In this post on my Social Media Healthcare blog I described why I think physicians benefit from being active in social media. The combined benefits of enhanced partnerships and new connections, keeping up with current clinical and health policy information, and expanding one’s understanding of health care from the perspective of patients and other health care providers are valuable outcomes that all physicians should value. After all, why do we read journals, attend CME, watch webinars, and listen to conference calls? To keep our clinical
knowledge up to date in order to provide the best care for our patients and to learn from each others’ experiences. Active participation in social media can provide these same benefits.
Over the last couple of years, I have seen more and more family physicians becoming active on social media, especially on Twitter. I have been trying to keep a list of all the family physicians (and GPs) I have encountered on Twitter, though I know that this must be incomplete. A quick scan of the list, however, shows the breadth of perspectives and opinions held by family physicians and gives insight into the challenges and rewards of being a family doctor.
I believe that family medicine can, and should, be even more active on social media. In fact, I believe that family medicine should be the prominent medical specialty in social media and especially on Twitter. Here’s why:
- Family medicine believes in empowering patients to take active roles in their care. Social media is a prime venue for patients who are seeking to learn from each other and share experiences.Through the e-patient movement, patients use social media to inform themselves and each other about health, wellness, and specific illnesses. Physicians are rarely part of the discussion. With the breadth of knowledge family physicians have, we can join in to help ensure patients have accurate and reliable information. Family medicine’s bio-psycho-social approach to care, which enables us to provide capable and effective care for patients with chronic illness, would also be valuable in discussions with engaged and empowered patients who are seeking to improve their health.
- Too many people don’t understand family medicine. As noted in this recent post, primary care and family medicine are not usually given starring roles in the media and are often confronted with the argument that the role of family physicians can be easily assumed by nurse practitioners and physician assistants. By talking about our careers, our practices, and (within the bounds of patient privacy and confidentiality) our patients—their illnesses, struggles, and victories—we can control the message and we can show the public what it means to be a family physician.
- Family physicians are taught to educate and inform patients and to be a resource to those who seek information about their health. The Pew Internet Project has noted that even though many Americans don’t consider themselves e-patients, large numbers of people with health concerns are looking for information online and are using peer-to-peer connections to find answers. Our patients are using social media; why aren’t we? Given family medicine’s whole-person orientation and patient-centered approach to care, we should strive to meet our patients where they are. Increasingly, they are online.
- For many years, it has been difficult to recruit US medical students into family medicine. Now that more and more medical students are using social media, we could act as virtual role models and mentors. If there is a robust and vibrant family medicine community online, and if we discuss what we love about being family physicians, we might encourage medical students (and premedical students) to look at careers in family medicine.
- Social media provides an opportunity to unite to advocate for change. As seen in Mike Sevilla’s #SaveGME campaign, when family docs organize, we can have notable reach. The #SaveGME initiative was a short-notice, one-time effort to point out the importance of protecting GME funding. Even with limited preparation, the group was able to reach tens of thousands of people. Imagine if all family physicians on social media organized to advocate on key positions: I suspect we could reach hundreds of thousands of people.