When we look at the impact of social media in health, we are almost certainly confronted with potential for controversy. As with all change – that is, away from traditional paradigms – we are challenged to find an appropriate understanding about the line between good professional practice and practice which may harm in one form or another.

In their recent paper ‘Social media: the way forward or a waste of time for physicians?’ DeCamp and Cunningham present arguments both against and for the use of social media by the healthcare profession.

DeCamp argues that the ‘risks of social media outweigh their benefits’ whereas Cunningham aims to show how through real-world precedents the benefits are already outweighing the risks.

…in one corner we are examining healthcare professional social media in the context of direct-to-patient advice, whilst in the other we are examining its use in the context of professional networking and peer development.

For the context of this article, permit me to paraphrase what I see as being the key points:

The case against:

  • Just because patients are using it, doesn’t mean HCPs should
  • The ‘digital divide’ will grow and discriminate against those patients who are not proficient in social or Internet technologies
  • Physicians do not have relevant expertise to meet patient’s wide and varied needs in social media.
  • Much of the time, friends and family are searching online on behalf of a loved one.
  • There are ethical and professional issues
  • Healthcare professionals with limited experience are ‘more likely to make mistakes when they use the technology.

The case for:

  • Engage by listening and learning from patients, organizations and physicians
  • Share and inform peers about innovations and best practice
  • Think about deeper human issues and share
  • Learn from other people’s mistakes
  • Challenge one another
  • Have a sense of belonging and receive support
  • Express leadership to realize change
  • Continuous professional development
  • Inspiring others to new heights

For patients or for peers?

My simplistic interpretation of this ‘current controversies’ paper is that in one corner we are examining healthcare professional social media in the context of direct-to-patient advice, whilst in the other we are examining its use in the context of professional networking and peer development.

Wouldn’t you prefer to know that your physician is staying up to date with the very latest thinking, whether or not you would choose to friend them on Facebook?

Herein lies a key observation that I have also seen in the many studies of therapy conversations among healthcare professionals conducted using Creation Pinpoint. It is the peer relationships that are key to growth and to keeping healthcare practice at the frontier of innovation.

I for one am tremendously excited about the great conversations and networking that healthcare professionals are seeking, despite the risks. Wouldn’t you prefer to know that your physician is staying up to date with the very latest thinking, whether or not you would choose to friend them on Facebook?