Social Media Notebook: Social Media Is the Vital Sign You Can No Longer Ignore

MDNG Primary Care, March 2011, Volume 13, Issue 2

Social Media is a force that is infiltrating all aspects of life; the doctor's office is no exception.

Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe, MD, FAAP

It you’re like many of your colleagues, before you enter that first exam room each day you’ve already spent some time connecting online. You may have checked the news or sports scores. Perhaps you’ve caught up on e-mail or Facebooked a bit. You may even have had a quick text chat with a friend or relative. Thus is the life we lead today—at least in our personal lives.

Our professional lives are quite different, though. There are limits to what we’ll do online and with whom. It’s quite a paradox that the people we spend most of our day with—our patients and their parents—are the ones we spend the least amount of time connecting with online, if at all. Does that make sense to you in today’s digital culture?

Given the world in which we live, it’s becoming harder to rationalize our lack of online interaction with our patients and their families. Wouldn’t it be nice to connect with these kids online once in a while, without pulling the professional courtesy card? The data are clear on a number of points. First, e-mail is the number one way in which we all communicate, even with social media in the mix (http://hcp.lv/fuNM65).

Second, despite our insecurities, a recent survey conducted at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center showed that 90% of parents want to be able to e-mail their pediatricians, but only 11% have that access (http://hcp.lv/gzxwFm).

It isn’t breaking news that pediatricians are using e-mail and social media in their personal lives, but not in practice. We’ve known this for a while now, anecdotally, and from the recent “Periodic Survey of Fellows” by the American Academy of Pediatrics (http://hcp.lv/huzYQ4).

The survey reviews a variety of Web 2.0 modalities. With regards to e-mail and communication with patients, the results show that the overwhelming majority (98%) of pediatricians use e-mail daily, while very few use social networking sites to communicate with patients (with some age variations, the results averaged 6%). It’s time to acknowledge that to practice pediatrics in 2011, we have to practice in a way that works for the family of 2011. That family uses the same digital communication tools that we use in our personal lives. Don’t you think it’s time to stop trying to paddle this pediatrics 1.0 canoe upstream and go with the flow in a 2.0 world?

Gwenn Schurgin O’Keeffe, MD, FAAP, (aka “Dr. Gwenn”) is a pediatrician, health journalist, parenting and social media expert, and is CEO and Editor-In-Chief of Pediatrics Now (www.pediatricsnow.com), an online health and communications company dedicated to providing reliable information for today’s busy families. She also writes the blog Dr. Gwenn Is In (www.drgwennisin.com)