ACC.15: Talking Twitter with cardiologists about power of social media

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SAN DIEGO—Cardiologists need a significant social media footprint that will allow them to guide discussions and engage patients in healthier lifestyles, but they should keep the virtual communication out of the exam and operating rooms. That was the consensus among panelists at a March 14 American College of Cardiology scientific session.

Social media, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, blogs and other networks give physicians a channel to educate and connect with patients, control general dialogues about symptoms and warning signs, collaborate with peers near and far, and recruit patients and peers. They also can be used to spread new trial results or white papers much faster, and exclusive networks like SERMO and Doximity let physicians connect with colleagues across the globe.

So much information is generated every day that it’s almost impossible to keep on top of it, said Paul Tunnah, CEO and founder of pharmaphorum media. “But social media, by connecting with the right individuals, can act as a wonderful source for curating information, helping us to access the right information much more quickly and much more succinctly.“

As a tool for collaboration, social media allows for many voices from around the globe to come together, drawing multiple perspectives into discussions, Tunnah said. “Social media is fantastic at connecting those different groups, getting their different perspectives together, and not just in a medical sense, but what’s actually happening in the real world.”

And, potentially, social media can impact the real world. Westby Fisher, MD, a cardiac electrophysiologist at NorthShore University HealthSystem in Evanston, Ill., linked the American Board of Internal Medicine’s February changes to its maintenance of certification program to social media. A post he wrote about what he called the organization’s lavish spending—which included using physician testing fees to buy a $2.3 million condominium—was read 26,000 times, tweeted to 12,000 people and republished on another physician blog, where it was read 55,000 times and shared by 74,000.

“This is how social media can keep pressure on and be a change agent for what physicians need in order to take care of their patients,” he said.

It’s also a tool for educating immediately, since so much of the world gets breaking news through social networks.

“In health are, we have issues, we have recalls. The ubiquity of social media gives us the chance to spread the word and save lives instantaneously,” said David E Albert, MD, chief medical officer at AliveCor in San Francisco and inventor of the AliveCor ECG. “But we have to be responsible in its application. Obey the rules, but take advantage of its power.”

Those rules include not sharing patient information and not neglecting the human interaction that’s so important to treating patients.

“Maybe encourage patients to use it, but reiterate the importance of real-life interaction,” said Peter Papadakos, MD, of the University of Rochester Medical Center School of Medicine and Dentistry in New York. Papadakos was charged with arguing against social media, but he admitted all physicians should engage in online conversations.

Instead, he argued against overreliance on social media and cautioned against letting it become a distraction. As instantaneous as social media is for broadcasting to groups of people, it’s slower for one-on-one interaction between individuals, he said. And there’s no way to ensure the reader understands what’s being conveyed.

Also, he sees some medical students who are uncomfortable and unused to talking directly to patients because of a habit of relying on the more impersonal social media for their conversations.

It’s important that physicians make sure their posts aren’t simply garbage in, garbage out—that they are valid, helpful and relevant to patients, said Kevin R. Campbell, MD, of North Carolina Heart and Vascular in Raleigh and panel moderator. And that can require investing time in social media efforts.

Fisher offered some suggestions for physicians:

  • Don’t fear social media; consider lurking first if you’re uncomfortable
  • Never post when angry
  • Strive for accuracy
  • When in doubt, pause and run ideas by your partners and colleagues
  • Never identify a patient
  • Ask permission before repurposing material, and don’t republish an article that had been published behind a paywall
  • Assume beneficence—most people are nice. Even if you disagree with someone, remember he or she probably has points