For doctors, social media should be like taking medicine—you do not have to like it but using it is good for you

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Ido Weinberg

By Ido Weinberg @Angiologist

 

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines social media as “forms of electronic communication (as websites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (as videos).” So, doctor, are you communicating with social media yet?

Barriers for doctor participation in social media

There is no shortage of barriers to physician participation in social media. Here are just a few:

Time (or lack of…). Many of us just do not feel we can add anything else into our lives between our careers and family. But let’s be honest. Do all of us really lack downtime where we could just flick through a feed and see what is what in our field?

Exposure. The Internet is huge and it usually acts as a beast with no master. Controlling what happens with whatever it is you post online is difficult. True. I cannot argue with that statement. All I could say is that it is much like staying home when everyone has gone to a party for fear of rejection. Online is where the party is today.

Confusion. For many practising physicians social media is something that happened sometime between med school and mid-career. There are so many options and so many new rules, that just getting a grasp of all this is not easy for everyone. If this is true for you, please read on.

Why should doctors partake in social media?

Patients and colleagues are there (even @VN_publishing, the very newspaper you are reading right now, is there). Social media is not a teen business anymore. More than 75% of people aged 18–49 have a social media presence and many of them use it daily or at least weekly. Furthermore, most people go online before making decisions (let’s be honest, that includes you and me).

Social media is a great learning tool. Many of us think of social media as the place where cats fall asleep in an awkward way (just point your browser to www.youtube.com and search for “kitten falling asleep” if you do not know what I am talking about). But social media is so much more than that. Social media allows content providers to spread their knowledge to as many people who are willing to listen. That means you may be able to learn about the hottest topic at a conference you were not able to attend, as it is being discussed by the most prominent of thought leaders in your field.

Social media is a powerful change tool. Think “Arab spring”. Think “ALS ice bucket challenge”. Social media done properly is a way to get your ideas out there and promote change in ways that are important to you.

Web presence is a modern form of notoriety. This is perhaps the most obvious of them all. People will look you up online. That includes colleagues, employers and patients. So why not control what they find? It is much safer to fill the web with self-generated and self-verified content, than to let chance guide what is found about you.

A good place to start

So… now that you understand what social media is and why you may want to be part of it, here are a few tips that may help you get started.

Limit your exposure. Remember, every website has privacy setting. Make sure you understand who can find you and who can see what you write. Make sure you are happy with the way privacy settings are set up before you start using social media. I would even consider using a different online name for personal and professional social media sites (for example, I use ‘Angiologist’ as my online presence nickname, and my own name for my personal communications).

Think before you post. Remember, once you hit the “approve” button, whatever it was you wrote, stays on the Internet. Forever. Even if you delete it immediately after posting it. Forever.

Do not over think before you post. Okay. So we make mistakes. All of us say stupid things all the time. If we were so over cautious as to worry about everything that comes out of our mouths we could not live normal lives. It is often healthy to think about social media in a similar fashion. Still, remember: The same way some things are not adequate for the dinner table (politics etc), make sure not to cross those lines on the net.

For more information feel free to look me up at @Angiologist (on Twitter) or to write me through my website at www.angiologist.com, because direct communications is what social media is all about.

What you should be looking at…

Choose the right social media tool for what you want to achieve. Here are a few prominent examples:

If you want to show off your CV, LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) is the place to go. It is a website directed at professionals which helps them showcase their capabilities and connect with peers. Another option would be Academia.edu (www.academia.edu) which is geared more toward scientists and researchers.

For learning and staying constantly on top of professional updates, I would recommend Twitter (www.twitter.com). Many think that Twitter requires sharing and communicating in short bursts of 140 characters. That is far from being true. Think of Twitter like you would of a news feed. Set up your Twitter account to follow those “news” providers that you find interesting. You will quickly learn that most “tweets” serve as headlines. To read more you usually click on an image or link. Thus, Twitter is not really limited to 140 characters. And no, you really do not need to participate actively in the discussion at all if you do not want to.

Other popular social media tools such as Facebook (www.facebook.com) and Instagram (www.instagram.com) can be used for professional communications; however, these are most commonly used for personal reasons. I would recommend that for social media beginners, it remains that way. I would also note that blogging should be attempted after some online experience has been gained.

 

Ido Weinberg is associate director, Vascular Medicine and Intervention Fellowship, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, USA

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