Use social media to help clear health misinformation

Thousands of health care providers now utilize Twitter and other social media as a means of communicating and staying in touch. We follow conference hashtags from afar to keep up-to-date, and to e-meet new and interesting people who share a common goal. In this way, we are able to grow our networks, foster our relevance, improve our knowledge base, and reach out to assist others.

Whether we are physicians, nurses, or physical therapists, we can find reasons and means to collaborate online, reaching out to relevant networks when we are in need of information or community. Such conversations are occurring far more frequently than in years past. The interactions I’ve seen among breast cancer physicians, nurses, and patients have been nothing short of astounding.

Nevertheless, recognition of social media’s value propositions have come slowly in health care. Guidance for those on the fence, or those afraid to dip their toes in the water, has been slow to emerge — and what has come out is often as unfamiliar as the water they’re stepping into. In this regard, the journey has certainly been far more of a marathon (or, let’s be honest, a long, slow walk) than a sprint.

Though today there is no shortage of physicians and health care workers who tweet, blog, or write about the benefits of social media for our profession, far too few of us have set out to actively engage – and more importantly to educate – those who most likely stand to benefit from this new mode of communicating: our patients.

Patients are thirsty for knowledge and a helping hand. Social media affords us a place outside of the confines of our offices to address the questions, fears, and apprehensions of the countless individuals seeking meaningful, actionable, and useful health care information.

By passing up this opportunity, we are missing the chance to help clear misinformation and doubts. When we make use of social media, we can put content forth in a manner that is easy to absorb, easy to understand, and easy to use. We can create an online knowledge core that addresses most of their basic questions. This is, in my view, what the patient segment of the social media in health care audience requires most.

Starting a blog or a website has become far simpler than in years past. Addressing the questions you receive each and every day in the office is the best place to begin when it comes to content creation. Keep it short, keep it simple, and keep it targeted. In time, you will have a web presence full of great content. You will have a site you can be very proud of, and you will develop a thankful audience who will be more than happy to share the information they have learned — and the provider they have learned it from.

Howard Luks is an orthopedic surgeon who blogs at his self-titled site, Howard J. Luks, MD. This article originally appeared in The Doctor Blog.

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  • http://www.myheartsisters.org/ Carolyn Thomas

    Well said, Dr. Luks. Your site is one of the best examples online of a physician blog that provides interesting and valuable content. When I spoke at a Vancouver eHealth conference recently about social media in medicine, I urged the physicians attending to take the same advice you offer here. (One of my conference slides was of your homepage, in fact, as an example of a content-rich medical information site). My concern is that without a social media presence, doctors are at risk of abdicating their traditional role as health educators.

    And if you’re not doing the health educating, the Jenny McCarthy’s of the world will be doing it for you. Patients are already online, often wading through considerable woo in search of the most credible info out there.

    A common response from my audience, however, was that docs already feel pressured and overworked; many say they simply lack both the time and energy to undertake a project like writing a blog.

    How would you respond to them?

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