Initially posted on the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine blog, July 16 2012.
In this post, I described why I think physicians benefit from being active in social media. The combined benefits of enhanced partnerships and new connections, keeping up to date with recent clinical and health policy information, and expanding one’s understanding of healthcare from the perspective of patients and other health care providers are valuable outcomes that all physicians should value. After all, why do we read journals, attend CME, watch webinars and listen to conference calls? To keep our clinical knowledge up to date in order to provide the best care for our patients and to learn from each others’ experiences. Active participation in social media can provide those same benefits.
Over the last couple of years, I have seen more and more family physicians becoming active on social media, especially on Twitter. I have been trying to keep a list of all the FPs (and GPs) I have encountered on Twitter, though I know that this must be incomplete. A quick scan of the list, however, shows the breadth of perspectives and opinions held by family physicians, and gives insight into the challenges and the rewards of being a family doctor.
Many family medicine doctors on Twitter use the #FMRevolution hashtag as a way to organize and share ideas. I believe that family medicine can, and should, be even more active on social media. In fact, I believe that family medicine should be the prominent medical specialty in social media and especially on Twitter. Here are the reasons that I believe should impel more family medicine physicians to be active in these settings:
- Family medicine believes in empowering our patients to take an active role in their care. Social media is a prime venue for patients who are seeking to learn from each other and share experiences. The e-patient movement makes active use of social media to inform themselves and each other about health, wellness, and specific illnesses. Physicians are all-too-rarely part of that discussion. With the breadth of knowledge family physicians have, we can be an active part of these discussions, and we can help ensure patients have accurate and reliable information. Family medicine’s bio-psycho-social approach to care, which enables us to provide capable and effective care for patients with chronic illness, would also be valuable in discussions with engaged and empowered patients who are seeking to improve their own health statuses.
- Family medicine still suffers from a lack of understanding of what it entails. As noted in this recent post, primary care and family medicine are not usually given starring roles in the media, and are often confronted with the argument that the role of family physicians can be easily assumed by NPs and PAs. By talking about our careers, our practices and (within the bounds of patient privacy and confidentiality) our patients’–their illnesses, struggles, and victories–we can control the message and we can show the public what it means to be a family medicine physician.
- Family physicians are taught to educate and inform patients, and to be a resource to patients who are seeking information about their health. The Pew Internet Project has noted that, even if they would not necessarily consider themselves e-patients, large numbers of Americans are looking for health information online and are using peer-to-peer connections to find this information. If our patients are already using social media, then why aren’t we? Given family medicine’s whole-person orientation and patient-centered approach to care, we should strive to meet our patients where they are. Increasingly, they will be online.
- For many years, it has been difficult to recruit US medical students into family medicine. Now that more and more medical students are using social media for their own purposes, we could act as virtual role models and mentors. If there is a robust and vibrant family medicine community online, if we discuss what we love about being family physicians, we might encourage medical students (and premedical students) to look at a career in family medicine.
- Family medicine can be a voice of advocacy online. As seen in Mike Sevilla’s #SaveGME campaign, when family docs organize we can have a notable reach. The #SaveGME initiative was a short-notice, one-time effort to discuss the importance of protecting GME funding, but even with this limited preparation the group was able to reach tens of thousands of people. Imagine if all family physicians on social media organized to advocate on key positions: I suspect we could reach hundreds of thousands of people.
- Finally, family medicine should be the most prominent voice on social media because we represent one of the largest medical specialties in the United States. I think there are more members of the American College of Physicians (ACP) than in the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), but this is deceptive: many of the ACP’s members are sub-specialty physicians (Cardiology, Pulmonary/Critical Care, etc) who do not provide full-service primary care. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) lists approximately 60% of the AAFP’s membership. There are more primary care physicians in family medicine than in any other specialty…and we should be willing to use that fact to ensure that our voices are heard loud and clear.
Family medicine’s leadership has already understood the importance of strong family medicine voices on social media. The AAFP’s President has a Twitter account, the AAFP Twitter account is updated regularly, various AAFP board members are on Twitter (Reid Blackwelder being the most active), and the STFM Twitter account is interactive and valuable. Other family medicine physicians should follow these leads: with increased involvement, family medicine’s voice should be at the center of healthcare discussions on social media.