Social Media for Physicians



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Doctors tell how they use social media as professional watercooler

A survey describes how physicians check sites to filter information and gauge what developments are the most meaningful.

By PAMELA LEWIS DOLAN, amednews staff. Posted Oct. 22, 2012.

David May, MD, describes Twitter as a doctors’ lounge. When he wants to discuss the latest journal articles or clinical research, there are always other doctors on hand to offer their opinions and add to the discussion. But unlike a doctors’ lounge, the discussion isn’t limited to colleagues down the hospital corridor. It can include thousands of people from around the world.

“The social media world is such an intense, immediately responsive place that you can have tremendous amounts of traffic pointing out the good and bad about an article itself technically, about the concepts that were put forward, and about potential flaws that were in a paper,” said Dr. May, a cardiologist from Lewisville, Texas.

Like Dr. May, many physicians have turned to social media to help them manage the overwhelming amount of new information they need to know to provide quality care.

25% of doctors use social media daily to scan or explore new medical information.

A study published online Sept. 24 in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found that 85% of oncologists and primary care physicians use social media at least once a week or once a day to scan or explore health information. Sixty percent said social media improves the care they deliver. The results were based on 485 responses researchers received out of 1,685 surveys that were emailed at random to practicing oncologists and primary care physicians.

Unlike other studies on physician use of social media that tend to lump professional and personal use together, lead author Brian McGowan, PhD, an education technology consultant from Blue Bell, Pa., and his fellow researchers narrowed the focus to how social media can be used for professional development and lifelong learning.

Of the physicians surveyed, 24.1% said they use social media daily to scan or explore new medical information, and 14.2% contribute information daily. On a weekly basis, 61% scanned and explored and 46% contributed information. Fifty-eight percent perceive social media to be beneficial and a good way to get current, high-quality information.

Although social media avenues come with a lot of noise that some have a hard time filtering, Robert S. Miller, MD, physician adviser of oncology medical informatics at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said he has found them useful, because the information he receives is from a select number of users he considers good sources of information.

Dr. Miller, a study co-author, said he has been communicating on Twitter for several years with people with whom he shares similar interests. He knows that if he sees multiple references to the same study or story, it’s something that he should check out. He said it also has led to professional relationships with people he never would have met outside the virtual world.

Social media never will replace traditional means of research and learning. But Dr. Miller said it’s an additional — and valuable — channel that can add to a physician’s knowledge base.