Blog | Friday, July 24, 2009

Survey shows clinical use for social media

About 60% of ACP Internist readers acknowledged using some form of social media, using it not only personally and professionally but clinically as well.

ACP Internist polled its readership online, through its Web site, weekly e-mail update and through the College's Facebook and Twitter accounts, which probably skewed results.

But results did show that internists are just like other social media users, with 90% using it to keep track of birthdays, anniversaries and marriages, or sharing pictures with friends and family. It's social media, after all.

But social media are increasingly being co-opted professionally, and nearly 70% of respondents use it to reconnect with distant friends or former colleagues, to promote health policy information, or to compare the legal and financial aspects of the practice of medicine. One respondent said social media "helps keep me in touch as a military physician stationed overseas--tough with the time change."

And almost one in four respondents used it clinically, keeping up to date on medical news, sharing cases through Sermo, or responding to questions as a health expert, such as using a blog for patient education. Respondents use social media to communicate lab results, or measure patient improvement or clinical response.

Physicians' cited privacy as their main concern, either releasing too much information online, or outright hacking of personal data, followed closely by the perceived lack of quality of clinical information online. Others worried about how social media might change the doctor-patient relationship.

"I do have patients that have asked to 'friend me,'" one respondent said. "I have always accepted these requests. I am more careful about my postings with that in mind." Another responded, "I would never use it with patients--there is a need to keep personal and professional lives as separate as possible."

And doctors are also aware of the pitfalls of trying to practice medicine online, with the potential for patients to oversimplify their symptoms online when a comprehensive, in-person exam would be warranted. "People may get too comfortable with using the Internet and neglect normal means of communication," one person said.