Social Media Can Be a Powerful Tool for Physician Education, Patient Engagement
Social media has been on the technology landscape for several years, but, as with many new or emerging technologies, the health care community as whole and physicians as individuals are challenged by the complexities of how, when, and where to effectively use this powerful tool.
“Just as email, websites, and the Internet were once seen as a novelty, social media, especially Twitter, has been seen by physicians as a novelty, or something celebrities or teenagers engage in," Michael A. Thompson, MD, PhD, of Pro-Health Care Regional Cancer Center, said in the Education Session "Using Social Media in Oncology for Education and Patient Engagement." "People are learning that there is a lot of power and utility in [social media], just as they learned with e-mail, and that Facebook and Twitter have a large impact on millions of people in our society."
It can be difficult to know where health care fits into the wide landscape of social media. Dr. Thompson, together with his Co-Presenters, offered attendees a crash course in the basic social media tools, including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and blogs, by demonstrating how physicians can use these tools in a safe and beneficial manner in their practice.
Find a Social Media Mentor
During his presentation, Dr. Thompson provided the audience with a general overview of social media and the commonly used platforms within it.
Although there are a variety of definitions, social media is generally understood to encompass online and mobile resources that support information sharing, community building, idea generation, and forums for discussion.
Currently, the most popular social media platforms include Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and YouTube.
Dr. Thompson is actively involved in several of these platforms (he can be found on Twitter @mtmdphd) but admits that he only became engaged in social media within the past year.
If physicians are interested in trying out these technologies, Dr. Thompson recommended some simple rules to live by—the simplest being to behave online as you would offline and to always keep in mind that any online bad behavior has a much wider audience.
Engage with Caution
"The most important thing we have to do is eliminate the fear factor of using social media," said Session Chair Anas Younes, MD, of the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. "People are afraid and don’t truly understand what these outlets are all about."
Dr. Younes described himself as one of the more active physicians engaged in social media in the oncology realm and also a very busy clinician.
When asked by an audience member about the amount of time required to use social media, Dr. Younes explained that it only takes an hour or less per day, once you are over the new-user learning curve, and can be done in the morning, evening, or when standing in line for coffee.
"Every morning I check my feed," Dr. Younes said. "I follow scientific journals, hospitals, and reputable peers, and, in 20 minutes or less, I know not only what is going on in the world but what is hot in medicine."
Using the Twitter handle @DrAnasYounes, he takes advantage of the power behind social media to help promote participation in clinical trials.
"I have been using these tools for almost 3 years, and you would be surprised at how many patients, associations, foundations, and caregivers are out there," Dr. Younes told ASCO Daily News. "I get contacted through social media or email almost on a daily basis with questions about clinical trials, thanks to my efforts online."
Depending on the topic of the question, Dr. Younes will either reply online or ask the person to contact him privately or through his or her treating physician. With the knowledge and support of the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Dr. Younes also posts videos to YouTube discussing enrollment in clinical trials and writes blog posts on lymphoma, its treatments, and current clinical trials.
Build Community, Share Knowledge
In addition to patient engagement, there are many opportunities for oncologists to use social media to further their professional education and development. In fact, according to Robert S. Miller, MD, of the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, using social media to learn or collect "inbound" information is one of the easiest ways to get started in social media.
Dr. Miller uses social media tools, especially Twitter (@rsm2800), as part of his daily workflow. Before social media, he would spend time online looking at academic journal websites or news outlets, but with social media, this information is "pushed" to him by his social media community, including government agencies, medical associations, hospitals, news outlets, and more.
This active involvement and visibility has translated into tangible professional development for Dr. Miller and could do the same for any physician who wants to get involved, he said.
"If health care professionals become active in social media, it can have a positive professional benefi t downstream in terms of recognition [and] networking," Dr. Miller told ASCO Daily News.
His own active involvement in social media has led to increased "real-life" opportunities, he explained. In recent years, his use of social media led to an invitation to participate in an Institutional Review Board–approved research study on social media, increased his ties to the national breast cancer advocacy community, garnered media interviews about health information technology, and raised his overall visibility in the academic community.
Dr. Miller encouraged physicians who want to get involved in social media to start slowly. Passive participation, such as reading blogs or following Twitter accounts without sending outbound tweets, is a good way to start before becoming actively involved. Once physicians make the jump to full involvement, they should remember that it takes time to trust their online community— it should be approached with a healthy skepticism.