Physicians Should Use Social Media, But With Caution

John Otrompke

Providers who don't use social media are missing valuable opportunities to learn from and educate their peers, recruit patients, and repudiate misinformation.

Physicians who don’t use social media are missing opportunities, and may be left out of the loop, according to a presentation Monday, October 28, at CHEST 2013, the annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians in Chicago.

“Most people have the impression that social media are useful only for social purposes, which may have been true when they first came out, but now we’re trying to convince other doctors these media are important tool, because patients are using them, even if we’re not,” said Pradeep Ramachandran, MD, who with co-presenter Christopher L. Carroll, MD, is the co-editor of the section on social media for the journal CHEST.

The evolution of social media has made them a source of new opportunities for providers to learn from and educate their peers, recruit patients, and repudiate misinformation, added Ramachandran, who is also a pulmonary critical care physician at Genesys Regional Medical Center in Grand Blanc, MI.

According to Ramachandran, patients make more use of social media than their physicians. Only about 40% of physicians, and 30% of pulmonologists, are using social media, while 80% of new patients screen their doctor on Google, while 42% of consumers look up health related reviews. A quarter of patients have posted online about their experiences, explained Ramachandran in his presentation, “Why Should Providers Jump Online?”

Among social media targeted toward healthcare providers are websites like Doximity and Sermo, said Ramachandran. “Sermo is sort of like Facebook for physicians, because it has a newsfeed that is basically the same as Facebook, but it is only sharing medically relevant information. On the other hand, Doximity has a similar format, but its different because you have to verify that you’re a physician, and it’s HIPAA compliant,” Ramachandran explained. “The information you transmit is supposedly protected, so you can discuss a patient’s cases with other physicians. If I want to ask a cardiologst a question, but I dont have access to a cardiologist, I can go on-line and do a curbside counsel,” he said.

“In another subcategory of social media sites are sites like Patients Like Me that are really geared toward patients and patient groups,” Ramachandran added. “Say you have patients with COPD, now they can share information with other COPD patients. These networking sites for people with certain medical conditions are especially helpful for patients with more rare diseases,” he noted.

On the other hand, the use of social media can also be a problem for physicians, especially in busy major academic centers, according to Ramachandran. He cited an article from the Journal of Hospital Medicine that found that 19% of residents and 12% of attending physicians believed they had missed important information because of distraction from their smartphones. The authors of the article did an intervention, in which doctors were only permitted to use their smartphones to retrieve information for patients at designated times, but otherwise could no longer use their smartphones during rounds. The authors found that the policy reduced the distractions, Ramachandran said.

On his own blog, Ramachandran has recently posted essays on “How to Attend a Medical Conference Without Actually Being There,” “Why I Stopped Working with Express Scripts,” and “What You Need to Know about Electronic Cigarettes.”