First Thoughts

“Social media” (SocMed) is a phrase with nebulous meaning. There are various definitions available, but the formulation that is easiest for me to understand is to consider “social media” as a group of web-based applications and services that allow user-generated content to be distributed and/or viewed online. This would include such sites as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogging sites including Blogger and WordPress. At their essence, each of these sites/services (and many, many other sites not mentioned) allows an individual to find a forum for making their opinions and perspectives known to the world at large. Although the nature of these services differ widely, the common link is anyone (with luck, hard work and expertise) can add to online discussions and express their opinions while also making connections with other users—regardless of where one might be.

The speed at which SocMed is being adopted has accelerated over recent years, and as a result it is becoming a topic of interest in many different areas. My principle interest is in determining the use of SocMed tools in health care communication. Physicians and other providers can enhance their online presence (and possibly, their business) by actively engaging in SocMed. Health care information, treatment recommendations, and public advisories can be distributed widely and to varied audiences through SocMed. Patients can learn about wellness and illnesses, can join virtual communities and support groups, and can have an influential voice in SocMed in ways that may be difficult in person. Patient advocates, researchers, and medical educators can all make contacts and exert influence and discuss ideas with new collaborators that would have been hard to identify before SocMed facilitated interactions.

I believe that SocMed’s influence is going to start effecting health care communication and health care practices in the near future. How doctors and patients interact, how we communicate both personally and professionally is likely to change. Use of SocMed technology and services may improve patient-oriented outcomes in a number of illnesses. Novel educational strategies, for patients and for clinicians, will be developed and we will need to determine their appropriate uses.

I think this conversation is still in the early stages. Significant barriers to use still exist, and conventions of use still need to be established. How SHOULD doctors interact with patients online? How do you ensure patient privacy and confidentiality when communicating online? The conversation can also extend beyond web-based SocMed resources and include furthering e-mail and/or text message conversations. All of this is still developing, but I believe this is a good time to get involved. As physicians, if we do not help direct the process, then the process will eventually direct us.

SocMed has the potential to empower patients, make medical care more efficient, and enhance communication in many dimensions of health care. We should be looking at ways to ensure this will benefit all parties.

My hope is that this blog will become an online resource to further the discussion around healthcare communications and social media, to allow for longer conversations, and perhaps to help establish some “best practices” around the use of SocMed in health care.


7 Responses to First Thoughts

  1. Mark says:

    In my mind ‘social media’ is a tiered environment. This is not meant to present a hierarchy of status but, a hierarchy of function and what the social media is doing for the user, the group, the community, etc. Is the user involved in SM to learn, which I believe is its highest function, or are they seeking to be a member of a community in order to generate a larger more focused voice. Perhaps the involvement is simply to gather friends and share (e.g. Facebook). I believe we need to consider not just the face value of SM but how it functions strategically within the vast needs of the healthcare community.

  2. Phil Baumann says:

    Well written post.

    One request:

    I’m not so sure how much value your Twitter bot @SMHCOP will provide the community – it could be annoying in fact.

    Kind of ironic that a Twitter account on Social Media is bot, don’t you think?

    Just sayin’ 🙂

    Phi Baumann

  3. Hi
    Glad to see a blog addressing the real-life practical issues you raise. I don#t believe we will manage to engage health professionals in these discourses unless we start talking about the limitations as well as the benefits of current tools. Far too often discussion of social media and healthcare seems to centre on marketing and branding- topics guaranteed to turn off the average jobbing health professional in the UK at least.
    With that in mind I make this slideshare last week and would love to know your thoughts.

    By the way, I agree with Phil that the bot is unlikely to add much value. Sending me notification of the links that I tweet is not very useful.

    Thanks again,
    Anne Marie

    • carmen2u says:

      I agree with you, Anne Marie, that there is a pronounced tilt toward the marketing aspects of social media in these health care communication discussions. With so much rah-rah chatter about using these tools, unless we dissect the mistakes (e.g. the Novartis widget and the FDA warning letter), there will be little to guide the pioneers in this medium. Besides, it is in the thorny issues where the action and value lies.

      I read a recent response by a blogger to the Novartis episode which left me dissatisfied. The reason was because the hat this writer chose to wear was one of a marketer, first and foremost. Coming from the clinical research side of the fence, I can only take the patient’s interests to heart first, even as I work in a formal capacity for a pharma client. The dictates of the FDCA by which my pharma client subscribes compels me to do so. Ethically, I would still feel the same way, but the law makes it consecrated. Accordingly, no matter how compelling or seductive social media tools are, they must be judged to serve patients first and marketing interests second.

      I hope through this blog, we can articulate effective solutions and creative ideas that allow for social media to be used in a worthwhile capacity in health care. The bottom line for me remains using social media with a conscience that serves patients.

  4. richmonddoc says:


    Thanks for catching this, especially before the #hcsm chat got started tonight. I was hoping the bot would play a useful role in finding interesting conversations and pulling them into one Twitter account; didn’t think about the consequences for those people already following the #s.

  5. richmonddoc says:

    Anne Marie;

    Hopefully, the bot is fully dead. I’ve disconnected its feed. A misguided attempt on my part.

    Thanks for your comments on the blog post. I agree w/ you that there is great potential in social media, but some folks who are encouraging its increased use may not recognize the limitations and issues that might arise from the provider side.

  6. Prajesh says:

    The topic and area around how SM should be utilised between patients and doctors is an interesting area that is a sub part of my phd,. The angle I am looking at it form is from the patients perspective, after all it is all good for health care agencies to implement the use of these mediums, but the question is will the patients buy into this.

    The most prevalent findings so far indicate that most people would not see it fit to communicate with their doctor on Social Media Sites as there is the issue of privacy of information, but bigger than that is the concern that “doctors will be able to look into other facets of my life- which i am not comfortable with”. It has taken away the old adage of being able to talk to doctors behind closed doors it will now happen in an open forum where both the patient and doctor’s have their private lives exposed. The obvious solution is to set up separate accounts, However, this results in people having multiple accounts for different things, and the whole purpose of Web 2.0 is to try and work with one account.

    It is thus a catch 22 situation, but would love to discuss this further with any interested parties.


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