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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2022  |  Volume : 3  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 1-2

Social media and medicine: Time to embrace the digital age

Department of Medicine, Division of General Internal Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN, USA

Date of Submission09-Mar-2022
Date of Decision21-Mar-2022
Date of Acceptance21-Mar-2022
Date of Web Publication28-Apr-2022

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Amit K Ghosh
Department of Medicine, Division of General Internal Medicine, Mayo Clinic, 200 First Street SW, Rochester 55905, MN
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/JME.JME_16_22

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How to cite this article:
Bhuiyan MN, Ghosh AK. Social media and medicine: Time to embrace the digital age. J Med Evid 2022;3:1-2

How to cite this URL:
Bhuiyan MN, Ghosh AK. Social media and medicine: Time to embrace the digital age. J Med Evid [serial online] 2022 [cited 2023 Jun 7];3:1-2. Available from: http://www.journaljme.org/text.asp?2022/3/1/1/344283

In the early 2000s, advances in Internet technology brought forth social media platforms and applications. In concert with the advent of wireless mobile devices, this fundamentally changed the way people consume entertainment, news and communication. The global scale of digital interactions has reached an unprecedented level. Social media has broad definitions; briefly, they are Internet-based tools where individuals or organisations collaborate and share content through text, audio, photos and video clips. The major platforms used for social networking include Facebook and LinkedIn (professional). Instagram, YouTube and TikTok are visual media sharing platforms. Collective information archiving is represented primarily by Wikipedia and Reddit. Blogging and microblogging include Tumblr and Twitter.[1] Podcasting refers to the distribution of pre-recorded conversational lectures or discussions. Myriad applications distribute podcasts and vary depending on geographic location and mobile device. Upwards of 70% of individuals in the United States had reported using social media in stark contrast to 2005, when only 5% reported use. Healthcare industries and the consumers and providers have also been impacted by social media use. The number of consumers that report using social media to decide where they receive their healthcare continues to increase alongside the number of hospitals and healthcare systems that use social media.[2] Its use in medicine is not without its controversy, however. Questions remain regarding its utility and whether that outweighs any potential adverse effects of use in a professional capacity.

A perpetual challenge of a career in medicine is remaining up to date with evidence-based guidelines and best practice management. Accumulated medical knowledge is reported to double approximately every 2 months. Traditional means of maintaining competency include regular board examinations, continuing medical education conferences and analysis of medical journals. Although these may be acceptable methods, they are time-consuming, costly and thus cumbersome for those with busy clinical schedules. There are several avenues in which social media can provide alternative methods of disseminating medical knowledge. Medical journals have established social media counts, which they use to distribute recently published articles. Metrics of social media engagement are tracked through altmetrics. For example, likes, tweets and retweets are tracked on Twitter. The use of hashtags (a number sign next to a written topic) improves the pace of knowledge propagation. Academic medical conferences generate and utilise hashtags to promote content from their presentations. Hashtags allow rapid reviewing and dissemination of the presented knowledge globally. Learners in all medical fields are increasingly leveraging social media platforms to acquire and produce educational content. Graduate medical education programs also have dedicated social media accounts to create community, promote achievement and recruit candidates. Individuals that work in rural environments overcome geographic barriers through a digital connection. A sense of community, regardless of distance, can be generated through the ability to connect with peers with simultaneous sharing of knowledge.[3],[4] These communities can also be tracked through shared hashtags such as #MedTwitter, #MedEd and #FOAMed. There are also mechanisms to obtain credits towards license and board recertification through listening to medical podcasts. The American College of Physicians, a national internal medicine organization with international reach, encourages and actively engages in the activities mentioned above.[4] Social media itself has become a source of data gathering for medical literature. It represents a unique database in which one can analyse patients' views, attitudes and common topics of interest. The studies are increasing at such a pace that D'Souza et al. described methodology and framework for using social media data to conduct academic studies.[5]

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic represents a contemporary example of the benefits of social media use in healthcare. In late 2019 and early 2020, the unprecedented strain on the global healthcare resources and infrastructure set the world in disarray - the rapid spread of infections before the availability of peer-reviewed literature constructed a constant state of uncertainty. Early on, regions in China, in Italy were among the most devastated. Communication through social media platforms from healthcare workers amid outbreaks became central to informing outcomes of daily practice. Healthcare groups on platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp shared first-hand experiences and anecdotal evidence. Although outdated now, information about the use of chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine, corticosteroids and convalescent plasma circulated on social media.[6] With all inpatient resources strained, the portability and efficacy of point-of-care lung ultrasound (POCUS) disseminated swiftly.[7] Topics such as this could be found easily by searching hashtags such as #COVID-19 and #POCUS.

Despite all of this, there remains a level of valid hesitancy to integrate social media into healthcare practice deeply. One of the chief concerns involves privacy not only of patients but of healthcare workers as well. They are real ethical concerns about sharing medical cases through social media as they could have identifying information notwithstanding the best intentions. Often unclear whether patients' consent was obtained. Protected patient information, when in electronic form, should be encrypted. The current level of encryption involved in typical social media platforms is likely not up to par with what most healthcare institutions expect. There is also fear about personal life being on display yet being judged by a professional lens and how that reflects healthcare workers' institutions. Furthermore, misinformation can be disseminated just as quickly as credible data. Information spreading before peer-reviewed studies, even in the setting of a pandemic, is not without consequence. Reports of ingestion of toxic levels of chloroquine and ivermectin from sources not intended for humans increased. Demand for these substances from physicians continues to lead to tenuous circumstances. Ultimately, hesitancy comes from concerns on familiarity, lack of clarity around professional guidelines and lack of awareness regarding potential benefits.[4]

Social media is a tool, a neutral one. The politics and economics of the companies that run these platforms are separate issues. These tools can be simultaneously beneficial and harmful. So how do we extract the benefit while minimising the harm? Initially, we must highlight the benefits and understand that most individuals use these platforms regularly. Policies for institutions should be constructed to help navigate and outline ethical concerns and appropriate professional use. Medical conferences that discuss social media benefits and pitfalls can be another effective method to help entities navigate digital healthcare. One of the most effective methods to combat medical misinformation is establishing a credible social media presence of healthcare individuals and institutions.[4] The number of people using social media will continue to rise exponentially. It is not only our benefit but also our patients to use these platforms and use them wisely.

  References Top

Ventola CL. Social media and health care professionals: Benefits, risks, and best practices. P T 2014;39:491-520.  Back to cited text no. 1
Surani Z, Hirani R, Elias A, Quisenberry L, Varon J, Surani S, et al. Social media usage among health care providers. BMC Res Notes 2017;10:654.  Back to cited text no. 2
Desai T, Patwardhan M, Coore H. Factors that contribute to social media influence within an Internal Medicine Twitter learning community. F1000Research 2014;3:120.  Back to cited text no. 3
Bhuiyan MN, Medina-Inojosa JR, Croghan IT, Marcelin JR, Ghosh K, Bhagra A. Internal medicine physicians and social media: Knowledge, skills, and attitudes. J Prim Care Community Health 2020;11:1-7.  Back to cited text no. 4
D'Souza RS, Hooten WM, Murad MH. A proposed approach for conducting studies that use data from social media platforms. Mayo Clin Proc 2021;96:2218-29.  Back to cited text no. 5
Murri R, Segala FV, Del Vecchio P, Cingolani A, Taddei E, Micheli G, et al. Social media as a tool for scientific updating at the time of COVID pandemic: Results from a national survey in Italy. PLoS One 2020;15:e0238414.  Back to cited text no. 6
Bhuiyan MN, Ganesh R, Ghosh AK. COVID-19: A 2020 update. Indian J Med Sci 2020;72:88-94.  Back to cited text no. 7


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