10 minutes

Video on social media from Ollie Burton

Published on
February 4, 2024
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Staff Writer

Should we be encouraging doctors to be involved in social media?

Social media is an incredibly powerful tool that can allow people to access users from all over the world to share their ideas and make content. But should we be encouraging doctors to be involved?

Hi guys. My name is Ollie. I'm a third year medical student at Warwick medical school in the United Kingdom. So as I said, social media is potentially one of the most groundbreaking changes that's affected human society in the last few. Connecting millions and billions of people from all over the world, allowing people to build networks, new relationships, build their own platforms and present a public persona.

Connecting people around the world

And as we've seen, they can be incredibly powerful. We've seen the influence that these platforms can have on political elections, on protest movement. They can influence real change. But should we be encouraging our doctors to be involved with them or not? So for starters, having doctors be active on social media means that we've got a set of educated, trained authoritative voices talking about healthcare from in theory and knowledgeable background.

These are professionals using their communication skills that they've had to develop spread information about health and wellness across these platforms that we know a huge portion of society uses sharing research, and the latest kind of health news is a fantastic use of social media and who better to do it than the people that are passionate and experts in it.

Doctors to act as an intermediary

It can be helpful for doctors to act as an intermediary. To explain these complex ideas in a way that the general public who uses these platforms will understand, which is a skill that they've had to develop and be trained in. And it also provides networking opportunities so that more of this research and helpful work can be done in the future.

Through these platforms, doctors also might be able to access patients who would not normally engage with health literature. If we think about these more longstanding, chronic, and often insidious or hidden conditions like type two diabetes, heart disease engagement with health services is often low either because the type of person who suffers from these illnesses doesn't engage with their own health, or they're simply not aware of them to target these people.

It's no good putting leaflets about them in GP services and in hospitals, because those people aren't gonna engage with them. But we do know that a huge percentage of society uses social media and the public may also find it reassuring to know that doctors in theory care enough about them to be sharing this information on social media and then take them more seriously as a result.

Level the divide and the differences

It can often level the divide and the differences between kind of the general public and the doctors. Doctors are real people with real lives and they have their own ups downs, internal struggles and success. And if they use social media responsibly to share all of these things, it reminds the general public that doctors are normal people with normal lives, and that will help them connect to them more, both in the clinic and in the general world.

Public persona as a part of their practice

And lastly, for some doctors, their public persona and their online image is a vital part of their practice. Now I appreciate that this can seem like a rather alien concept within the NHS as the goal, um, is that every patient receives identically good identically high quality service. But if we think about a more private system, like what we see in the USA, or even, you know, privately practicing doctors in the UK of which there are very many particularly cosmetic dentists, for example, Your business is only as good as your brand, ultimately, because that's how you recruit new customers.

Engagement with general public as a part of their revenue stream

Therefore their social media use and the engagement with the general public is an incredibly crucial part of their revenue stream. So why might we not want doctors engaging so heavily with social media? One of the big problems is that if doctors go rogue, as it were and start providing either ill, evidenced, or just false health advice, It becomes a huge source of potential misinformation.

A double-edged sword

Again, because of the public trust in doctors, it's a very double edged sword and that's not even considering the speed at which information can propagate online. It's really important to remember how these services work. The information is served algorithmically. Without any real scrutiny, because scrutiny on the required scale of these platforms, because there's so many people involved, it's simply impossible with the technology we have now, you know, all you have to do is search for a hashtag like health or wellness, and you'll be served up literally everything from.

Like vegan candle, wax massage to coffee, animals, doctors are as capable as anyone else as sharing the same kind of vapid, unhelpful crap as anyone else. But this sort of content does well on social media. And that presents another problem, which is the risk of this perception that maybe the more Instagram followers a doctor has, the better a doctor they are and the more knowledgeable and reliable a source of information they are.

Common sense would dictate that in most cases, the reverse is gonna be true time that doctors spend on social media is by necessity time. They're not spending in a clinical setting and not learning and enhancing their practice. Something we also have to consider is conflicts of interest. Doctors with large online followings are a fantastic target for groups like pharmaceutical companies, fitness programs, wellness, schemes, cosmetics, businesses, whatever you like.

They're seen as a good avenue through which to sell products because they speak from a position of authority. And of course this isn't always the case. While doctors are very well trained medical education, sometimes just doesn't focus on particular areas, particularly things like diet, nutrition, exercise.

Not covered in medical schools

These things are not really covered to any great depth in medical school, because we have dedicated professionals. We have physiotherapists dieticians and so on for these things. It's not a core part of a doctor's role yet because the public think they know everything about the body. They will still take them at face value without knowing the details of their education.

Real lives of doctors

Additionally, the insight into the real lives of doctors and the fact that social media platforms are often not used in the context of a clinical environment presents a problem. It can lead to a lapse in professional behavior. So examples of this might be angrily venting about a colleague at their work, or maybe sharing a photo of themselves outside a hospital, which captures a license number on a car parked in the car park.

That identifies a patient. So William Osler, who is one of the most famous doctors of the modern era, actually thought that the best doctor was the one that was heard the least, and that the ultimate role of doctors was simply to be there for their patients in time of need. That was the focus, their sort of mystique and nobility.

A noble profession

In the view of the public was what generated the faith and trust that the public had in them. They were seen as kind of the ultimate noble profession. And while it can be argued that the erosion of that division is a good thing. It also carries negative consequences. So what does the GC have to say about all this?

Same standards

Essentially the same standards that we would expect of doctors and crucially medical students in the clinical environment also apply in the online world. That is to say proper and professional behavior at. All times, particularly on public platforms, no bullying or slandering of people or colleague and above all else, maintaining proper relationships with patients that don't cross professional boundaries and keeping their data safe.

An example

Just for example, if a patient contacts you through a private social media profile to ask about maybe their own care. Or the treatment that a family member is receiving, it's entirely inappropriate for medical professionals to discuss it through these private social media platform. As far as interacting with colleagues or remarking about things online.

If it's not appropriate on the wards, it's not appropriate on Facebook and bear this in mind, particularly with increasing scrutiny of doctors and patients becoming increasingly likely to Sue doctors. For professional misconduct or at the very least reporting them to the GMC and those doctors risking their medical licenses.

Online forever

Once something goes online, you should consider it online forever are not only accessible to yourself. Your employer, your patients might be able to find it as long as they know your name. And of course there are people out there who don't have your best interests at heart. So don't make yourself vulnerable practice.

Be sensible online

Good data security. Good data practices and be sensible online. I hope you found that useful guys. Please be sure to hit that light button for me. Leave a comment. Subscribe. Did I miss anything? What are your opinions of doctors getting involved on social media? I'd love to know. Be sure to go and check out post grad for more free videos and resources at just like this one.

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