The three main ways a doctor or a health care facility could use social media are to treat patients, to educate the public and to learn themselves.
This is probably the use that is most fraught with risk, but if it is a question of a patient getting no medical information at all, or medical information that is incorrect, it would be better that the physician be able to supply valid, useful information to patients using any media that is available, including social media. The problem with using a Facebook page or tweet to advise patients is clearly the liability involved. The vague, amorphous Q and A sites that attempt to fill this need always include a disclaimer that advises readers to check with their own physician in any case. But there is no medical doctor standing behind the advice who can be sued if anything goes wrong.
Educate the public
This is already one of the most widespread uses of social media. Many hospitals and other health care facilities are already actively involved in managing social media pages and also post blogs regarding the important health issues of the day. For example, the University of Texas’ MD Anderson Cancer Center runs an interactive blog site, with advice, stories and general interest articles. This is often a perfect outlet for a physician or researcher who has new information to share with the public. The traditional methods of sharing, such as medical journals or speeches at medical conferences, are complicated, formal and time consuming. Even research that has been presented in a journal or a conference can also be shared over social media with the general public.
Continuing education for the professional
In any professional field, but most especially in the medical field, sharing information with colleagues is a valuable resource for learning and improving. This is an area where the most benefit can be gained from the social media forum. As with information shared with the public, social media can allow physicians and communities of physicians to bounce ideas off one another, introduce new research findings and alert the medical community of new developments.
Today’s medical community is a mirror of the general population in the way that they are adopting and using social media. Some are embracing it warmly, some dismiss it out of hand, but most are moving, gradually and inexorably towards inclusion.
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