Because of concerns regarding protection of patient privacy, many health care entities and practitioners avoid the use of social media for communication of any kind of medicine-related information. In some cases, this avoidance also reflects a lack of understanding of or comfort with the use of social media. But, as many of us realize, regardless of our level of understanding or use, social media is here to stay and is a powerful tool for communication, particularly when used to educate or to share information.
In a similar vein, many of us disdain articles from online open-access or so-called “throwaway journals” even though they are often written by some of our most esteemed colleagues. Some of these journals are even peer-reviewed and offer timely, state-of-the-art reviews. One such article appeared in The Journal of Medical Internet Research which is a peer-reviewed e-publication. It is entitled, “Social Media: A Review and Tutorial of Applications in Medicine and Health Care”. (Francisco JG, Sheps S, Ho K, et al. J Med Internet Res 2014:16(2):e13) This article very effectively details the use of social media in medical communication worldwide, but it assumes no prior knowledge and begins with a glossary of types of social media and how they are used. The authors then cite specific examples of how the various platforms can be adapted to clinical use. For instance, blogs can be used to host “virtual rounds”, to track epidemics or to notify hospitals of mass casualty events. In 2009, in the Netherlands, 2 primary care physicians started a consultation service using Twitter (@tweetspreekuur). While some of the content is public, the availability of direct messaging as well allows private transmission of sensitive information. It is clear that the virtual world has great potential to expand medical knowledge and practice.
So, for the curious, a “hashtag” refers to a group of tweets on a particular topic. A “mashup” is a website that combines the resources of 2 websites to create, a new, more powerful site. The above-cited article will not insult your intelligence and serves as an expansive primer for the use of social media in all aspects of medical communication.
Article by the Publications and Communications Committee