Social media and the future of medicine
The use of social media in the medical field will continue to increase over the next few years
“Social Media” has become a major trend in recent years. Do we really know what it means? Twitter and Facebook probably come to mind first. In fact, social media, is a tool that allows for the sharing of information in virtual networks. Even text messaging tools such as WhatsApp can be considered a social medium, meaning that people claiming not to be into social media are using it almost daily. It is no longer a toy for the young generations. Social media has also made its way into the Healthcare industry, an interesting example is Dr. Henry Heimlich, cardiovascular surgeon and inventor of the Heimlich Maneuver. Guess where I found out about it? On his twitter feed! He is 96 (!) years old and active on social media. The most fascinating part: I can now directly interact with him on this platform. Social media has made people more accessible than ever, allowing you to talk to peers you may never have met otherwise.
But I share some of the concerns voiced by the critics, this is especially the case for patients. Social media can be very overwhelming, distracting and even addictive. Most non-users argue they simply don’t have the time, but this is precisely the wrong argument. With social media, we have a new technology at hand that we have to use to our advantage, like other previously ground-breaking technologies. Patients can use social media to get information on their symptoms and conditions, as well as interact with physicians and other health care professionals. The information is not always valid, so it is important to primarily rely on trustworthy sources, such as hospitals, health care organizations like WHO, publishers like the BMJ, and expert physicians.
However, patients have to learn how to use social media optimally. New generations will grow up with it, with the risk of using it more for fun, making it a “time waster”. Older generations need a more formal introduction probably. So should we teach the optimal use of social media? Probably yes.
Technology is rapidly evolving and the sharing of medical scientific information is moving from print and on-site presentations to digital online publication (webinars, etc.), social media is the ideal platform for this development, from hosting and sharing information to enabling interaction
Keep your finger at the pulse of clinical science - no matter where you are
I was unfortunately unable to attend this year’s major cardiology conference, the American College of Cardiology Annual Scientific Sessions (ACC) due to clinical commitments. I am sure many other colleagues have similar struggles, considering the increasing number of conferences, commitments, etc. However, I followed the meeting in real time online as much as possible via Twitter and even became one of the top social media influencers of the meeting according to statistics. I was able to discuss new research with peer experts, study authors and even with patients. Often, papers got published simultaneously in peer-reviewed journals, and these can be included in the online discussion and regarded as a novel form of post-publication peer-review.
The ACC 2016 sessions were attended by an incredible number of ~20,000 health professionals. Via social media, patients were also able to follow the news. The digital reach of this meeting was gigantic: 6,733 actively tweeted about the meeting and the tweets were read 140,562,727 (!) times.
Patients are online as well
Of course as a doctor, I have certain thoughts and opinions that might differ from the patients’. Therefore I asked Kaz Aston, a multiple sclerosis (MS) patient and engaged campaigner for this condition, to provide her point of view.
According to Kaz, at a time when any subject can easily be discussed via social media, it makes perfect sense that health related topics are part of the conversation and talked about not only amongst patients, but also between patients and healthcare professionals. Social media has created a community at the tip of your fingers. This can help improve public health globally in settings such as hospitals or in local communities.
Kaz explained that over the last two years, patient conferences have backed the use of social media to support improved engagement. These types of events have become very popular amongst patients and healthcare professionals and are routinely featured at global medical conferences. Today most healthcare patient events accommodate live social media streams that are linked to designated hashtags or conference websites which support collaboration between attendees and people who are following the conference remotely. The latest numbers for one day events have rendered online audiences of over 25 million people while simultaneously delivering worldwide trending hashtags. Kaz explained that the use of social media in healthcare has promoted patient adherence and communication and has received a lot of positive feedback.
To summarize, I want to emphasize that as information technology is rapidly evolving and the sharing of medical scientific information is moving from print and on-site presentations to digital online publication (webinars, etc.), social media is the ideal platform for this development, from hosting and sharing information to enabling interaction. No one should feel obliged to use social media, but I strongly advise colleagues to embrace this technology, it is very useful and once you know how to use it, it is great fun too!
Pascal is an internationally trained cardiologist. He trained in Switzerland, the US and then worked as a consultant in London and at Yale Medical School. His focus is on percutaneous heart procedures, such as coronary angioplasty, aortic valve replacements, etc. He is also the editor-in-chief of the scientific cardiology journal Open Heart (British Medical Journal Group).