Use of Social Media in Medical Practices

How are clinicians using social media? As Facebook, Blogs and Twitter become more prevalent, clinicians are faced with multiple challenges. Is it appropriate to use these tools in order to communicate with patients or colleagues? What are the risks or benefits of social media? In a busy practice setting, do these communication tools add value or simply consume time without any measurable benefits? Physicians are either jumping in feet-first or avoiding social media completely. Concerns include the blurring of lines between professional and personal life, and fears of inappropriate sharing of information with concomittant breaches in privacy.

Five years ago, the debate revolved around the appropriate use of Email as a communication medium between physicians and their patients. At that time, concerns were very similar to debate today regarding social media. There were questions regarding privacy, security and remuneration as well as guidelines for appropriate use. Subsequently, Email has become an integral part of providing care using secure communication tools and public key encryption. Physicians and patients are able to communicate appropriately with one another and in cases, Email has been recognized as inexpensive alternative to face-to-face consultation, providing ease of use and payment through certain insurers.

Perhaps the debate regarding social media is just early. We do not yet understand how these media should be used appropriately in a clinical setting, particularly with the rapid evolution of these tools. With the growing prevalence of mobile technologies and mHealth, social media extends even further to the connected tablet and mobile phone, allowing one to Twitter and post anytime, anywhere.

An editorial in iHealthbeat analyses the tensions that exist in the use of social media by physicians. Without clear clinical benefits, my sense is that it is difficult to justify the time needed to use and manage social media tools. While many doctors may have twitter or Facebook accounts for personal use, some use these same tools to communicate with patients, updating content either before or after work. In many respects, we may be part of a large social experiment. In order to determine what is appropriate, it may be necessary to push the boundaries and then claw them back at a future time once the social mores and rules are more evident.

I believe that, as with Email, we will look back in 5 or 10 years time and question some of our early experiences using social media as ‘bad medicine’ and will view others as completely logical. Prepare for some interesting times ahead – we are about to enter the Wild Wild West of social healthcare interaction.

Do you agree or disagree with these observations? Click on the Comments link below to add your thoughts to this discussion.

This post is the personal opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the American College of Physicians (ACP). ACP does not endorse a specific EHR brand or product and ACP makes no representations, warranties, or assurances as to the accuracy or completeness of the information provided herein.

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