The impact of social media on medicine could arguably be compared to the impact of the industrial revolution on the human condition. Access to newer means of technology at the turn of the century changed most of society from primarily agricultural, to flourishing manufacturing centres. At the end of the 20th century, with relocation of manufacturing centres and the birth of the digital age, the concept of the American dream continued with the ideal that wealth was accessible to all.
Despite turbulent global economic conditions plaguing the start of the 21st century, the founding of social media giants such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter have had a profound impact on medicine – by making health accessible to all.
It is hard to imagine now how reliant we were before on more traditional outlets of information such as the news programs, documentaries, or print publications that quickly became outdated. Now, for patients and professionals alike, there is access to vast amounts of information at your fingertips.
Support forums, physician websites, webinars, and blogs have provided opportunities of access to experts and other patients that might not have otherwise been available through more traditional means. The anonymity of the web has also allowed the sharing of information, if approached with appropriate sensitivity and caution, without breaking physician-patient confidentiality. Thus allowing yet another forum for interprofessional learning to take place on a much larger scale.
What does this mean for individual health care practitioners? As a whole, social media has been a means of maintaining communication with its members, have information accessible to patients and allowing access to a network of professionals and experts in the field.
A prime example has been my own experience with the physician assistant profession. My initial interest in the physician assistant profession was during a time before the first class of civilian PA student had graduated in Canada. Any information about the profession would be from the US. Access to the PA forum, Facebook groups, blogs, and websites of American PA’s allowed me to make an informed decision. As a graduate now, I continue to appreciate all the resources available to me, as well as the impact I can have on my profession by engaging in social media. I have been able to build my network, access educational and mentoring opportunities, as well as garner interest from patients and prospective students about the profession.
Anne Dang is a physician assistant who blogs at The Canadian Physician Assistant.
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