Social Media In Health Care
The way we communicate and learn has been revolutionized by technology. Almost all of us carry a Smartphone these days, so we are never more than a phone call, message or text away from family, friends and colleagues. This blog is about how social media (SoMe) transgresses the usual borders and may, in the future, play an important role in communication, learning, teaching and peer review in anaesthesia and critical care.
The Digital Revolution!
The wealth of knowledge traditionally stored in books, articles or other printed media is increasingly being digitalized. In fact, reading a journal, picking up a textbook, or carrying around paper manuscripts is becoming so rare these days, it could be viewed as rather a, ‘Do you remember when…’, sort of reminiscence. Whether researching for a manuscript, preparing for a lecture, constructing a teaching session or simply keeping yourself up-to-date, you need not leave the comfort of your office chair.
We are never more than a click/tap away from almost everything we require. Shelves of textbooks previously stored in libraries can now be accessed as digital downloads and journals can be accessed within their own websites, whether free open access or subscription based. When faced with a knowledge deficit, whilst the library still exists, most learners would sooner consult the Internet on their mobile device. This may be even before consulting the textbooks sitting on their own book shelves. All of this has vastly improved productivity and may indeed be part of the reason why the flow of new publications seems endless. As sad as it may be, libraries are also becoming the victims of their own definition – quiet places.
Policing, etiquette & caution
The Royal College of Anaesthetists (RCOA) in the UK encourages the use of SoMe and in its guidance states that SoMe use by doctors can benefit patient care, enhance learning and strengthen professional relationships. SoMe facilitates networking by linking like-minded people through tweets at conferences and meetings, and has enhanced communication between and within trainee research groups. As an educational resource, it encourages the use of open access journals (#FOAMed) and time-limited free access to articles in subscribed journals (Anesthesia journal free for a day articles, #FFAD) to further distribute new information.
Like any tool, there are risks and consequences of using SoMe. Communication and rapid dissemination of new information allows almost instantaneous access to the results of new trials, and allows for critical discussion when the information is fresh and without any traditional peer review process. Clearly, we need to be mindful that any information can be misinterpreted or distorted, especially when subjected to multiple layers of filtering through the SoMe channels (a broken telephone effect) and the unchecked dissemination of distorted information (grey evidence). Often, it can take some time to sift the so called, ‘wheat from the chaff’ and learn the patterns of ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’.
The General Medical Council (GMC) has issued specific guidance relating to the use of social media by doctors, stating that “the standards expected of doctors do not change because they are communicating through social media rather than face to face or through other traditional media”. It must be considered that if one is to place a message out into the vapor of SoMe, it should be done with exactly the same degree of caution, candor and humility one would exercise when orating it in person from a conference stage to friends, patients and strangers in the crowd. Disappearing behind a username should not be an excuse to abuse the privileged of freedom of speech, or indeed the privileged position of a medical professional.
More detailed guidance has been written as a collaborative publication of Australasian groups of doctors in training, illustrating the application of professional standards with examples both fictional and based on previous cases. Other guidance has been issued by the Medical Defence/Indemnity organisations and professional organisations.
There is no doubt about the reach and immense power that social media and free open access medicine have over what we learn. It influences how we access information and how we spread important messages to millions of like-minded clinicians. It may indeed be one of the most effective and efficient platforms for publishers, researchers and clinicians alike. It allows us to rapidly disseminate ground-breaking results, new therapies and trial methodologies. Of course, the information must be used with due care, as peer review processes are not the same as those involved in major journals. One can become influenced by grey information, as well as by the biases of others. In our opinion, with due care and attention, it is one of the most exciting and promising areas to become involved in within health care.