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How to be social

EuroTimes content editor Aidan Hanratty looks at the ins and outs of social media

Aidan Hanratty

Posted: Monday, August 21, 2017

Social media for doctors: waste of time, marketing ploy or valuable resource? What if it’s all of the above? At conferences such as ESCRS, the use of hashtags on Twitter can be a guiding force for education, information and networking. Journals and magazines share regular content online, with the potential to spark conversations over Twitter or Facebook. That said, it can be a time vacuum, as well as providing the opportunity for anonymous abuse.

Kevin Pho MD, a physician in internal medicine and a keen harnesser of social media, believes that medical professionals should tell their own stories via social media, rather than allowing negative coverage to dominate the media landscape. He cites a doctor who continued to do her rounds while she was eight months’ pregnant, anticipating the guilt she would feel for not working during her maternity leave, someone whose story might otherwise be ignored.

An emergency room nurse wrote about his experience following the chaos that occurred recently in Charlottesville, Virginia, when right-wing protests resulted in violent clashes and a terrorist attack led to mass injuries and one fatality. He mentioned the difficulty inherent in providing equal care to every patient that comes through their doors. This personal story shows the humanity of hospital workers, who are more than just automatons programmed to serve.

Ronnie Baticulon MD, a paediatric neurosurgeon based in the Philippines, talks about a culture of doctor-shaming over social media, whereby relatives or friends of a patient post a picture of a doctor along with a “disgruntled remark or an agonizing narrative”. He says that these posts are a reminder that there is never an excuse for arrogance from a doctor in the face of a patient or carer, echoing the Charlottesville nurse in saying that everyone deserves equal care regardless of social status or personal beliefs. He believes doctors should refrain from using social media in response, as genuine sincerity may come across as contrived.

Patients such as Amanda Greene, an activist who tweets as LALupusLady, have used social media to find new doctors and forge bonds with fellow patients. She believes that busy doctors should turn to social media, and that by “supporting patients with information online would result in healthier patients and could reduce their workload”.

Urologist Stacy Loeb MD is a keen Twitter user: “Every time someone comes out with a major new paper, it goes up on Twitter immediately. When I am writing new papers, it’s also a great resource for finding new references.” It’s also helped her make new contacts around the world in her field.

In a piece for Wired that asked whether social media could help address physician burnout, general practitioner Linda Girgis MD said that: “Social media and community have the indirect benefit of mitigating the stress and anxiety of running a medical practice. I’ve got support and a developed network to reach out to whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed.”

In 2012, Arthur Cummings told EuroTimes that he could only name one patient that had come to his practice via social media. In 2017, he can’t expand on that figure, but is clear on the benefits of having a Facebook profile: “To be able to see what patients are talking about on our posts has value.  If patients have problems with our services, I want to be the first to know about it so that we can remedy it…

“If they are saying negative things about us, I want to know earlier rather than later. It’s also energising and inspirational for the team to see patients saying great things about the clinic. So basically, I see Facebook as ‘word-of-mouth on steroids’ and to reach our potential patient base, we have to use the tools that they are using.”

As for how it affects the decision-making process, Facebook helps to present a range of options: “If you as a patient are considering two or three clinics for your vision-correction procedure, all three websites will ultimately be similar and are entirely controlled by the clinic. What sets Facebook apart is that real people are talking about your clinic and this gives others that have not attended before, insight into the clinic and crucially, from patients that are volunteering the information.”

So there are proven benefits to having a social media presence. Ultimately, it’s down to how you use it. I’ll leave you with the simplest yet perhaps the most important piece of advice from Dr Loeb: “Never send a tweet from the operating room.”