Articles and Case Studies

Social Media in Modern Medicine

07 Apr 2014

Woman holding mobile phone

Is social media a help or a hindrance in modern medicine? Dr Edwin Kruys, a GP from Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, provides a personal perspective on the subject.

Should medical professionals engage with social media?

Social media is here to stay. A lot of registrars and young doctors have one or more social media accounts, and I have yet to meet a medical student who is not on Facebook. Patients are already sharing online (health) information via Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts – so sooner or later health professionals will need to decide whether or not to participate.

What are the potential benefits of using social media in the medical profession?

Social media is increasingly used for medical education, and sharing knowledge and information such as tips, resources, literature and links.

It’s also useful to build an online community. Clinics can share health information and other practical information.

Social media is more interactive than a website and you can reach a wider audience in real time. Another benefit is the value of health promotion and lifting the profile of a medical practice or organisation.

I’d like to mention the use of blogs, pictures and videos. I find they are a great way to communicate a message, and I use my social media accounts to let my followers know when I’ve posted something new.

How can doctors make the most of social media?

You need to be prepared to put aside time to manage your online presence, and there is no easy way out here. It takes time to post useful material and interact with others. Social media is a two-way street and not just another promotional channel. If you use social media for branding or promotional purposes only, you may lose followers.

Your online presence should have a consistent approach. Too many organisations set up a Facebook account without first developing a clearly defined strategy. It is recommended to take some time to plan and figure out the purpose of the social media campaign, which medium to focus on, and how to keep it sustainable and current. This usually requires a motivated person within the organisation.

Preparation is key, and implementing a social media policy should be part of the preparation. Some things to include in the policy are, for example, how to respond to negative feedback and/or complaints received via social media; and how to comply with AHPRA regulations.1 The AMA has a useful document2 that outlines the risks. I also felt that the social media workshops organised by MDA National are an excellent way to become familiar with the common pitfalls.

Is social media for you?

Due to the time commitment, and the effort it takes to set up and maintain social media accounts, it may not be ideal for everyone. For those who want to contribute to online health promotion or interact and share health information with their patients or other health professionals, social media is not without risks, but it can be an effective tool if used wisely.

Dr Edwin Kruys is a practising GP who blogs at doctorsbag.wordpress.com.

Useful links

  • For information on social media workshops run by MDA National contact education@mdanational.com.au.
  • A new “Social Media Policy” has just been published by the Medical Board of Australia. It was developed jointly by the National Boards to help registered health practitioners understand their obligations when using social media.

Medical practitioners should only post information that is not in breach of their obligations by:

  • complying with professional obligations, including the Medical Board of Australia’s Code of Conduct and Advertising Guidelines
  • complying with confidentiality and privacy obligations, e.g. not discussing patients or posting pictures of patients, procedures, case studies or sensitive material which may enable patients to be identified, without having obtained consent in appropriate situations
  • presenting information in an unbiased, evidence-based context
  • not making unsubstantiated claims.

References

1. Medical Board of Australia. Good Medical Practice: A Code of Conduct for Doctors in Australia and Medical Guidelines for Advertising Regulated Health Services. 2010. Available at: medicalboard.gov.au/Codes-Guidelines-Policies.aspx. 2. A Guide to Online Professionalism for Medical Practitioners and Medical Students. Available at: ama.com.au/social-media-and-medical-profession.

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