Social media is a collection of Internet-based platforms which allow people to connect and interact.
Explore This IssueACEP News: Vol 32 – No 02 – February 2013
A 2011 survey found that 93.5% of medical students, 79.4% of residents, and 41.6% of practicing physicians use online social networks. Another recent study showed nearly 87% of physicians use social media for personal use and 67% use these services professionally.
Although it seems self-evident, it is occasionally forgotten that physicians must protect the privacy and confidentiality of their patients and maintain a standard of professionalism in all social networking interactions at all times.
Failure to do so can have devastating ramifications in the life of a medical professional.
A social network describes a group of people. Social media are the tools people use. The major kinds of social medial include:
Blogs: These are websites or sections of a website where an author can post articles encouraging reader feedback. It provides for open-ended interaction between the author and the reader in the form of comments and replies.
Micro blogs: These are similar to blogs, except they come with a restriction on length. An example is Twitter, which limits posts to 140 characters.
File-sharing Sites: These emphasize sharing files of various media. An example is YouTube. This site invites user feedback by way of comments and offers tools so users can recommend or share files.
Integrated Social Media: These sites integrate many kinds of social elements. For example, Facebook combines micro blogging, full blogging, and file sharing. LinkedIn is similar but organized around professional relationships.
There are potential benefits to social networking. It provides a forum for collegial discussion and exchange of knowledge. It can be used to educate the public on health-related matters. YouTube can be used for physician or patient teaching as a supplement to traditional face-to-face education. Because micro blogs are almost in real time, they have become a popular way for connecting with other colleagues at medical conferences. Professional networks such as LinkedIn have converted the business card into an interactive and living resume.
It is evident that when used appropriately, social networking has many possible benefits. However, there can be unintended consequences from its use, especially when work experiences are shared.
One meta-analysis of physician blogs found that nearly 17% included enough patient information for patient identification. Remember, these sites have the potential to be viewed by many people and any breach in confidentiality could be harmful to the patient and in violation of federal privacy laws (HIPAA).