In this day and age where millions use social media on a daily basis, the world of medicine has rapidly jumped onboard. The use of social media in medicine is an interesting and multi-faceted one. Hospitals, medical technology companies, physicians, medical students and patients all have an interesting stake in the world of healthcare social media. On one side of the spectrum, physicians on social media can partake in professional networking and teaching opportunities. On the other, patients find themselves within informal reach of physicians willing to discuss what they do, and why they do it, closing the gap between the physician and patient. Luckily for radiology, where the majority of cases are image and technology based, the field is primed for a significant social media presence.
With social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Figure 1, radiologists have a myriad of options. One of the most common and simpler platforms to manage, Twitter, affords medical professionals an interesting opportunity to interact with others. With a “like” acting as a high five, a “retweet” as a hello, and a “reply” as a method of initiating conversation, radiologists can easily interact with other healthcare professionals, widening their professional network and building a far-reaching reputation. While medical conferences have traditionally been known as a way to bring physicians from all around the world together to interact, social media pages, including Twitter, have found a way to strengthen those relationships year-round. These tools now allow greater and more meaningful collaboration than before.
In addition to improved networking, the use of social media for teaching and learning cannot be understated and the methods are abundant. For example, radiologists can easily post interesting cases to illustrate teaching points useful for practice. Social media also uniquely affords a fantastic opportunity to ask questions about soliciting advice from other radiologists and sharing of ideas and experiences to further improve one’s practice and provide better patient care. Furthermore, social media allows for a quick avenue to learn about the ever-evolving innovations in the field, creating a one stop shop for “what’s new” in radiology and medicine. Another helpful use of social media is sharing grant and scholarship opportunities, announcing national meetings and sending deadline reminders for abstracts and other educational opportunities.
The role of social media in education is particularly relevant for the current generation of medical students. Through sharing of interesting cases and radiological teaching points, students can be introduced to the field before even stepping into a reading room. Moreover, students are frequently in search of physician networks to find opportunities for research, shadowing and meaningful mentoring relationships. Social media provides an effective conduit for students to interact with radiologists nationwide to develop such relationships. Finally, social media affords a fantastic recruitment opportunity for residency programs. Medical students take notice of programs with a strong presence on social media, which aids programs in recruiting strong applicants for their incoming classes and publicizing their institutions.
Lastly, healthcare social media is not just for medical professionals. Social media also allows patients to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into who their doctors really are, professionally and personally. It can be intimidating for patients to interact with their physicians during appointments. When medical professionals walk into a room in their white coats, there is a clear power divide. Social media, on the contrary, is a very informal platform for patients to get to interact with the radiologists who interpret their imaging exams and perform their image-guided procedures. Additionally, it’s a great way to humanize radiologists in the eyes of patients as they get to know them through online interactions and develop improved doctor-patient relationships. Social media further plays a unique role for patient education, raising awareness of disease and clearing misconceptions, and can be even used to connect patients with the appropriate physician specialist for their medical care.
While healthcare social media is a powerful addition to the world of radiology and medicine, it is critical to avoid common pitfalls that may easily affect us and our patients. First and foremost, respecting patient privacy and complying with HIPPA rules should always be considered with every social media interaction. While it is easy to avoid sharing obvious identifiable patient information, special attention should be paid to unique imaging findings and rare cases that can be traced to the patients involved. Second, it’s important to own our social media reputation and shared personal life in the online public sphere to maintain our professional image and that of our field. Lastly, it goes without saying, careful consideration should be paid to social media contributions involving controversial political and religious matters, and personal opinions should be clarified as such and not that of our institutions/employers. If these golden rules are followed, social media holds a seemingly limitless role in the future of radiology. Moral of the story? Get posting!