Why be involved in social media?

June 18, 2012

When I speak with fellow physicians about my social media activity (blogging on this site and on my personal blog, Twitter, Tumblr, etc), I am often met with skepticism.  Why should we bother?  What is the point?  What value is there in adding another task to one’s busy day?

These questions are even more relevant if considered in the context of social media use outside the US–especially in developing nations and other parts of the world where internet access is not as easily available as it is here.  The #hcsmLA Twitter conversation (healthcare communications and social media in Latin America) involves a number of participants in Latin America, and issues of technology access and the digital divide (as well as the more hierarchical and paternalistic doctor/patient relationship often seen in Latin America) have been discussed in this context.  Although in the US we do not face the same barriers as in much of Latin America, there are benefits from social media that apply in both settings.

Here are some suggested reasons why physicians should be engaged on social media–even if technology is not always accessible or if the prevailing culture does not encourage engaged, informed, active patients:

  • Partnerships and collaborations: by engaging in social media, physicians can meet like-minded colleagues as well as interested (and interesting) peers in other disciplines including research, public health, and health policy.  By interacting with one another via social media, people can get a sense for where affinities and mutual interests lie.  This can then lead to further in-depth discussions that can lead to partnerships and collaborations on research projects, publications, health outreach projects, etc.  Over time, these collaborators and partners may help develop new ideas, suggest new ideas for research or practice, or encourage one’s steps in new directions.  Some of these collaborators may eventually become friends.
  • Speak the truth: there is a great deal of bad medical information out there.  If one searches a medical topic, a number of sponsored results will top the list of the search results.  Many of these sponsored links will be flawed or inaccurate.  Physicians can be a resource to their patients and their communities by bringing their expertise and experience to bear on healthcare issues, and by helping point people toward accurate and reliable resources.  Blogging or participating in TweetChats can also help ensure that accurate information is available online.
  • Stay up to date: by following trusted medical resources, physicians can keep up to date on topics including clinical practice, basic science research, and healthcare policy.  A number of journals, such as the New England Journal of Medicine and JAMA regularly update their Twitter feeds with recent articles focused on clinical practice and biomedical science.  Physicians First Watch posts their daily updates about hot topics in clinical medicine.  The Commonwealth Fund and the Kaiser Family Foundation regularly post updates focused on healthcare policy.  While these examples are focused on the US, other countries likely have similar useful resources.  By finding and following trusted resources, physicians will not have to go out to find information–the information is delivered directly to their social media accounts.  This simplifies the process of trying to keep up to date with a fast-moving biomedical world.
  • Broaden your horizons: conversations on social media and healthcare involve physicians, but also a number of other participants: patients, nurses, pharmacists, medical students, health policy folks, researchers, etc.  Interacting on social media allows one to learn about others’ perspectives on key issues, and can help increase one’s understanding of the issues at hand.  Especially as we promote more and more team-based care, it is important to be open to others’ approaches to care.  Expansive and open social media conversations help facilitate this learning and awareness.

I believe that one of the goals of social media engagement is to help patients become better informed, better able to participate in their care, and better able to team with their healthcare providers to develop plans of care that meet their individual needs. Having said that, even if physicians are not ready to take those steps, there are very tangible benefits from physicians’ activity in social media. I think these benefits are even more likely to be relevant in parts of the world where patients might have less access to social media, and physicians and other healthcare workers might play a larger role in the conversation. The benefits listed above would be available to any clinician who is active in social media, even if they are widely dispersed or digitally isolated in areas without much social media penetrance.

Networking, collaborations, keeping current with relevant information, and expanding one’s understanding of key issues will benefit all physicians…and their patients.


Guiding Principles for Physician Use of Social Media

March 13, 2012

“Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.”  — Bertolt Brecht

In two prior posts, I have discussed the issue of professionalism and social media.  These two posts can be found here (professionalism) and here (physician online behavior).  I have also taken issue with medical organizations’ extant social media guidelines.  In some of these posts’ comments, it has been noted that there is no corresponding guideline or document that expressly discusses appropriate, positive use of social media in health care communications.

As a result, I am taking the liberty of making some suggestions as to what I think are important guiding principles for effective physician use of social media.  This will include some cautions that I feel are especially useful, but I would also like to explain how and why I think physicians can use social media in positive and useful ways.

Part of this task includes defining physician professionalism.  There are various definitions (click here for the first defintion, click here for the second definition, and click here for the third definition), but they share the common themes of respect for patients’ autonomy, individualism, and privacy; response to and concern for societal needs; embodiment of humanistic values of altruism, empathy, compassion, honesty, and integrity; focus on the scientific basis of medical knowledge; accountability to peers; and commitment to professional development and competence

With those guiding principles, here are my suggestions for how physicians can effectively use social media:

  1. Do not discuss patient’s illnesses, medical conditions, or personal information online.  Unless you have a patient’s express permission to share their information, then do not discuss anything about them online.  The simple fact is that even if we believe we have made information anonymous, it is hard to do so completely (as this doctor discovered).  If a patient has given you their permission, make that clear in the post.  Otherwise, do not discuss real patients’ information via social media.  Rather than choosing to discuss a specific recent case that you might have seen, it would be better to offer a broader perspective or discussion on the issues at hand.  This is especially true in a smaller community, where even broad descriptions of patients and clinical situations might allow patients to be identified.
  2. Use social media to share information that promote quality health care and up-to-date medical information.  There is a wealth of information available on Twitter, for example, that provides current information regarding medical research and treatments.  The New England Journal of Medicine, the Journal of the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the National Institutes of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control (among many, many others including individual medical specialty organizations and journals) all have accounts that provide regular updates with a focus on basic science and clinical care.  By following these accounts and sharing relevant and actionable information, we promote its dissemination.
  3. Address those societal needs that you think are most important, or that motivate you.  Social media use will undoubtedly be an added responsibility during your free time, and so using it to focus on issues that are relevant to you makes it easier to sustain the effort.  For example, I am a strong believer in the need to enhance our primary care workforce via family medicine and I support the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) of 2010.  As a result, my Twitter feed focuses on these topics.  I share updates about how the PPACA will enhance patients’ access to health care and reform health insurance company practices, about the importance of family medicine (and primary care) and the need to reform our system to support and train more family physicians, etc.  Each of us will be motivated by our specific interests, but we should use social media as tool to call for necessary change to benefit society as a whole.
  4. Recognize that you represent your profession, and help others recognize that they do, too.  When someone views your social media posts, they will likely see the post through the lens of your profession.  If they see my posts, it might not be seen as “Mark Ryan thinks such-and-such” but rather “Dr. Mark Ryan thinks such-and-such.”  It might then be tempting to presume that others in the same profession feel the same.  So, take care not to post updates that would violate the definition of professionalism identified above.  If you see someone else posting updates that seem unprofessional, I think it is appropriate to connect with them and discuss this issue–not in a punitive way, but rather to help promote the proper use of social media tools.
  5. Promote the humanistic values identified as congruent with medical professionalism.  Be honest, forthright, helpful, and compassionate.  Offer help, answer questions, and suggest resources when you are able to do so.  Be open to contact from others, and participate in discussions when time allows.
  6. I do not think it is necessary to separate personal and professional content online.  My social media presence is a reflection of who I am, and expresses my beliefs and my priorities.  These are what make me the person and the physician that I am, that define the societal needs that I seek to address, and determine my perspective on any number of issues.  To be personal, my social media presence must reflect my beliefs.  However, I do use a disclaimer to note that my opinions are mine alone (not those of my employer), and I understand that there are those who will disagree with me.  Social media is an opt-in phenomenon: if someone wants to read my opinions, they will have to come find my accounts…and they can choose to ignore me and any of my posts.
  7. I do not think we must keep our social media content locked behind tight privacy restrictions.  My accounts’ privacy settings depend on my anticipated use: I keep my Twitter and Tumbr accounts public because I intend for the information to be public.  I keep my Facebook account private because I do not intend to use it for public information, but rather to keep up with friends and family.
  8. Do not practice medicine via social media.  It seems self-evident, but it is worth making clear.  I do not provide any individual, specific medial care or medical advice via social media.  The most I have done is to provide links to already-available online resources for people to review and to help them make their own decisions as to how to proceed with any given medical issue.  I do not knowingly interact with any patients on Twitter but, if I did, I would interact with them the same way I interact with anyone in a public setting.  I do not friend patients on Facebook because of how I choose to use Facebook
  9. Presume that everything said online can be found if someone looks hard enough, and is going to be available forever.  This might be an exaggeration, but it provides guidance when thinking about what information should be shared.  I assume that nothing is actually private, and so I do not post any information (even via direct messages) that I would be bothered if it were made public.  For the same reason, I choose not to use any anonymous accounts: I assume that someone out there could identify me if they tried hard enough.  This helps me edit what I put online and what stays in my head.

I hope that this post accomplishes its goal: to provide some suggestions and guidelines on how to use social media effectively and professionally as a physician.  Social media is not simply a way to reflect what is happening around us, but rather a way to play an active role in changing society for the better.

Please provide comments and suggestions below.

An Update Regarding this Blog

March 4, 2012

I wanted to take an editorial prerogative for a moment to comment on the recent action (or lack thereof) on the blog.

The three of us contributing to the blog (myself, Carmen Gonzalez, and Mark Dimor) have all been busy working on a number of other projects, with the OccupyHealthcare blog project at the top of the list.  However, we’ve just also been busy keeping up with life and new obligations.

We will still post and update the blog, but it will happen less frequently than before.

Thanks for keeping an eye on this space.

The FDA’s First Social Media Guideline: Off-Label Is On The Mark

January 5, 2012

The FDA has finally dipped its toes into the digital waters by providing its first draft guidance that implicates social media. Entitled, “Guidance for Industry Responding to Unsolicited Requests for Off-Label Information About Prescription Drugs and Medical Devices,” it advances the dos and don’ts on how to handle unsolicited requests for drug or device information that concerns unapproved uses. Written in fairly straight-forward terms, the guidance specifies what constitutes requests that are unsolicited from those that are, and the FDA provides concrete examples for helpful illustration. Throughout the guidance, it is clear that the FDA has thought seriously about the consequences of its advisories upon the pharmaceutical industry and has also secured the public’s safety by requiring answers that are truthful and balanced.

While many in the social media and healthcare community had hoped for grander offerings from the FDA,  they have tackled a clear danger. Besides, any action on social media for the FDA is a good thing, as much ambiguity still exists on what constitutes proper behavior by drug companies online. A bit of housekeeping for those unfamiliar with the FDA’s jargon: the term “off-label” refers to uses of a drug or medical device that is not sanctioned by the FDA. In the normal course of drug and medical device development, once the FDA approves such  items, they are approved for a particular indication. So if a drug is approved to treat headaches, for example, that means it is only approved for that use. Any other purpose would have to be separately studied through rigorous clinical trials to obtain approval.

Online chatter regarding drugs and devices sometimes includes references to uses that lie outside the official FDA sanction. Whether on a blog or a medical site, there are plenty of places to read someone’s opinion about how a given drug or device has helped them with some medical ailment which may not be a use listed on its official label. While doctors commonly prescribe approved drugs for uses other than their intended original purpose, no drug company can promote off-label uses.  The risk of someone using a drug or device for an off-label purpose discovered online could present a dangerous situation and has drawn the FDA’s attention to create its guidance. When a person requests information about an off-label use of a given drug or device, the manufacturer now has a set of directions on how to handle that matter.

When does the guidance kick into play? If a person privately requests information about a drug or device directly from the manufacturer or if the request is publicly announced (online or at a public setting), then an “unsolicited request” has been made. The FDA broadly construes a public-generated request to include those, “directed to a firm specifically or posed to users of a discussion forum at large.” This grants pharmaceutical organizations a wide berth to weigh in even if the requester was chatting to others on an open forum.

By the way, if pharma companies receive solicited requests, then the companies are obligated to respond—this has always been the case. This includes situations where the drug/device company has invited patients to post YouTube videos on how they used a drug or device, which in turn triggered requests for information about off-label use or resulted in videos showcasing off-label use. The same is true if a drug company posts clinical study results that suggest off-label use of its product as being safe and effective which spurs questions  from the public regarding off-label uses. Basically, if the drug/device company incites or provokes questions about off-label use, then it must respond. In contrast, the new guidance pertains to unsolicited requests and gives drug/device manufacturers direction on handling these situations if they choose to respond.

The FDA has always granted drug makers the power to provide, “truthful, balanced, non-misleading, non-promotional, scientific or medical information that is responsive to the specific request,” concerning their products. Moreover, no matter how the request was made, publicly or privately, when pharmaceutical companies choose to respond to unsolicited requests, those responses must be made privately to the inquiring individual.

The FDA advises that when responding to an unsolicited private request, the pharmaceutical company should make sure the communication be privately sent to the person making the request and that it answer only the questions posed. So, if someone asked about an off-label use of product “x”, then the company should answer that without elaborating on other off-label topics regarding the product. The FDA goes so far as to encourage a narrower definition of the question even if it is broadly phrased. However, the FDA makes an exception when it comes to the risks posed by the product.  So, if a given product poses known or suspected risks that bear relevance to the person’s question, they must divulge that information. This is common sense that keeps the public safe and the drug companies honest.

The FDA requires that the, “Information distributed in response to an unsolicited request should be truthful, non-misleading, accurate, and balanced.” That means providing information that casts doubt on the safety and efficacy of an off-label use. Providing medical texts and scientific peer-reviewed journal reprints are advised so reliable information gets in the hands of the person seeking valid answers. The agency further instructs pharma companies to use a scientific tone and to avoid gimmicky promotional messaging. To ensure the last point is credibly undertaken, the FDA has advised that the responses, “should be generated by medical or scientific personnel independent from sales or marketing departments.” This is a brilliant stroke by the agency, though this could result in highly academic communications that are too obtuse to be understood by the lay public. Nevertheless, this is a move in the right direction that shields the public from slick marketing.

As part of any formal response, the FDA encourages the provision of the official label, a prominent statement that the off-label use is not approved, a clear statement for which uses the product is approved, safety information, and a list of references of all the information provided. Finally, the FDA advises that all responses be documented by noting the nature of the request, the contact information of the person seeking the information, what information was provided, and any follow-up inquiries or questions from the requester.

When a pharma company encounters questions regarding off-label use of its product online (as on public website or social media forum) it can choose to respond in the following manner:

  •  It can provide the firm’s contact information, inviting the requester to seek more information from their medical advisor, but cannot provide off-label information in that same public forum.
  • The contact information provided to the requester must be specific to that medical or scientific personnel (e.g. e-mail address, telephone number, facsimile).
  • Recordkeeping requirements described above also apply here.
  • When a pharmaceutical company chooses to respond to an online episode of an “unsolicited request,” that company representative must identify himself when providing the contact information.
  • These responses cannot be promotional in nature.
  • Direct links to the current FDA-required labeling should be provided, but no other links (e.g. product websites). The sites where FDA-required labeling is available cannot be promotional either, so you can’t have a URL that reads “www.TheCureForCancer.com”)

Taken altogether, the FDA has given a clearly defined set of actions on how to handle unsolicited off-label questions. This draft guidance was issued on December 27, 2011, so the public has 90 days within which to respond provide feedback to the FDA. So for now, this is merely suggestive, not mandatory, but has provided a transparent view of the agency’s direction.

How should physicians behave on social media?

December 20, 2011

Last week, Dr. Bryan Vartabedian (on Twitter as @Doctor_V) posted to his blog the narrative of a Grand Rounds presentation he gave in which he focused on the risks and benefits of physicians’ use of social media.

The post is long, but provides an overview of Dr. V’s approach to social media.  If you review his blog, you will see that this post (and the related presentation) neatly summarizes what Dr. V recommends as best practices to using social media.  I think it is a good read…but I do not agree entirely with his recommendations and conclusions.

I think it is easiest to start with the areas where I see that we are on common ground:

  • I agree that medical care in the future will be a very different culture than it has been in the past.  Technology and patient empowerment have already changed the way we practice, and will continue to do so.  The e-patient movement and the interconnectedness allowed by social media will further encourage patients to find out about their own illnesses, research treatment options, and discuss these issues with their physicians in different ways than has been the case up until now.  Patients are already changing the nature of this dialogue, and health care will need to adapt accordingly.
  • I also agree that the nature of social networks–varied sources of information, numerous perspectives, and various analyses–have changed the nature of how we receive information.  Many of us can recall recent major news stories that we first heard through social networks (Osama bin Laden’s death? Congressional budget deals adverting a shutdown?  Kim Jong-Il’s death?), both on the local and the national levels.  I learn about many developments in healthcare reform and clinical practice by following certain key accounts on Twitter: I see this information sooner than I would if I waited for traditional media or (gasp!) the evening news.  There is tremendous value to be found in using social media as a principle source of information.
  • Those doctors actively engaging in social media are still the minority.  This is something that needs to change–as noted above, patients are already looking for information on the internet.  If physicians are not there, then we are missing out on being a part of this discussion.
  • Finally, I agree that we must protect patient confidentiality and patient information–period.  I do not post/tweet about patients.  Period.  When I speak about “patients” (as I sometimes do on my personal blog) I speak in the aggregate, not as individuals.  Unless one has specific and direct permission to share an individual’s story, then it should not be shared.  I also agree that there is no acceptable way to practice medicine in any way on Twitter or via other social media.  Physicians can provide general information and/or point patients toward publicly-available resources (such as FamilyDoctor.org, or the Mayo Clinic patient information website), but we cannot and must not provide actual medical care via social media.

I disagree with Dr. V on some of his recommendations for how best physicians can properly use social media, though.  It might be that we see these issues from slightly different perspectives or through slightly different-colored lenses, but I think there is value in exploring the differences:

  • The largest difference might be around our views of professionalism, and how these views might influence how we interact on social media.  Dr. V notes, and I agree, that separating one’s professional and personal presences online is an incredibly difficult task.  However, the sense I get from his blog post is that he favors restraint and that he favors limiting one’s online presence to that that would be in line with the most professional setting.  In other words, behave online at all times as you would behave in clinic.  This is doubtlessly a safe approach, but where does it leave our personal voices?  Can I discuss politics?  I wouldn’t do that with my patients, but can I do it here?  Can I post silly pictures of me at a gathering of friends, wearing a silly fake mustache and having a beer?  No doubt many of those following my account don’t really care about that photo, one way or the other…but is it unprofessional?  I wouldn’t post it in my office, but is it OK to share here?  Does this violate my professional role as a physician?  I use my accounts to discuss personal interests, not just medical issues.  Can I personalize my account–my voice–without being seen as unprofessional?  Does it make me less professional, or more human?  If I identify myself as both an individual and as a physician, is it wrong to express both aspects of who I am?
  • Dr. V and I also differ on the role/value of anonymity online.  I would agree with him that we should not presume anonymity will actually protect us or our patients: I figure most anyone’s online pseudonym can be broken by someone smart enough and with enough time.  So I–personally–do not see the value in anonymity.  However, I do think there can be value in anonymity in certain cases.  What if a physician is criticizing the practices of a major insurer, or their employer?  What if someone wishes to discuss a sensitive personal issue without self-disclosing?  Even if this cloak of secrecy is not foolproof, it can provide a safer space for such discussions.  I think the content of an account will dictate whether or not it is trusted or considered valuable–not just whether or not it is anonymous.  I choose not to be anonymous, but that is my choice.  I can choose to ignore anonymous accounts…and others can do the same.  I do not think this is a one-size-fits-all situation, and I think individual users should have options as to how they can best and most productively engage.
  • I have even suggested (in this post) that there can be value in anonymous, “unprofessional” conduct.  Whistle-blowers, agitators, and critics may all have important perspectives and contributions to an issue under discussion, or might call attention to larger problems.  Raising these issues might strike some as unprofessional…raising the question of who will decide professional vs. unprofessional conduct?

This is not to say that anonymity protects anyone’s privacy–it is a cloak, but one that can be removed with enough effort.  Anyone posting controversial or questionable material online needs to be aware of the potential consequences.  As Dr. V notes, doctors have lost malpractice suits, their jobs, and their licenses for posting material online that was sufficiently controversial or that violated patient privacy.  This risk is real, as is the risk that one could face sanctions from professional organizations.  The American Medical Association’s social media guidelines advise that, “[w]hen physicians see content posted by colleagues that appears unprofessional they have a responsibility to bring that content to the attention of the individual, so that he or she can remove it and/or take other appropriate actions.  If the behavior significantly violates professional norms and the individual does not take appropriate action to resolve the situation, the physician should report the matter to appropriate authorities.”  The guidelines do not specify who “appropriate authorities” would be, but it could include hospital authorities, employers, or state-level Boards of Medicine.  There is need for physicians to be careful when interacting online, but this care is required whether one is posting anonymously or under their own name.

Take the @BurbDoc account, for example.  (Warning: this account is often not safe for work.)  BurbDoc posts anonymously, and criticizes much of what he (she?) sees in medicine–often with liberal use of profanity.  Many (most?) would consider this account unprofessional, and many are likely not fond if its existence.  My perspective on the account is that, although I do not personally appreciate everything that the account posts, BurbDoc has the right to post this material anonymously.  From following and interacting with the account, I feel that BurbDoc’s motivation to use social media comes from the right place: to expose inefficiencies and hypocrisy in medicine–especially on the part of insurance companies–of which patients might not be aware, and to discuss what they believe to be patients’ complicity in our dysfunctional system.  Personally, I could do without some of the language, and as a result I rarely share BurbDoc’s posts even if I agree with the sentiment.  But this is BurbDoc’s decision and his choice: he has chosen to use this approach, and he must come to terms with the fact that this choice might limit his audience and could create problems for him down the road.  Physicians who do not approve of this choice can simply choose to ignore the account; after all, BurbDoc does not claim to speak on behalf of anyone else.

I would argue that the best approach is more fundamental than the issue of whether or not we should be anonymous or whose definition of professionalism is most valid.  I think the best approach is this:

  • Be nice.  Don’t be a bully, don’t be scornful, don’t be rude.  Be engaging and respectful.
  • Be helpful.  When you have useful information or valuable insight, don’t be afraid to offer help or be a resource to the community.
  • Be careful.  Remember, as Dr. V has said, that this is all happening in public.  Don’t say anything you would be afraid for others to see…and stand behind what you say.
  • Be engaged.  Whatever your purpose for getting involved in social media, you should be here because you are looking to connect with others.  That means that you need to actually engage and connect with them.  Having an account that doesn’t interact with others has little value in my opinion.

I strongly agree with Dr. V’s call for physicians to become active in social media, both in this post in in this earlier post.  I have found there to be enormous value form my social media participation, and I do my best to add value.  But, I do not think that we need to separate or silence our individual voices to do this.  I think we can help each other be careful, and helping newcomers (or perceived outliers) stay out of trouble.  We’re all in this together, for our patients’ health and wellness.  But we are all human, and I think it is fair if our social media presence reflects that.

What will it take to get physicians using social media in healthcare?

December 6, 2011

(This blog was originally published on the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media blog, 12/6/11)


Medical education is based on the foundation of science.  Undergraduate premedical majors are required to take a number of science courses in order to be considered qualified applicants for medical school.  Once in medical school, students are exposed through all four years to scientific research: we are taught about seminal basic science experiments that helped establish the biochemical mechanisms, and were are taught about the process of clinical research and how the scientific method has helped develop current medical treatments.

At the same time, as we are steeped in the tradition of science, we do not always do a good job of following the scientific method.  One of the greatest examples is the continued practice of providing antibiotic prescriptions for viral illnesses, despite the clear knowledge that antibiotics will not affect how quickly patients improve.  Even though we are trained to approach questions from the scientific perspective, human nature can impact how reliably we follow evidence-based, scientifically-grounded recommendations.  Often time, the rationales given include either the fact that one might be uncertain about the nature of the illness being treated and/or the claim that patients expect antibiotics and that it is easier (and more customer-friendly) to just give patients what they expect as opposed to standing by the evidence.

The truth is that medical practice is a combination of science and human nature.  Hopefully we lean towards the evidence more often than not, but you cannot deny the human part of the process.  Add in the fact that many physicians are employers, small business owners, and breadwinners, and the balance can become more complicted.  As a result, many of the decisions we make are based on considerations from both sides of the issue.

I believe that this will also be true of efforts that attempt to engage physicians in communicating via social media.  To date, efforts to encourage physicians to engage in social media because it is interesting, fun, etc do not seem to have much traction.  I propose that it will require showing that social media has measurable benefits to patient care (scientific argument) and that it improves practice efficiency and/or practice income (human nature argument) in order to increase physician engagement.

  • If research programs that are well-designed, double-blinded studies investigate whether various approaches to social media engagement improve patient outcomes of some sort (disease-oriented outcomes like blood pressure or diabetes control, patient-oriented outcomes such as a global measurement of wellness) and show a beneficial result, then we will have scientifically-based evidence showing that social media can improve healthcare.  This will appeal to our self-perception as scientists.
  • At the same time, if it can be demonstrated that using social media improves how medical practices work (fewer calls back, more new patients, more satisfied patients, etc) and if they can increase the efficiency of medical practices (thus reducing costs), then we will have information that impacts the human nature side of the decision: physicians will have more profitable practices, or will be able to hire more staff, or will be able to offer additional services to their patients.  This appeals to the business/professional side of a physician’s worldview.

Needless to say, these two goals are not mutually exclusive.  Often times, interventions that improve medical outcomes also improve practice efficiency…and could become more important as medicine moves towards paying for quality of care as opposed to intensity or quantity of care.  But I think it will take arguments that satisfy our scientific training as well as business needs that will increase physicians’ involvement in social media.

Society of Teachers of Family Medicine Conference on Practice Improvement

December 4, 2011

I mentioned in my last post that I was presenting on social media at a conference…below, I’ve embedded the link to see the slides Ben Miller and I used.


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