July 6, 2012

The Kids Are Doing It Right! For The Most Part

John E. Moore, MD, FAAP
Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Virginia Tech-Carilion School of Medicine

Physicians, and especially young physicians, are becoming increasingly more active on social media. More than ninety percent of physicians younger than 30 have a social media presence. Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest have become a part of modern medicine for residents, med students, and junior partners.  For them, a life and career without Facebook is inconceivable.

The rest of us are slowly catching up as well. According to recent surveys, almost half of the physicians in my demographic group (41-50) use social media. We are slowly embracing Facebook in our personal as well as professional lives. I am happy to see more and more pediatricians show up on my Twitter feed.  Slowly and painfully, physicians are entering the new digital world, and I think we are better off for it.

We still have a lot of work to do, though, to make this digital world as painless for all physicians as possible. Specifically, we media-savvy, wired-in pediatricians need to provide real leadership in the area of digital media. In countless surveys, new residents and med students say they want more guidance from their mentors about social media. They want recommendations on navigating social networks that go beyond, “Don’t friend your patients.”

As administrators, thought leaders and program directors, we need to do more to educate our learners. In a survey from 2010, Terry Kind et al. found that only 10 percent of medical schools even have social media policies in place for their students. Of those that address social networks, many only offered statements about what was forbidden, discouraged, or frowned upon. Sadly, only 7 out of 132 medical schools encouraged thoughtful and responsible social media use.  It’s  2012; we need to do better.

Specifically, we need to provide guidance in the proper use of social media. While our learners honestly understand the technology better than we do, we “older” physicians have a much better understanding of risk management and medical ethics. We need to instruct our learners about why they should be extremely cautious in “friending” their patients. We need to show them why they need to think about the photos they post and exactly how they word their status updates. We need to demonstrate to them why they should never talk about their patients online.

We also need to highlight the positive features of social media as well. We need to emphasize the patient education that we can provide over Facebook. We need to express how physicians need to take part in the medical discussions that occur on Twitter every day. We can explain the value of a timely blog post.  We can show the power of social media in advocating for our patients and our profession.

Over the last two years, we have made huge strides. In 2009, very few physicians were active in social media and ever fewer saw the value in it. Now, most doctors will agree that social networks have a role in modern life and in modern medicine even if they are not actively engaged themselves. We have done a good job convincing physicians to join the social media age; now we need to make sure we are all doing it correctly.

Editor's Note

The AAP Council on Communications and Media, the Council on Clinical Information Technology and the Department of Communications have teamed up to create a new resource: the AAP Member Guide to Social Media.
This interactive, web-based document offers a look at the ways pediatricians can engage in social media, whether that means following the AAP “feeds” that interest them, sharing Facebook and Twitter posts, or blogging as individual pediatricians.
The guide includes links to AAP platforms, including the main news feeds on Facebook and Twitter; the Healthychildren.org feeds offering parenting content; and numerous feeds serving readers of publications such as AAP News, Pediatrics and the AAP Red Book. Tips and resources are provided to help pediatricians contribute to the burgeoning but tricky world of online social conversation, including advice on how to comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act; the Healthcare Blogger Code of Ethics; and tips on how to vet blogs and comments with their practice or institution.
The guide offers links to exemplary social media sites of AAP members and includes a list of popular parenting blogs that AAP members can explore and join the conversation.
For more information about AAP social media or the guide, contact Gina Steiner, in the AAP Department of Communications, at 800-433-9016, ext. 7945, or gsteiner@aap.org.