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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2022  |  Volume : 3  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 75-77

Using the social media to improve medical care

Department of Surgical Gastroenterology, SRM Institutes for Medical Science, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India

Date of Submission11-Mar-2022
Date of Decision21-Mar-2022
Date of Acceptance21-Mar-2022
Date of Web Publication28-Apr-2022

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Patta Radhakrishna
Department of Surgical Gastroenterology, SRM Institutes for Medical Science, Chennai, Tamil Nadu
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/JME.JME_18_22

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How to cite this article:
Radhakrishna P. Using the social media to improve medical care. J Med Evid 2022;3:75-7

How to cite this URL:
Radhakrishna P. Using the social media to improve medical care. J Med Evid [serial online] 2022 [cited 2023 Jun 7];3:75-7. Available from: http://www.journaljme.org/text.asp?2022/3/1/75/344285

  Social Media and Medicine Top

The social media, currently dominated by such entities as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and WhatsApp, is a place where millions of people meet every day to interact, share resources and work together in real or delayed time. That cross-communication ability - the power to drive interactivity - has been the operative verb behind the social media. It is what has helped the social media LeapFrog over the newspapers, television and radio on its way to becoming not only the main port for people to gather news and information but also the chief ground for them to organise and engineer social movements such as the Arab Spring.[1],[2],[3] The emergence of high-speed internet aided by satellites and optical cables laid on the ocean bed connecting continents made social media reach every nook and corner of the world. Images of news and events worldwide reach the various part of the world as they are happening. There is no time lag thanks to rapid strides in communication technology. Excellent desktop and handheld devices with screens with great pixel quality made it possible to view images with the greatest clarity. Unlike in the past, these images and videos can be stored digitally and shared whenever needed.

  Some Interesting Stats Top

The digital universe has had a 50-fold growth between 2010 and 2020. Today, the number of social media users stands at 4.55 billion, comprising 57.6% of the world population, who spend an average of 2.27 h on it - a timespan which is climbing rapidly. A researcher's work in 2021 tells that amazing story: In one internet minute:

  • 69 million messages are sent on WhatsApp
  • 1.4 million people scroll the Facebook
  • 200,000 people Tweet; and
  • 500 h of content is uploaded to YouTube.

With its 1.3 billion population, India is a big contributor to the social media revolution. As of July 2021, the social media has 241 million Indians, constituting 19% of the world users. 54% of them are aged between 20 and 40 years.[4]

  The Medical World on Twitter Top

Unlike the pharmacists, the medical fraternity took to the social media with a lot of hesitancy and trepidation.[5] The earliest adopters, in fact, arrived on the scene as late as 2006 just after Twitter was launched. They called themselves 'physicians on twitter', a kind of motley group not distinguished by any speciality. They, as well others who followed on their heels, were initially nervous and watchful of what they did on it. For one, they were edgy that professional tweets could go out without a peer review. It jittered them further to know that a tweet once posted could linger on the web even after it had been retracted. Their usernames, in fact, betrayed their hesitation: @kidney_boy for Joel Topf, MD; @whole_patients for Margaret Chisolm, MD; @MedPedsDoctor for Alex Djuricich, MD; @33Charts for Bryan Vartabedian, MD; @FutureDocs for Vinny Arora, MD and @SFTraumaDoc for Andre Campbell, MD. One of the first surgeon bloggers was a plastic surgeon named Ramona L. Bates, MD (@rlbates). She started her blog, 'Sutured for a Living',[6] in 2007, which quickly gathered many followers. Later, a few surgical organisations joined the bandwagon, including the Association of Women Surgeons @WomenSurgeons; the Association for Academic Surgery @AcademicSurgery and the American Association for Plastic Surgeons @ASPS members. Then came a few focussed groups such as #lcsm (lung cancer social media)[7],[8] and #obsm (obesity media social group) in 2013 and 2016 respectively. Then, the game started changing, and before long the trickle of participants turned into a rush. Today, such is the situation that Twitter handles are opened at all major international medical conferences with someone tweeting the summary of important lectures as and when they are delivered. That itself has ensured a free and continual flow of important information worldwide.

  The Facebook Story Top

A limited version of Facebook was launched in February 2004 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, and by 26 September 2006, it had opened to the public worldwide. Anyone who was 13 years and older, and having a valid e-mail address, could become its member. Facebook became a favourite of Indians no sooner than it was launched. In fact, within a few years of its coming, Indians were dominating Facebook. However, for the surgeon community, the Facebook journey was no different from its journey on Twitter. Here too, the doctors' fears centred on issues such as patient privacy and professional conduct - issues they, in the initial years, thought could not be defended on an open public platform such as Facebook. Of course, that hesitation was soon gone!

  Learning Surgery Top

The field of surgery has grown tremendously in the past 50 years, both in terms of the number of surgeons and in terms of their spread across countries. The emergence of Facebook, Twitter and other social media services has only served as a force multiplier to that growth story, especially the manner in which it has enabled the doctor–surgeon community to stay connected, to share experiences and to learn together.

  Conquest Stories Top

  • The International Hernia Collaboration (IHC), started by Dr Brian Jacob in January 2003, is an influential Facebook group today. It is a closed group that has made a mark as a responsive and authentic international platform for surgeons dedicated to optimising patient outcomes and improving quality. Among other things, the surgeons discuss patient care, surgical technique and market trends here. IHC has more than 11,500 members at the moment[9]
  • Robotic Surgery Collaboration is another Facebook group that started in January 2015. It is a platform to exchange knowledge on robotic general surgery to (a) ensure safe, standard and high-quality results to improve patient outcomes and (b) to establish a solid network of robotic general surgeons to collaborate on multicentre clinical research. The group's goal is to advance robotic surgery without breaking patient confidentiality. The group, currently, has 13,500 members[10]
  • Learning general surgery (LGS) that started in 2014, has a mix of young and senior surgeons, besides many other medical specialists and medical students, who interact on a daily basis. The focus of the group is to improve the quality of surgical training worldwide by sharing inputs from some of the best teachers of surgery. The group also offers scientific advice to surgeons from different parts of India and abroad. Every post on the group is filtered to ensure no inappropriate content is posted or shared. LGS, currently, has more than 40,000 members. The YouTube channel of 'LGS has 16,200 subscribers and has a collection of 420 videos from some of the best surgical teachers in India'.[11],[12]

Of late, especially during the COVID lockdown period worldwide social media has been used extensively for propagating medical education. Virtual classrooms came into existence and teachers as well as students took part in these classrooms while sitting in the comforts of their home. This COVID epidemic has brought out the possibility of connecting each other eminent teachers and students from every nook and corner of the world effortlessly in a virtual mode. Verbal communication was loud and clear. It was possible to digitally record these interactive sessions and store them for a later reference. Many easily available software helped create platforms where these meetings could take place and there is no space restraint on the number of participants that could take part in these deliberations. Nursing and pharmacy education got heavily influenced by the social media and it has been put to extensive use in recent times.[5],[13]

Many health care organisation including hospitals, clinical establishments of various sizes, pharma companies and non-governmental organisation pursuing their work in the medical field took to social media such as fish to water. The famous Mayo Clinic took the lead in this area and has established its social media network (http://socialmedia.mayoclinic.org) connecting health care professionals, patients and various other community stakeholders. It has also started using blogs to foster peer-to-peer learning and implement new protocols.[14]

After an initial reluctance, health care professionals have started using social media for patient care in the form of teleconsultation. Certain online payment portals facilitated this phenomenon of paid consultation. This method has become quite comfortable for the health care providers (HCPs) and the patients alike for the past 2 years. This has encouraged para clinical specialities such as radiology and pathology to a great extent where direct patient contact was not needed.[14],[15] Telemedicine using social media tools has come a long way in the recent past. Patients from all nooks and corners can consult doctors of their choice for a price from the comfort of their home and get appropriate medical advice. Health information and health bulletins from various health care organisations are transmitted to the entire world. This phenomenon was of great help during the COVID epidemic. Doctors dealing with sick COVID patients from remote corners of the world could get instant advice from some of the best specialists in the field. Patients suffering from a particular disease could get in touch with similar patients from elsewhere online and share their stories. These patient self-help groups on social media have become a boon for those looking for focussed information on a particular disease or ailment.

  Drawback Top

One of the major issues faced by doctors using social media services, especially Facebook, is censorship. Facebook uses artificial intelligence (AI) to weed posts and pictures depicting nudity and obscenity. Unfortunately, the AI is still rudimentary, and hence, a lot of the medical material gets wrongly labelled as nudity, inviting a ban on doctor pages and groups. The other troubling factor is on the preservation of important material. Sadly, there is yet no mechanism to save the material posted on Facebook for posterity. If Facebook were to shut down, a lot of invaluable material would be gone with it.

Concealing patient identity and patient privacy is a huge concern in the social media. In spite of following strict protocols laid down by many institutions worldwide to safeguard patient privacy, lapses do occur. Since the centre of the discussion in social media pages is a human being and diseases associated with him it is almost nearly impossible not to cross the line.[16] There can instances where a patient–doctor interaction may become more personal than acceptable on the social media due to the indirect access that can be easily obtained to each other's social media pages. This phenomenon can have ugly outcomes that can malign the sanctity of medical profession. It is indeed mandatory for medical professionals to understand where the 'limiting line' lies and not cross it.[17],[18],[19]

Many health care professional societies laid down ground rules for their member physicians, surgeons, and other health care professionals in relation to their usage of social media. These guidelines emphasise the need for maintaining patient privacy, transparency, maintenance of proper physician–patient boundaries, avoidance of online medical advice and prescription and remind the health care workers of the privacy settings of their social media accounts to avoid legal issues later on arising out of any medically inappropriate social media activity.

  Conclusion Top

Social media has become a great source of learning quality medicine and propagating good medical and health advice for medical students, health care professionals and patients alike. It is also a boon to the needy patient population to obtain relevant scientific information about health and disease. The number of social media platforms dealing with healthcare has increased exponentially over the years and these platforms are used extensively by doctors, health care organisations and pharma companies. However, when not used appropriately, these platforms can be the source of strife and litigation. It is ideal to adhere to the guidelines laid down in this regard by many professional organisations and avoid trouble. The future of social media in relation to health care, professional medical education and training and propagating healthy lifestyle looks bright.[15],[20]

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Chauhan B, George R, Coffin J. Social media and you: What every physician needs to know. J Med Pract Manage 2012;28:206-9.  Back to cited text no. 1
von Muhlen M, Ohno-Machado L. Reviewing social media use by clinicians. J Am Med Inform Assoc 2012;19:777-81.  Back to cited text no. 2
Wolfsfeld G, Segev E, Sheafer T. Social media and the Arab spring: Politics comes first. Int J Press Polit 2013;18:115-37.  Back to cited text no. 3
Social Media Usage Worldwide. Available from: https://www.statista.com/topics/1164/social-networks. [Last accessed on 2022 Mar 09].  Back to cited text no. 4
Grindrod K, Forgione A, Tsuyuki RT, Gavura S, Giustini D. Pharmacy 2.0: A scoping review of social media use in pharmacy. Res Social Adm Pharm 2014;10:256-70.  Back to cited text no. 5
Available from: http://rlbatesmd.blogspot.com/. [Last accessed on 2022 Mar 09].  Back to cited text no. 6
Facebook – Lung Cancer Support Group. Available from: https://www.facebook.com/groups/733948110039512/?fref=nf. [Last accessed on 2022 Mar 09].  Back to cited text no. 7
Lung Cancer Discussion Forum; 2018. Available from: https://community.macmillan.org.uk/cancer_types/lung-cancer/. [Last accessed on 2022 Mar 09].  Back to cited text no. 8
Muysoms F, Jacob B. International hernia collaboration consensus on nomenclature of abdominal wall hernia repair. World J Surg 2018;42:302-4.  Back to cited text no. 9
Available from: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1522777931338325. [Last accessed on 2022 Mar 09].  Back to cited text no. 10
Available from: https://www.facebook.com/groups/surgeons.in.training/about/. [Last accessed on 2022 Mar 09]. [Last accessed on 2022 Mar 09].  Back to cited text no. 11
Available from: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query+learning+general+surgery. [Last accessed on 2022 Mar 09].  Back to cited text no. 12
Peck JL. Social media in nursing education: Responsible integration for meaningful use. J Nurs Educ 2014;53:164-9.  Back to cited text no. 13
Househ M. The use of social media in healthcare: Organizational, clinical, and patient perspectives. Stud Health Technol Inform 2013;183:244-8.  Back to cited text no. 14
Dizon DS, Graham D, Thompson MA, Johnson LJ, Johnston C, Fisch MJ, et al. Practical guidance: The use of social media in oncology practice. J Oncol Pract 2012;8:e114-24.  Back to cited text no. 15
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Lambert KM, Barry P, Stokes G. Risk management and legal issues with the use of social media in the healthcare setting. J Healthc Risk Manag 2012;31:41-7.  Back to cited text no. 17
George DR, Rovniak LS, Kraschnewski JL. Dangers and opportunities for social media in medicine. Clin Obstet Gynecol 2013;56:453-62.  Back to cited text no. 18
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Bernhardt JM, Alber J, Gold RS. A social media primer for professionals: Digital dos and don'ts. Health Promot Pract 2014;15:168-72.  Back to cited text no. 20


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Social Media and...
Some Interesting...
The Medical Worl...
The Facebook Story
Learning Surgery
Conquest Stories

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