Using Social Media to Advance Care

Using Social Media to Advance Care 150 150 Nationwide Children's

As the use of social media has grown, so has the medical community’s understanding of how it can be harnessed for health care. From collaborating with peers and educating the public to building your career, physicians have a growing responsibility and growing presence in the social media arena.

David Stukus

David R. Stukus, MD
Section of Allergy and Immunology, Nationwide Children’s Hospital

Whether you embrace it, agree with it, disagree with it, or don’t understand it, social media is here to stay. Our world has rapidly evolved into one in which information and opinions can be shared across continents in real time via multiple platforms.

I was motivated to start using Twitter by the constant barrage of misinformation I was hearing from not only patients but also referring physicians.

It didn’t take long to realize that the use of search engines for health-related information results in a flood of anecdotes from strongly opinionated and/or influential individuals, false promises of miracle cures, and professional looking websites that may provide information, only to sell a product for profit.

I decided to offer my voice to the public as a source of trustworthy, evidence-based information regarding the conditions I treat, including asthma and various allergic conditions. The response was immediate and overwhelmingly positive. I have received countless “thank yous” from parents seeking reliable information. In addition, I have established relationships with colleagues from across the world.

Additionally, I have received invitations to write posts and grant interviews from over 50 different outlets, including The Huffington Post, The New York Times, and WebMD, all of which serve to get my message to an even larger audience. I find this to be not only exceptionally rewarding and beneficial to my career but tremendous fun as well.

Ultimately, I believe that Twitter has made me a better doctor. Communicating complicated health information in 140 characters or less has taught me how to better explain information to patients, focus my message and improve my writing.

Sarah A. Denny, MD
Department of Emergency Medicine, Nationwide Children’s Hospital

I almost had to laugh when I was asked to write about social media. I hardly consider myself an expert; in fact, I naively thought that Facebook and Twitter were just a passing phase of which I wanted no part. But over time, I have realized that social media is here to stay. And as physicians, we need to take an active role in the social media conversation.

The biggest opportunity for physicians on social media is to educate the general public.

There is no doubt that a significant number of people obtain their medical information from the internet — and I don’t mean WebMD. I am in multiple Facebook groups, and I am shocked at the constant exchange of medical misinformation  that occurs. If physicians are not part of the social media conversations surrounding health care, people will continue to consider Jenny McCarthy and their neighborhood parents’ group reliable sources of medical information. Our patients and their families are on social media, we also need to be there as a reliable source of health information, news and opinion.

Additionally, when engaging on social media, you are also building your practice and your brand. Sharing your research, blog posts and other articles of interest can help establish your reputation among patients and peers. By engaging on social media and building your brand as a physician, you are also providing a little personality to the alphabet soup behind your name. If families feel that they already know you a little, they may be more likely to come see you over the competition.

Whether your goals are combating misinformation, growing your brand or recruiting patients, social media is an important tool for sharing your message.

Michael D. Patrick, MD
Section of Emergency Medicine and Medical Director of Interactive Media, Nationwide Children’s Hospital

Social media opens the door of opportunity for innovative solutions to common problems. Back in 2006, I faced one of those problems: how to adequately answer patient and family questions in the short time a busy office practice affords. I found many families craved evidence-based answers that were not dumbed down but still offered in terms they could understand.

Of course this takes time, and I found myself repeating the same lengthy discussions. How could I provide the short answer in the exam room, while pointing families who want to know more in the right direction?

My answer came in the form of podcasts.

Prior to my career in medicine, I had worked as a disc jockey at a roller skating rink and two radio stations. And the emergence of podcasts got me thinking about it again. What if I recorded a series of episodes for parents? They would get detailed versions of the short explanations I provide in the exam room, and I could answer follow-up questions on subsequent visits. It might work!

I began listening to podcasts about making podcasts and learning the ins and outs of audio equipment, RSS feeds, internet servers, building websites and working with iTunes. The project took on a life of its own, and I realized this would be a great opportunity to share evidence-based information with a national audience of parents.

Fast forward 10 years: PediaCast is produced each week in a dedicated recording studio at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. We have had millions of listeners, representing all 50 states and over 100 countries. Last year, we spun off an additional podcast — PediaCast CME — aimed at providers and available for free AMA PRA Category 1 credit.

Despite the success, my original premise remains: provide evidence-based information, don’t dumb down the science, explain in terms parents can understand and put a practical spin on the presentation.