Many social media tools are available for health care professionals, including social networking platforms, blogs, microblogs, wikis, media-sharing sites, and virtual reality and gaming environments.These tools can be used to improve or enhance professional networking and education, organizational promotion, patient care, patient education, and public health programs.
Physicians most often join online communities where they can read news articles, listen to experts, research medical developments, consult colleagues regarding patient issues, and network. There they can share cases and ideas, discuss practice management challenges, make referrals, disseminate their research, market their practices, or engage in health advocacy. A growing minority of physicians also uses social media to communicate directly with patients to augment clinical care.
The “blog,” a term formed by truncating “Web log,” is the oldest and most established form of social media, which has been used in medicine since as early as 2004. Blogs can reach wide audiences, especially if one writes content that is of significant interest. Posts that garner enough interest can be shared and viewed again and again by readers (referred to as “going viral”).Content that goes viral can establish a reputation or an online presence.
Blogs can also provide the opportunity to publish large amounts of information in a variety of media (text, video, and audio) in an open forum. Most blogging platforms allow readers to respond to published content by posting their own comments. This enables an ongoing dialogue between the blogger and his or her audience.
Unlike other health advice that a patient might encounter online, physicians could use social media to develop messaging that may be more likely to resonate with and be acted on by patients.Some physicians believe that social media would be particularly beneficial for patients with chronic, rare, or fatal diseases; with questions about maternal or infant care; or with personal health-related goals, such as weight management.The distribution of credible information has been proved to motivate observable behavioral changes within social networks. Research has begun to show that interventions based on social media can positively affect weight loss, tobacco cessation, risky sexual behaviors, and physical activity.
Patients are also using social media to connect with others affected by similar conditions. The social networking site provides a venue for patients to access information, suggestions, and support from other people who have the same disease or condition. Facebook groups also frequently focus on specific medical conditions.These groups actively engage in peer-to-peer support as well as fund-raising efforts for affiliated organizations and individuals.