Social Media's Relevance to Healthcare Professionals

It is prudent for this generation of medical professionals to be knowledgeable of social media, as it is the modern route for sharing ideas and keeping us current.

Social media is a term that describes a variety of platforms that facilitate information exchange.  These platforms include: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, Snapchat, Youtube, and etc.  Advances in technology like smartphones, bandwidth, and widespread Wi-Fi have allowed social media to flourish, and with it an instantaneous level of communication and connection. 

Photo by    ROBIN WORRALL    on    Unsplash

It’s no longer a question of whether you need to use social media, it’s a question of how to keep up with the changes in social media strategy.  Social media is used to maximize branding, influence, and credibility.  It has changed the world with regards to immediacy of information, decentralized information flow, and creating a global marketplace.

Social media has changed the way information is obtained.  People used to get their information from the television-news, newspapers, journals, or emails.  Social media allows us to view information in real time from all around the world on various platforms.  Moreover, information obtained from social media lacks the institutional filters, censors, and controls seen in other forms like newspapers and television.  Social media information cannot be altered by wealthy individuals or powerful governments.  Also, subject matter experts can reach niche audiences easier than before, without the need for travel or speaking engagements.  Blogs, videos, webinars, and social media share a subject-matter expert’s insights and connect directly with the intended recipients. 

Because social media has no gatekeepers it is up to the individual to determine authenticity – so vigilance is important.  Social media has allowed our friendships and messages to occur without the constrains of proximity or location.  While it allows people to follow you closely, this intimacy comes at the cost of privacy and details made public cannot be taken back.

Photo by    rawpixel    on    Unsplash

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

In order to be successful on social media, you’ll need a plan and platform.  Your plan is your strategy, which helps you determine what you want to say and to whom, how you are going to measure success, and what actions you intend to take to achieve your goals.  Your platform is the cumulative impact of all of your social media content and interactions that builds your online credibility and establishes your expertise.  After you determine your plan and platform you need to determine your goals which may include: gathering prospective customers, engaging current customers, raising your visibility as an expert, drawing attention from media/politicians, getting people to sign up for events, and growing your influence through increasing followers.

Switching gears now to discuss the different social media platforms.  The PEW Research Center recently published its study, Social Media Use in 2018.  In the graph below you can see the top two user sites were Facebook and YouTube, with all the others clumped together around 30%. 

We do need to be careful extrapolating information from niche users like healthcare or policy because this looked at all U.S. adults.  Some platforms may be more beneficial to various users due to their strengths and weaknesses.  For example, if you look at the graph below you can see that social media platforms like Snapchat and Instagram are especially popular among those aged 18 to 24.

Social Media is starting to have an impact in the healthcare industry as well.  It has taken some time but medical professionals are now turning to social media for sharing of ideas, advocacy, help with clinical cases, and dissemination of information.  According to Freitag et al;

“… this hesitation by medical professionals may be due to the conservative leanings of providers to avoid unvetted communication tools, concerns to protect patient privacy, and already overburdened schedules.” 

Below you can see a tweet by a physician where a medical student is advocating for policy changes.

A familiar story of a physician joining social media is described in Social Media for Pathologists;

“… when Jared Gardner joined Twitter in 2009 but did not use the service much for several years.  After seeing the interest generated during his social media for pathologist’s lectures at the 2013 College of American Pathologists annual meeting and the 2014 US and Canadian Academy of Pathology (USCAP) annual meeting, he decided to get more active on Twitter and began following and interacting with other pathologists, as well as physicians in other specialties.”

Social media – and particularly tweeting during annual meetings – has taken off over the last few years.  Twitter activity related to the annual USCAP meeting has risen from 7 tweets during the 2010 meeting, to 17,860 tweets during the 2016 USCAP meeting.

Retrieved from “   Social Media for Pathologists   ”

Retrieved from “Social Media for Pathologists

Moreover, medical journals like the New England Journal of Medicine have joined social media in order to share ideas, solutions, and case studies to improve patient care and drive value in healthcare organizations (see example).

In conclusion, social media is changing the world and with it the healthcare landscape.  It is prudent for this generation of medical professionals to be knowledgeable of social media as it is the modern route for sharing ideas and keeping us current.

A. Mehran Mostafavifar MD MBA
Chair, Social Media Taskforce, CMA


Martin, Gail.  The Essential Social Media Marketing Handbook.  2017.


Smith, Aaron.  Anderson, Monica.  Social Media Use in 2018.  Pew Research Center.  March 1, 2018.


Freitag, EC.  Arnold, MA.  Gardner, JM.  Arnold, CA.  If You Are Not on Social Media, Here’s What You’re Missing!  #DoTheThing.  Archives of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.