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What is social media, why should health professionals care and how does one engage effectively?

Group of Business People with Social Media Concept

Anderson N1
1 Chiropractor B.Sc. M.Chiro. ICCSP, Enhance Healthcare, Canberra, Australia


The growth of social media has long been on the radar of health professionals, their industries and their regulators. The initial response by many was one of fear and ignorance. ­Although the popularity of social media is rapidly rising, its adoption by health professionals does not appear to be increasing at the same rate. Additionally, the way that people seek knowledge has changed. In this paper I discuss not only this changing landscape with its pitfalls and opportunities but also give recommendations on how those in healthcare can engage in this new landscape effectively.


La croissance des médias sociaux est apparue depuis longtemps sur les radars des professionnels, de l’industrie et des autorités de la santé. Initialement, la réponse de nombreux acteurs a été marquée par une forme de crainte et d’ignorance. Si bien que le développement rapide de la popularité des médias sociaux n’a de loin pas accéléré leur adoption par les professionnels de la santé. En parallèle, on se doit de constater un changement dans les stratégies des personnes pour accéder aux connaissances. Dans cette article, je présente non seulement cette évolution avec ses écueils et ses opportunités, mais je donne aussi quelques recommandations pour les soignants qui souhaitent interagir dans ce nouvel environnement de manière efficace.


The phrase “Social media” is defined by Merriam Webster to be: “forms of electronic communication (such as websites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (such as videos)”.
This includes platforms such as blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram among others. The popularity of ­social media is remarkable. As of August 2017 there are ­billions of people connected to and influenced by social media.
The growth of social media has long been on the radar for health professionals, their industries and their regulators. The initial response by many was one of fear and ignorance.
Regulators and industries were well aware of the risks associated with social media and began to devise guidelines. In the meantime everyone stuck their heads in the sand and hoped it would go away. Since then, there has been the introduction of industry specific social media guidelines throughout the world.
I have noted that although the popularity of social media is rapidly rising, its adoption by health professionals is not increasing at the same rate. Additionally, the way that ­people seek knowledge has changed. These days people no longer go through their encyclopaedia collection for the answers to their questions nor do they go to libraries. They look for the information from their smartphones either online or via ­social media. Information retrieval is cut-throat, it is quick and fast. From this information, people are making their ­healthcare choices. [1] Many of us have either a direct or in­direct relationship with the public, the influence of which may be diminishing if we don’t become aware of this changing world. It is important that our communication practices adapt to reflect this.
It is often questionable whether health professionals should have a strong and active presence on the internet.
Before we go head first into this new world it is important to consider not only the pitfalls but also new exciting opportunities available for health professionals. In this report I hope to enlighten you, yet, leave these decisions to yourselves.

Figure 1: Monthly active users for various forms of social media.


Social media offers health care organisations and practitioners many benefits. In this section we’ll look at a few of the great opportunities made available through social media.

1. Share updates

Other forms of sharing information that can be useful through social media include:

2. Communicating during a crisis
Sharing news regarding outbreaks or health hazards is an effective way for larger healthcare organisations to provide accurate and timely information to the public.

A great example of social media usage by the CDC was during the Zika crisis of 2016. One of the main issues with Zika was that although it is not a new virus, not many health providers were familiar with it and hence the public were left in the dark.

Figure 2: Members of the public and healthcare providers alike use social media to both retrieve and share information. [2]

The CDC designed and successfully implemented a social media plan for Zika which achieved the following:

Overall this campaign was hugely successful and improved the health outcomes of many. This was an outstanding example of how social media is effective at sharing information and can be used by health organisations. [3]

3. Professional Networking
Social media can be an excellent tool to network with other like-minded clinicians. If you see a conversation online, you have the ability to join in and contribute.


The social aspect of social media means that any messages shared can be widely distributed, for better or worse. Social media could result in the greatest praise or by far be the worst public humiliation you could experience. There are people who have had their whole life or career ruined by social media.
At this point of the article I invite you to investigate your local social media regulations for professional and legal ­reasons. It is outside the scope of this article to cover best practice guidelines for all scenarios. If no regulation code exists for your profession or for a certain topic please use caution and common sense. Many of the guidelines reflect basic courtesy and respect.
Another consideration is the quality of the information that you share. Be sure to share the content of high quality journals. Many high quality journals have a high impact factor. Be careful sharing papers from journals that do not have an impact factor or a rigorous peer reviewed editorial process. Before you share a post online, don’t think twice, but thrice.

Note: Care with confidential information

Table 1: Concepts for safe participation in social media. [4]

As discussed above, the protection of confidential information is a responsibility given to health professionals and that duty extends to social media. Many are aware of this fact and may declassify personal details to share information online however one must be careful of breaches.
In 2011, a Rhode Island physician was fired for posting patient data to her personal Facebook profile. The actual ­patient’s name was not mentioned however the information posted provided enough detail for others to guess who the patient was. [5] Always err on the side of caution.
Devastating breaches of confidential information into the public may include your own! I would highly recommend amplifying your privacy settings for your personal accounts. It is advisable to have multiple layers of privacy and group contacts ranging from long term friends, to acquaintances and people whom you’re friends with so as not to offend them. Rants or personal comments on your private accounts or in the most private of online forums or groups can and sometimes will be used against you.

Top tips for effective and efficient social media usage engagement

Getting started

Don’t forget the SOCIAL in social media

Figure 3: Twitter is a useful social media platform which health professionals can use to share information, provide conference updates and chat to name a few features.

Take advantage of Twitter Chats and online public forums

Hashtag Tips

Final tips


Each professional should make their decision for themselves however, in my opinion, so long as you play the game appropriately, the benefits for clinicians and for the public far outweigh the pitfalls. I hope you have enjoyed examples where social media usage was crucial to the success of health programs e. g. CDC with Zika virus as well as noted others where it led to the demise of a clinician. A very high degree of medical professionalism is required before you send your first Tweet or have your first social media engagement.
It is important that healthcare providers are aware of the huge impact of social media and don’t merely shy away from it. It is something that is here to stay and it influences not only the opinions of our patients but also ourselves. It can how­ever be time consuming which is a deterrent for busy professionals. In my opinion it is not just the question of whether health professionals have a place in social media but how are we able to navigate this platform safely, effectively and ­efficiently.

Nash Anderson has a special interest in sideline care and the SEM community. Nash has created, an open access health and sports medicine resource for clinicians and the public. He is a Sports Chiropractor in Canberra, Australia at Enhance Healthcare. He also assists in the management of Social Media for Sports Chiropractic Australia and is associate editor for BMJ’s Open SEM. You can follow him on Twitter (@sportmednews).

If this article has ignited your passion for social media and you’re feeling confident, let’s chat. Follow and contact me either publicly or privately on Twitter at @Sportmednews. Social media is a topic I’m passionate about and I’m happy to share knowledge, answer questions or provide guidance. As an experiment, use the hashtag #SSportMedChat and let’s get a conversation started on Twitter! Type in the username to get people in the conversation.
E. g. “What are other ways to effectively find content for social media? @sportmednews @drsportsante @swisssportsmed #SSportMedChat”

Corresponding author

Dr. Nash Anderson
B. Sc. M. Chiro ICCSP
Enhance Healthcare,
Canberra, Australia


  1. Rohampton J. Does Social Media Influence Millennials’ Healthcare Decisions? [Internet]. 2017 [cited 14 August 2017]. Available from:­#2048e­3727657
    Figure 2 by Nash Anderson however statistics from:
  2. Kallis, P. (2017). Top 15 Most Popular Social Networking Sites and Apps [September 2017]. [online] Available at: 8 Sep. 2017].
  3. The University of Scranton’s Online Resource Center. (2017). Top 5 Ways Social Media is Used by Healthcare Professionals. [online] Available at: [Accessed 7 Sep. 2017].
  4. Ventola, C. L. (2014). Social Media and Health Care Professionals: Benefits, Risks, and Best Practices. Pharmacy and Therapeutics, 39(7), 491–520. URL: online: 1/9/2017
  5. McBride, M. (2012). Ignorance is no defense for violating patient privacy online. [online] Medical Economics. Available at: http://medicale
    medicine/modern-medicine-now/ignorance-no-defense-violating-­patient-pri?page=full [Accessed 24 Aug. 2017].
  6. Anderson N, Tillison M. The Ultimate Guide – Social Media in Healthcare and Sports Medicine (With Social Media Legend – Mark Tillison) [Internet]. 2015 [cited 1 September 2017]. Available from:


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