The integration of social media in medicine is here to stay. Although social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram were developed in 2004, 2006, and 2010, respectively, social media’s influence on medicine has gained significant momentum only within the last few years.1 For surgeons in particular, social media platforms can serve as a forum that promotes dissemination of ideas and results of research work, discussion of new clinical trial data, presentation of novel techniques, sharing of exemplary clinical practices, and networking.2-4 For the oncology community, social media has fostered a network where patients, caregivers, and their families can connect to medical professionals as equal stakeholders, sharing education, ideas, research, feedback, and reassurance. In this exchange, medical professionals often learn as much as they teach from patients, patients’ families, and other members of the community.
Social media’s impact
Traditional methods of information dissemination, such as peer reviewed publications and annual meetings, still dominate how most medical information is shared, but social media has created a more rapid pathway, reaching a much wider audience in real time, allowing discussion, feedback, and even criticism. This trend is evident more than ever by consumerism’s dependency on a strong Internet presence and, similarly, patients increasingly rely on Internet sources, including social media, to inform their health decisions. As of January 2021, approximately 4 billion people used social media worldwide—greater than 50 percent of the total world population, and this figure continues to grow by more than 10 percent annually.5 Approximately 72 percent of Internet users have searched online for health information and, 61 percent of the time, physicians are considered to be the most trusted resource.6
Medical information doubles every 73 days, and the path to learning is no longer a straight line.7 New data from clinical trials, published studies, and scientific meetings can be shared on a social media platform such as Twitter using individual tweets, tweet chats, Twitter conferences, and online journal clubs, which allow people with similar interests and/or backgrounds to connect quickly, creating an immediate, ongoing dialogue. Similar data-sharing practices are seen on Facebook and Instagram. Newer social media platforms, such as Clubhouse, also are being used by physicians for networking and professional discussion. Professional use of social media in medicine can be optimized with several strategies; however, while impactful, social media use is accompanied by risk. Best practices for optimization and risk mitigation (see Table 1) have been shown to be effective for surgeons who have paved the way.8
TABLE 1. GUIDELINES AND ETIQUETTE FOR PROFESSIONAL USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA
Getting the message out
The impact of social media in oncology is successfully demonstrated by groups in breast cancer, lung cancer, and pancreatic cancer. For example, #BCSM (Breast Cancer Social Media), founded in 2011, hosts a weekly tweetchat, co-moderated by Deanna J. Attai, MD, FACS, a coauthor of this article, which covers topics in survivorship, metastatic breast cancer, death and dying, advocacy, and highlights from national oncology meetings. Use of the #BCSM hashtag increased by 424 percent from 2011 to 2019, and tweets by physicians increased by nearly 700 percent.9 Participation in weekly chats has been shown to increase patient education regarding various aspects of breast cancer, decrease anxiety, and prompt advocacy efforts.10 The #BCSM community and its impact have been profiled in USA Today, Medscape, and other media outlets.11
Similarly, #LCSM (Lung Cancer Social Media) has a bimonthly patient-centered social media Twitter chat and patient engagement network. Founded in 2013 by lung cancer patient advocates H. Jack West, MD, and David T. Cooke, MD, FACS, also a coauthor of this article, the #LCSM community has had more than 70,000 participants, 800,000 tweets, and 2 billion impressions. It has had a significant impact by introducing evidence-based care of the lung cancer patient to the lay community.
Lastly, #PancChat is a monthly tweet chat about pancreatic cancer that is co-moderated by Niraj J. Gusani, MD, MS, FACS, another coauthor of this article. The goal of these chats is to raise awareness and foster dialogue on issues important to patients, such as early detection, diagnosis, and treatment; the latest research; advocacy; and other issues. In 2020–2021, the monthly #PancChat twitter chats have resulted in an average of 3.9 million impressions, 750 tweets, and more than 100 participants for each session.
Take control of your reputation
Regardless of personal preference, as physicians we are already online. Much of a physician’s professional information and background is publicly accessible on physician review sites, insurance and pharmacy databases, hospital web pages, patient-initiated websites, and other sites. Physician-led social media activity allows for the content to be controlled by the source, rather than third parties. Social media continues to be a successful and practical platform for physicians to educate and learn from each other and from patients, to promote and share clinical trial opportunities and recently completed trial results, and to extend the care of our patients beyond the operating room.
- Elson NC, Vaysburg DM, Reyna C, et al. Surgeons wield influence on social media. Bull Am Coll Surg. 2021;106(4):14-24. Available at: https://bulletin.facs.org/2021/04/surgeons-wield-influence-on-social-media/. Accessed June 16, 2021.
- Carr DF. Doctors use social for continuous medical education. Information Week. September 18, 2013. Available at: www.informationweek.com/government/leadeship/doctors-use-social-for-continuous-medical-education/d/d-id/1111595. Accessed June 16, 2021.
- Payne P. Can social media expand the audience for medical researcharticles? iMedicalApps. September 13, 2013. Available at: www.imedicalapps.com/2013/09/social-media-medical-research-articles/. Accessed June 16, 2021.
- Sinclair C. How to use Twitter at your next medical conference. KevinMD.com. September 16, 2011. Available at: www.kevinmd.com/blog/2011/09/twitter-medical-conference.html. Accessed June 16, 2021.
- Cooper P. 140+ social media statistics that matter to marketers in 2021. April13, 2021. Available at: https://blog.hootsuite.com/social-media-statistics-forsocial-media-managers/. Accessed June 16, 2021.
- Dutta-Bergman M. Trusted online sources of health information: Differences in demographics, health beliefs, and health-information orientation. J Med Internet Res. 2003;5(3):e21.
- Densen P. Challenges and opportunities facing medical education. Trans Am Clin Climatol Assoc. 2011;122:48-58.
- Logghe HJ, Boeck MA, Gusani NJ, et al. Best practices for surgeons’ social media use: Statement of the Resident and Associate Society of the American College of Surgeons. J Am Coll Surg. 2018;226(3):317-327.
- Katz MS, Staley AC, Attai DJ. A history of #BCSM and insights for patient-centered online interaction and engagement. J Patient Cent Res Rev. 2020;7(4):304-312.
- Attai DJ, Cowher MS, Al-Hamadani M, et al. Twitter social media is an effective tool for breast cancer patient education and support: Patient-reported outcomes by survey. J Med Internet Res. 2015;17(7):e188.
- Szabo L. Breast cancer survivor group is a social movement. USA Today. October 23, 2012. Available at: www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2012/10/23/breast-cancer-group-support/1637633/. Accessed June 16, 2021.