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Social Media and Health Care Professionals: Benefits, Risks, and Best Practices

Staying connected 24X7 has become the trend at present, with healthcare professionals (HCP) being no exception to this. Such professionals select the most convenient platform to share information, impart education, and issue reminders to patients. Social media has thus emerged as the most effective tool of communication today. 

Unfortunately, it comes with its share of negatives too, which means you have to use it most carefully to prevent violations that may harm the patients and the general public equally. There may be legal implications as well to anything you post about healthcare. You do not have to shun social media if you are a health care professional as long as you remember to use it cautiously.

In this article, we talk about how HCPs can use social media to talk about their work, the benefits and risks of doing so, and the best practices for using social media for this purpose. 

Social Media Used by HCPs

Social Networking Sites

There are several medical-professional-only sites available in the virtual world today. Often established by a group of health care professionals, they are intensely private platforms. One cannot get access if they are not a member. For instance, you are welcome to join Sermo if you happen to be a registered physician entitled to treat patients across the USA. 

Doximity is a similar site that uses both texts and images to share information freely. You can be in touch with fellow directors and peers after being accepted by the Medical Directors Forum. There are numerous other sites specific to medical students, nurses, and pharmacists. HCPs are welcome to use the general social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. You may also use a quality video editor to create your own channel and provide timely information to the general public.

Blogs/Microblogs

There are many ways for HCPs to participate in social media. Generate interest and be a part of avid discussions by publishing your own blogs. You can provide information in detail and invite comments from readers to spread the word. You may organize your blog by presenting it in sections with the aid of popular and free blogging platforms such as WordPress. You may also interact with medical experts elsewhere and gain knowledge about new lines of treatment. HCPs can use these blogs to interact among themselves to discuss the lack of facilities or share news about significant clinical breakthroughs.

Do not forget to use Twitter, the best microblogging site, if you want to share information that you want to be instantly noticed. Short and succinct tweets are reported and retweeted more often than not. Apart from having constant interactions between users, Twitter can also be used to promote public speeches and conferences related to medicine and health care.

Virtual Reality (VR) and Gaming

Virtual environments for multiple users are popular for educating the masses and keeping them informed about various ‘Dos and Don’ts’ in relation to health. This is where the age-old adage of a picture speaking a thousand words is used in an exemplary manner, with numerous virtual environments providing health care centric education. It enables users to understand the reality and make informed decisions without any distracting influence. The simulation of procedures and counseling practices has also been an enormous success in the world of healthcare. 

Advantages of Using Social Media in Health Care

  • Allows networking for healthcare professionals
  • Provides information
  • Builds reputation and promotes services
  • Enhances patient care
  • Educates the patient(s)
  • Allows for announcement of public health programs

Risks of Using Social Media in Health Care

  • Spreading incorrect information
  • Loss of professional reputation
  • Breach of privacy
  • Crossing the HCP and patient boundary
  • Failure to meet licensing protocols
  • Legal issues

Best Practices of Using Social Media to Provide Health Care

Health care professionals must follow the guidelines advised by their employer and/or the government to provide valuable assistance to the general public and the patients. The right way to harness the power of social media without causing any harm to the end-user must include the following parameters:

  • Content: Information shared should be sourced from reputed sources. It is crucial to offer an unconditional apology if any published content is proved to be inaccurate or malicious.
  • Legality: The content put on social media must be traceable. It is important to comply with the existing regulations at the local, state, and national levels. There should be no instances of copyright violation either.
  • Licensing: The existing licensing needs should be considered and followed. Breaching the regulation may result in litigation.
  • Networking: While it is common to discuss recent trends, practices, and regulations on networking sites, it would be best to avoid connecting personally with any of the members on the site. Patients should be advised to contact you at the medical facility or via your professional website.
  • Patient care: Advising the general populace on health care issues is a strict no-no. It is important to keep existing patients informed about the accuracy, timelines, and other restrictions when sharing posts. It is advisable to include a disclaimer when disclosing information. All electronic communication between the patient and HCP must be kept confidential.
  • Privacy: You must use a stable and secure connection while posting information on social media sites. Personal and professional information should remain separate in order to avoid confusion. You must never discuss any specific patient, even on networking sites meant for physicians and other medical professionals. The consent of the patient must be taken in advance if such discussions become unavoidable. Check the regulations and ensure compliance with all statutory rules. You may de-identify the patient when discussing a line of treatment/side effects/risks/procedure on social media. Remember to address the patient respectfully at all times, even in the absence of the individual.
  • Identification: It is customary to introduce yourself when discussing a medical issue on a social media platform. Do not fail to provide your credentials, including your registration number, especially when you have entered a group discussion forum. It is also necessary to reveal your status, that is, whether you are representing your employer or participating in an independent capacity.

Conclusion

Social media sites can be valuable resources to educate and inform patients/the public. However, it must be used cautiously by taking note of the risks involved and maintaining privacy as and when needed. Following the guidelines will enable you to make valuable contributions and improve your reputation at the same time.

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