To find out how physicians and other health care professionals can improve their presence on social media and connect patients with accurate medical information, Rita Rubin, of JAMA, sat down with Austin Chiang, a gastroenterologist and the first chief medical social media officer for Jefferson Health.
How doctors can verify health care information using social media
Jefferson Health recently appointed Chiang as the health system's first chief medical social media officer. Chiang told JAMA that Jefferson Health created the position to help clinicians "connec[t] with the communities we're serving."
As chief medical social media officer, Chiang said he is "basically the clinical liaison to the media relations team" at Jefferson Health. "When we're discussing health, I think it's helpful to have a clinical perspective, so my role is to help the clinicians here at Jefferson get engaged online and serve as expert voices in their specialties."
Spotlighting those medical experts online is a key focus for Chiang, who launched VerifyHealthcare hashtag on Instagram and Twitter.
"The VerifyHealthcare campaign highlighted the fact that there were these individuals who were misrepresenting themselves and their credentials," Chiang said. For instance, as social media influencers have grown in popularity, Chiang said providers noticed some students or professionals were falsely labeling themselves as physicians or nurses. "We wanted to encourage everyone to disclose their training and credentials and encourage followers to double- and triple-check who they were trusting online."
Chiang also noted that it's important for doctors to stay vigilant to colleagues posting misinformation online.
"Just because someone is a physician or just because someone is board-certified doesn't mean that they're disseminating accurate information," Chiang said. "Colleagues have to check each other online. … But there are also ways that we could improve how we cite medical literature and raise awareness of patients and the general public on how to assess and appraise the sources of information."
How doctors should use social media
To encourage health care professionals to use social media, Chiang established the nonprofit Association for Healthcare Social Media (AHSM).
"We created this because … there were clearly a lot of questions about how to go about using social media in an effective way … while also being responsible about what we're putting out there," he said.
Chiang said all physicians should have some sort of social media presence. "It's … a way to build a practice, to recruit patients for clinical trials, to dispel any sort of misconception about a field," he said.
Social media can also connect doctors with reliable, verified health care information, Chiang told JAMA. "[E]very major journal and major society is present on social media, and getting those updates in real time is very helpful."
As for what platforms "newbies" should try, Chiang said it "depends on your field." Generally, he recommends "starting with Twitter, because that's where most academic discussion is happening and where you are probably more readily reaching your colleagues. … Also, it's where most journals and societies have a social media presence."
However, there can be downsides to clinicians using social media, Chiang warned. The top concern he hears "is patient confidentiality and potential violations of HIPAA." He noted, "It can also come with describing a certain procedure or describing a case, something that, if I were a patient's family member and came across on a social media post, could easily identify someone."
Chiang added that how he presents himself on social media can also impact his patients and his career. "I am also very careful about mentioning whether I'm tired or sick or how I feel a certain day because I think that may be misconstrued," he said. "Virtual contact and communication … are sometimes thought to be in isolation and only online, but these are real connections that we're making and real networks. Any interaction should still be respectful and treated as though it was a real-life, in-person conversation" (Rubin, JAMA, 7/31).