new social media platforms have popped up over the past few years, most of these providers have found a way to navigate through the concerns of HIPAA violations, privacy breaches, and professional misconduct that plagued early adopters of this technology.
How can providers maximize the impact of their social media efforts? Most of the research I've conducted indicates that different social platforms target different types of audiences, and each can be effectively used in different ways.
What the research says.
In our latest research, the social media task force at the American College of Chest Physicians analyzed all discussions on sepsis, a hot topic in critical care, to identify which social media platforms can be best used to reach specific groups of people. What we found is that Reddit “ask me anything” threads target laypersons, Facebook live streams target an international physician audience, and Twitter is a mixed bag of healthcare providers, industry and patients.
Why is this useful to know? A recent survey showed that increasing numbers of tech-savvy consumers now use social media to find healthcare information and participate in health related discussions. In fact, 90% of the youth has said they would trust medical information shared by doctors on social media. Knowing which platforms effectively reach which audience is extremely helpful for the medical community to disseminate important healthcare information to these various groups.
How are patients using social media?
Besides medical providers using social media, many patients are also turning to social media to document their healthcare stories online. There are a number of popular YouTube channels dedicated to showcasing the patient experience and highlighting patient struggles with chronic illnesses. For example, a simple search of cystic fibrosis pulls up videos with titles such as “a day in the life of a cystic fibrosis patient” and “living with cystic fibrosis”. Social media has become more than social - it’s generated the birth of a virtual community, a way for people to connect from across the world and create a new kind of support network that has never before existed.
Social media and disease awareness
And lastly, let’s not forget the significant application of medical research groups and charities using social media to raise awareness about little-understood diseases. Who can forget the famous ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, one of the most effective disease awareness campaigns to date, in which over 17 million people participated by soaking themselves in ice water for all their Facebook friends to see? In years prior a charity such as ALSA would have received $1 million in donations at most. The summer of the infamous Ice Bucket Challenge brought in over $115 million in donations to fund research for the disease and its cure!
It’s indisputable that social media technology has now emerged as a reliable and powerful presence within medicine, and I hope to see it continue to grow as innovators and providers join forces to make the technology even more effective. I strongly encourage all healthcare providers to get involved and take advantage of all the benefits that social media can provide!
About the author:
Dr. Roozehra Khan, otherwise known as The Female Doc, has been a critical care attending physician for four years with a special interest in critical care ultrasound, neuro-critical care, burnout and workplace gender dynamics. She is also an osteopathic physician, and has been a national speaker on topics including women in medicine, and contract negotiation strategies. Outside of medicine, Dr. Khan likes to blog, golf, and travel. Check out Dr. Khan's website at thefemaledoc.com.