Radiologists Should Embrace Social Media

December 4, 2013

CHICAGO - Patients expect to be able to interact with their doctors online, so radiologists should understand and embrace the power of social media.

CHICAGO - Three years ago, Elliot Fishman, MD, said he would have advised radiologists to stay away from social media.

Speaking at RSNA 2013, Fishman, a Johns Hopkins professor, said he would have told fellow radiologists that it wasn't worth their time, there were too many privacy concerns and it was really more for their kids.

But that was then. Now, he said, it's no longer a question of whether you should engage in social media but how many platforms can you handle.

The message is splashed across every website for professional organizations, hospitals and universities: Follow us on Twitter; find us on Facebook; check out our videos on YouTube.

So what changed radiologists' perceptions? Fishman said it was likely that physicians have become more aware of the scope of information available on the internet. "We have learned to appreciate the power of the web."

Social media is growing exponentially, he noted, and the number of face-to-face encounters in healthcare has decreased. So physicians must meet their patients where they are going for information - online, he said.

The numbers show teens and young adults make up the majority of the users, but there's a significant number of older patients as well.

"If you look at sites like WebMD, that's where people are going to look for help with health and wellness. …The fact that people are always going online whether to check the weather, check the stock market or read the newspaper, it's only natural that they'll be looking for medical information," Fishman said.

Statistics tell the story of growth, he said:

• 1.3 billion people use Facebook. Three years ago it was 100 million.

• There are 9,100 Twitter tweets every second.

Social media allows institutions and organizations to get quick bits of information out to the public - changes on recommendations on Pap smears or news of a groundbreaking study, for instance.

Patients are already there and they expect you to be there as well.

"Patients want their privacy, but they expect to be able to communicate with you whether a referring physician or a radiologist," he said.

Websites like PatientsLikeMe show that patients are turning to the internet to find out more about their diseases. You type in your diagnosis and you can get volumes of information on your disease and get connected to people who have the same disease. You can chat with them in real time and form an instant support network.

At CaringBridge, patients can blog about their condition and keep family and friends updated without having to communicate individually. Likewise, friends and family can send supportive message without having to make an intrusive phone call.

Social media offers a chance to raise awareness about radiologists, Fishman said.

"I think it's a great opportunity to say who we are, what studies we do and how we help patients. …Only 15 to 18 percent of people know what a radiologist is."

Fishman said his own grandmother was in the dark about the profession. "When I told my grandmother I was going to be a radiologist she broke into tears….She wanted to know why I was going to school so many years to fix radios."

Yes, there are risks and privacy concerns with social media, but the potential benefit outweighs them, Fishman said.

"Our opportunity as healthcare providers to partner with our patients has never been greater."