Navigating the world of social media in clinical medicine

It’s great to see articles now about the impact and effects of social media in medicine especially in other specialities. This article titled “Social Media and Clinical Care” was just published in Circulation and deserves at least a brief review by any clinician who uses social media either to augment clinical care. It’s also encouraging to see this appear in the journal Circulation which has as a relatively high impact factor (around 14). Clearly the academic medical community and more importantly the general medical community is taking note of the importance of social media.

Whether you like it or hate it, I would argue we shouldn’t fight social media. It’s unlikely to disappear especially now with more than 1 billion smartphones on the planet.  Instead as clinicians we should use it in a way that helps us communicate with each other, with patients and ultimately improves care. That being said, social media does NOT equal good or better! (it can be ). We always strive to “do no harm” and social media in medicine should be no exception.

To borrow the Spiderman quote “with great power comes great responsibility“. The same applies to social media…in fact maybe I should try and coin my own modification “with great social media power comes great social media responsibility”! But as we increasginly engage in social media we must recognize it’s power…which is why we should continue to use it but also understand how it can be quite dangerous.

What this article does it outline the various ways that it can be used within clinical medicine. It also highlights the ethical challenges we face and provide some perspective using an ethical framework.  The great thing is that in the spirit of FOAM (free open access medicine) this article is free! Congratulations for Circulation for making this accessible to all.

Who should read this article?

  • Any clinician who has patients participating in social media as a source for medical advice
  • Any clinician who uses social media as a form of communication/education with other clinicians
  • Any clinician who engages with their patients through social media as a form of education
  • Any clinician looking for some good references of studies that evaluate the impact of social media within medicine/patients

Does this sound like all clinicians should read it? I would say unless you still think rotating tourniquets is the optimal method to treat heart failure, yes…you probably should at least give it a glance.

What I found interesting was the discussion about whether it’s appropriate to use specific patient cases on a blog. I haven’t taken up this practice, but I really do value reading other medical blogs when authors recount specific instances. It’s helpful to read these accounts – almost as if you’re speaking with a colleague about an interesting/challenging case…but now your colleague can be anyone in the world. Powerful stuff! But at the same time, I respect the issues of confidentiality that surround such discussions. What was interesting was the article quoted data that found

“medical educators…felt that writing a deidentified patient narrative using a respectful tone was never or rarely acceptable (61%)”

That is really quite high…61%! And impressively it was a “deidentified” patient described  using a “respectful tone”. I’m curious to know what others think but I personally don’t have a problem with it. I think it’s obviously better to have patient consent but what if the case was 2 years prior? Does that change anything? Pragmatically it would be hard to find that patient…and perhaps considerable learning can be achieved from the case. This is definitely a challenge for educators/clinicians in balancing the risks & benefits. More importantly, it doesn’t seem like our colleagues may support such actions!

The authors of this article outline some recommendations for physicians who have blogs/websites as well as those who engage in online social networks. None of these are revolutionary but they provide us with good reminders of how we can continue to uphold our commitment to improving patient care in an ethical manner.

Source: Chretien & Kind Circulation 2013

Source: Chretien & Kind Circulation 2013

 

Source: Chretien & Kind Circulation 2013

Source: Chretien & Kind Circulation 2013

 

 

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