Healthcare and Social Media: The Good, the Bad and the (Not so) Ugly Truth

social media, healthcare, debateIt’s been 20 years since a handful of Internet entrepreneurs launched GeoCities, which many observers consider one of the first social media sites, and 10 years since Mark Zuckerberg came up the concept that became Facebook.

Given that kind of longevity, not to mention its exponential growth since then, you might think the debate over the value of social media in healthcare would be a thing of the past. Apparently not, at least according to a paper recently published in The Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. Titled “Social media: the way forward or a waste of time for physicians?”, it offers compelling insights for anyone still on the fence.

For Matthew DeCamp, MD, PhD, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University, “the relative risks of social media participation probably outweigh their benefits.” Among his arguments:

  • ‘Patients are there’ is not enough of a reason
  • [Doctors] with limited social media experience are more likely to make mistakes when they use the technology
  • The ethical and professional norms of behavior related to social media participation [are unclear]

Anne-Marie Cunningham, a clinical lecturer in the School of Medicine at Cardiff University, takes the opposing view, writing that social media lets doctors tap into “a global community who can help you to be a better doctor in a better system with your patients.” It allows doctors to:

  • Engage with patients, fostering “collaborative systems of healthcare…and positive solutions”
  • Share professional experiences that can lead to better care
  • Connect with peers to find support, inspiration and continued professional development

Both DeCamp and Cunningham raise interesting points and there’s no escaping the fact that social media presents challenges for doctors who must balance the platform’s noisy, unfiltered style with the ethical and legal demands of their profession.

Little wonder, then, that the debate continues. Nevertheless, as the Journal paper suggests, social media is here to stay. Therefore, doctors who decide to join an online community need to take appropriate measures to ensure they reap the benefits of global communication, rather than regret it.

Doctor Takeaway

Doctors who don’t get social will likely get left behind

While it’s true that “everybody else is there” isn’t a good enough reason to embrace social media, that fact does undergird the power of the platform. In an era when aesthetic consumers are overwhelmingly convinced of the value of it — many potential patients won’t even consider a provider without consulting the online community — doctors who don’t join the conversation will find themselves facing a most unpleasant silence.

About Rob Lovitt

Rob Lovitt is a longtime writer and editor who believes every good business has a great story to tell. He has written for dozens of magazines and websites, including, and the inflight magazines of Alaska, Horizon and Frontier airlines.

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