Social Media is an Essential Part of Surgical Practice

January 21, 2016
Jeannette Y. Wick, RPh, MBA, FASCP

Social media is a continuation of (or surrogate for) surgery’s frequent morbidity and mortality conferences. Surgery as a specialty thrives on discussion and comparison.

The journal Surgery last year published an opinion piece that discussed surgeons’ use of social media. Whether you love it, hate it, or are completely indifferent to social media, this piece was an enlightening read.

The authors, members of Society of University Surgeons’ Social and Legislative Committee, approached the use of social media in medicine and specifically in surgical practices as an inevitable step. They presented social media as a continuation of or surrogate for surgery’s frequent morbidity and mortality conferences. Their argument is that surgery as a specialty thrives on discussion, comparison and groups.

This piece offered a “how to” guide that addresses the different types of social media and the patient populations most likely to benefit from expanded use. The evolution of social media provides surgeons with quick mobile access to a global community and the potential to have the latest guidelines in the palm of your hand in minutes. That is social media’s power.

In addition to covering collaborative benefits, the authors discussed social media as an avenue to reach patients, a mechanism to increase disease awareness, and an advertiser’s Mecca. Today, patients seek care using keywords and hashtags, and surgeons and surgical practices who fail to engage will be disadvantaged.

The authors cite an interesting statistic: patients spend an average of 2 hours annually with healthcare providers, but 5,000 hours annually communicating with others. Much of those 5,000 hours is spent on social media. Regardless, physicians have been slow to use social media outlets. They give some examples of how social media helps surgeons. Two are recommending YouTube videos that explain bowel prep for colonoscopy, and using push notifications to send post-surgical reminders to patients when specific actions are needed, like medication adjustments.

Increasingly, researchers are engaging social media to increase their reach. Gathering speed, this area is currently a means of follow-up and a platform for surveys. Disease-specific groups, however, represent a potential source of study participants and input. As social media-based research increases, institutional review boards will need to tailor their review processes.

Social media’s broad, unfettered reach has repercussions. An underlying theme in this piece is responsibility built on censorship from medical experts, professional oversight and engagement. Social media has some of the same elements that surgeons are renowned for: innovation and technologic advancement. The authors urge surgeons to engage and direct social media’s role in the field.