Is it time to change the way we use social media in medicine?


It’s no secret that social media has now consumed most of our lives. It’s everywhere and there’s really no avoiding it. Don’t get me wrong, social media is a powerful tool and when used appropriately a lot of good things can come out of it. For instance, as a medical student who moved from New York to Los Angeles, it helps me stay connected to my loved ones back home.

However, social media has now expanded beyond the realm of liking photos from your best friend’s wedding. It has been incorporated into a variety of business models. It’s no surprise to me that you can now buy a product by clicking on an Instagram post, or pinning a pin on Pinterest.

Aside from retail, social media has now made headway in the field of medicine. Oftentimes, I scroll through my Instagram feed and see quick 30 to 60 second clips of physicians performing cosmetic procedures on patients (of course, with consent). Physicians also have a growing presence on television as well. Flip through your TV channels or your Netflix guide and see how many new shows and reality series you find documenting the lives of doctors and their practices. Truthfully, I don’t think that this is necessarily a bad thing. I personally love binge-watching episodes of physician-centered reality shows when I have the time, or watching quick Instagram clips of filler injections, “surgery-free” rhinoplasties, Botox injections, and other cosmetic procedures.

With that being said, I can’t help but feel like a lot of the medical messages in social media have been for self-gain. One of my favorite doctors that I like to see on Instagram recently started a new page where she started to post advice. I was glad to see her using her “instafame” to draw attention to more than her practice and the procedures that she offered.

However, within a few weeks, the following on her new page grew and what I thought was going to be an educational page became a platform for her new cosmetic products that she was launching. When I scroll through the feeds of some of the more “popular” physicians, I mostly see advertisements for their practices and products that they sell.

Let me be clear, I am 100 percent in support of entrepreneurship and expanding your network. And I do realize that there are physicians in the media spreading knowledge and vital information, but these days it seems like those posts are few and far between.

Like I said before, social media has revolutionized the way we live our lives and the way we teach, communicate, learn, and conduct business. However, I think that we need to do more to revolutionize the way that we use social media in medicine. If we get creative, I think we can use social media for more than promoting ourselves, and instead, use it to educate patients and to reach those who we would have a harder time reaching otherwise.

Honestly, I’m not sure how one would embark on a task like this, but I think it’s an important discussion to have. If you’d like to brainstorm with me, you can catch me during my breaks between shelf studying and watching episodes of the latest medical reality show.

Patricia Mathelier is a medical student who blogs at Three Thousand Miles. She can be reached on Twitter @Trisha_Therese.

Image credit: Bloomua /


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