My take on Social Media in Medicine
by John Bennett MD
Chief Editor: InternetMedicine.com
I was not afforded the luxury of growing up with computers. They were not simply around back when I attended school with my generation. Nothing like today, where computers and smartphones are everywhere.
So, it is only natural that Social Media would be integrated into the fabric of Healthcare professionals as they assumed work positions in the Healthcare system, all over the world.
The adaptation varies from healthcare worker to healthcare worker, depending upon their
passion for computer devices. But gradually, the assets of Social Media are being utilized for
the good of Healthcare, and the purpose of this article will be to particulary outline what I
consider assets for each one of the major Social Media; Facebok, Twitter,, Google Plus, and
By far, the most used of all the Social Media. Characteristically, it is used for friends, family
and posting photos. However, it is an excellent way for healthcare workers to communicate.
There is a great chat feature, that lets the user know if their friends are online. The other day,
I was online, and I received a chat request from a doctor in Algeria, a country half-way
around the world. It was a golden moment for me. I picked the Emergency Physician’s brain
for the next hour, trying to find out the extent of use of computer devices in Algeria.
In the pre-computer era, that would not have happened. And there is no land-line
requirement to use this chat feature, so one could communicate with relatively inaccessible
or remote rural areas in countries like India, if the patient had a smartphone, in the mountains.
So, for me, the chat feature is the biggest positive point for Facebook.
In the United States, the guru of digital health most agree is a cardiologist from San Diego, Eric Topol MD. And, when gurus speak, you listen.
He feels that Twitter is the best source to seek referenced medical information, amongst all the Social Media. And there is
no land-line requirement to access Twitter, so rural, remote areas are accessed. Twitter seems to possess the power to communicate rapidly, with short burst of sentences. A healthcare worker can leverage
this program also for communication, but, in addition, to research for medical literature for education. And, in the USA now, there is a feature of Twitter, called a “Twitterchat” that is gaining in popularity, where a group of
people get together and chat about a predetermined subject, such as one group, called “Healthcare Social Media”. A tremendous time to network
with other healthcare professionals in this setting as well as to discover new citations in the medical literature that are invariably mentioned in the Tweetchats. Again, without a land-line, but completely mobile.
This program I am just learning, and is the least popular of the major Social Media. I can see
it is a bit more difficult to learn, and the learning curve is higher than the simple Facebook
and Twitter. But, from what I can see so far, it will become the most powerful. It has one feature, called “Google Hangout” which allows one to have a group videochat with up to
10 people at the same time, without requiring much software, and expertise. All you need is fast-speed computer access, a webcam, and a gmail account. This Google Hangout feature
allows me to regularly communicate with Indian doctors from my home in Miami, fairly easily.
In addition, a “Google Hangout” allows one to “broadcast” the video to unlimited people that
have access to Google’s sister company, YouTube. This advantage will be a tremendous asset
to educataion in Healthcare, once it is widely learned by most healthcare workers, and will be
a tremendous Medical Education source. You could have an Indian breast cancer specialist
video chatting with 10 other cancer specialists all over the world, and it would be simultaneously broadcast to any other doctor in the world to watch! Now, is that something?
However, we are a year or two away from harnessing that asset of Google Hangout, but I guarantee it will happen, and will benefit, in the end, patiens all over the world.
There is a term being popularized now in education circles, called “Screenified”. That means
that any type of education, including medical, is received from a screen, like a laptop, smartphone, desktop computer. You Tube has a tremendous supply of Medical Videos, which I was surprised to learn when I built my website dedicated to the organization of the fine resource, at www.docvid.com.
Once again, there is no landline computer access to require one to watch a medical video
on the smartphone, so access to fantastic medical videos is not a problem. In fact, many US medical schools are converting their mode of education to be iPad-based. The medical students watch the lecture BEFORE CLASS, and arrive at class to interact with the professor, individually
to answer any questions they may have.
All the four major social media have deeply affected medical research. Gone are the days
that one had to wait for a newpaper article, or a journal article. Research news can be
communicated almost immediately, to a world-wide audience. One can follow the present research all over the world, and patients can research ongoing drug trials, that may be
looking for volunteers, etc.
Now, how does this affect patients, since we have mostly talked about education.
Many patients are just as adept at social media as the doctors. They can have access from
wherever they are at, to communicate with medical offices, make appointments, receive
medical advice from the doctor, etc. It is another possible way to improve communication, and a role that will definitely be expanded, the more mobile and powerful computers become.
My final advice? Have a working knowledge of them all, but concentrate on Google Plus because I feel that program is the future.