social media

2011 Ethics Forum: Social Media and Physicians

Posted in Ethics Forum, Interim Meeting 2011, social media on December 9th, 2011 by Erica Noonan – Comments Off on 2011 Ethics Forum: Social Media and Physicians

Why should physicians pay attention to social media?

“Because that’s where your patients are going to be,” Dr. Kevin Pho told  more than 100 attendees of the Society’s  Ethics Forum,  “Social Media and Medicine: the Impact on Your Patients, Your Practice, and You,” held during last week’s  2011 Interim Meeting.

Since starting his popular online portal in 2004,  Pho’s site has become one of the most influential medical sites on the Internet, with 7 million page views annually.

He pointed to research that shows 8 out of 10 web-using patients polled looked online for health information, but only a quarter of them checked the accuracy of the information.  An estimated 86 percent of doctors also said they go online for health information.

Patients are often overwhelmed, confused, and frightened by what they find,  Pho said.

“What they see online affects health decisions before they even see a doctor,”  he said.  “It’s up to physicians to un-scare our patients.  Doctors can’t lose the online PR battle or we will lose out status as health care authorities.”

Pho shared the stage with Arthur R. Derse, M.D., J.D., Director of the Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities, and professor of Bioethics and Emergency Medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Derse discussed how frequently younger physicians are incorporating social media into their own lives.  He cited a study  indicating 65 percent of recent medical graduates were on Facebook and one-third of them had used the forum to reveal their sexual orientation, an episode of alcohol consumption, or a religious viewpoint.

About 33 percent of those doctors polled said they had received a friend request from a patient.  Of that group, 75 percent turned down the request – a recommended practice, Derse said.

Social media is a good thing, but has downsides, said Derse.

Derse told the audience of a cautionary tale involving a photo of doctors volunteering in Haiti smiling while posing with automatic weapons.  In that case, the photo –- later circulated on Facebook –- embarrassed those involved, he said.

Unprofessional images have caused some health care workers to be disciplined by their employers, or even fired, he said.

–Erica Noonan

Mixing Social Media & Medicine Requires Caution, Professionalism

Posted in social media on November 28th, 2011 by Erica Noonan – Comments Off on Mixing Social Media & Medicine Requires Caution, Professionalism

We spoke recently with Arthur R. Derse, MD, JD, Director of the Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities, and professor of Bioethics and Emergency Medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Dr. Derse is a featured speaker at the Massachusetts Medical Society’s Ethics Forum, “Social Media and Medicine: the Impact on Your Patients, Your Practice, and You,” on Friday, Dec. 2, 2011, from 3:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.

MMS: Should physicians  embrace social media?

Dr. Derse: Social media can be a very good thing for doctors but can also pose some challenges.  There are many issues to think about, like professional image, privacy, and social barriers between doctors and patient. There are traditional boundaries that are set and respected.  Suddenly, your patient is seeing more of you than perhaps you want them to see.

If you are going to be online, and you want to convey trustworthiness and a professional demeanor, the material about your friends and family needs to stay elsewhere, and never the twain shall meet. If you don’t want to use social media, you can still practice good medicine.  But when you are ready to post online you have to have heightened caution.

MMS: What are some guidelines for physicians thinking about getting more active online?

Dr. Derse: Consider confidentiality first.  Social media offers incredibly effective one-to-many communication tools.  A danger is that once something is out in cyberspace, it’s out there.  You can take it down but you can’t take it back.  I think physicians have to be especially careful because there may be times they think they are online talking to colleagues, and they aren’t.

MMS: You sound cautious.

Dr. Derse: Consider that Facebook is a corporation there to make a profit. Nothing totally assures me that material that is confidential (on various social media) will stay that way forever. You really have to read the terms of service and be aware of the confidentiality settings and statements in any type of social medium. The companies own the playing field and can change the rules anytime.  Everything you put up there is being viewed and analyzed for commercial purposes.

MMS: Are you seeing many instances of doctors getting in trouble online?

Dr. Derse: Most violations are inadvertent.  But we have seen instances in the news of individuals disciplined for making snarky comments about a patient, or posting confidential information about patients, and one case (in England) of someone tweeting a picture of a patient during surgery.  Issues have also come up when people have disclosed things about their facility or organization.

MMS: One thing many physicians worry about is the breathtaking speed of social media.  There isn’t much time for careful consideration.

Dr. Derse: There are reasons why (medical) journals have a publication and vetting process.  The instantaneous aspect of the Internet and social media is powerful, but also has quite a downside. In the light of the next day, what you said may not be what you wanted to say. It can pose a challenge to professionalism, because part of professionalism is judgment and deliberation.

—          Erica Noonan

Ethics Forum Speaker KevinMD: Social Media Gives Doctors a Voice

Posted in social media on November 9th, 2011 by Erica Noonan – 1 Comment

We recently caught up with Dr. Kevin Pho, MD, a Boston University-trained internist now practicing in Nashua, NH.  His website,, is one of the Internet’s top sites for physician commentary and news.

Dr. Pho is a featured speaker at the Massachusetts Medical Society’s Ethics Forum, “Social Media and Medicine: the Impact on Your Patients, Your Practice, and You,” on Friday, Dec. 2, 2011, from 3:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.

MMS:  Why should physicians get involved with social media?

Dr. Pho: We know that social media is important to patients. A Pew study says that 8 out of 10 of Internet users are online looking for medical information, but only 25 percent of them check the source of what they find. There is lots of bad information out there. I’ll be making the case for doctors to be online, guiding patients to good information.

Another reason is that social media is gives doctors a voice in national debates they didn’t have 5 or 10 years ago.  With these (social media) platforms, we can introduce topics we think are important to a wide audience.

MMS: Many doctors say they just don’t feel comfortable with social media sharing sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Dr. Pho: Doctors need an online presence and digital footprint. Patients will be looking for them online, and gone are the days where they will be using the phone book. I tell people, you really need to control your own social media presence.

MMS: Some physicians tell us that they went online and discovered that their patients were blogging about them, and even rating their performance!

Dr. Pho: Doctors ask me all the time about how they can remove a negative review on a website.  The good news is that you can really control what shows up first in a Google search of you by establishing your own Facebook and LinkedIn profiles.

Those self-generated things rank higher in the search engines, and they are all under your control.  So you may not be able to get a negative review pulled down, but you can bury it under other links that you control.

MMS:  But if physicians get on Facebook, won’t patients try to friend them?

Dr. Pho:  Right, and the answer to the question, “Should doctors friend patients?” is a clear no. I am an advocate for ”dual citizenship,” where physicians have a personal Facebook page with all profile settings closed to the public, and a separate page open to the public that is your professional face on Facebook.

MMS:  You have more than 42,000 followers on Twitter, but many physicians don’t seek that kind of audience.  Should the average physician really bother with Twitter?

Dr. Pho: Twitter is often misunderstood. I really use it more as a listening and learning tool. You don’t have to go on there and talk all the time, or even at all.  It’s a great place to follow thought leaders in all sorts of areas. I advise other doctors to tiptoe in and look around and see what they are comfortable with.

MMS:  KevinMD has become one of the most popular physician sites on the internet. How do you have any time to see patients?

Dr.  Pho:  Ha! I do all of my social media from 4 a.m. to 6 a.m. All of my tweet times are pre-set, so it looks like I am live all the time but I’m not. I see my patients from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

MMS:  What do you think will be the next big thing in terms of social media and medicine?

Dr. Pho: When I started KevinMD in 2004, I didn’t know where it was leading and it is still very much evolving.  I try to keep up with the trends and how other industries are using social media. Most of the time, the (the medical world) is two to three years behind those trends.

–       Erica Noonan

MMS Physicians Approve Guidelines for Professional Use of Social Media

Posted in Annual Meeting 2011, social media on May 22nd, 2011 by MMS – 1 Comment

The Massachusetts Medical Society’s chief policy-making body this weekend approved a sweeping set of principles and guidelines for physicians who wish to utilize social media for professional purposes.

The 12-page report states that a “carefully planned and professionally executed participation in social media by physicians is appropriate, and can be an effective method to connect with colleagues, advance professional expertise, educate patients, and enhance the public profile and reputation of our profession.”

The report includes:

  • An overview of the concerns that may have made physicians slower to adopt social media than other professionals
  • The benefit patients have derived from social media
  • The successes of physicians who are active social media participants, such as Kevin Pho and Bryant Vartabedian, and the potential benefits of broad physician participation
  • Suggestions on how physicians can get started in social media, with recommendations on best practices

The guidelines were developed by the members of the MMS  Committee on Communications and will be disseminated to the Society’s membership. The report also asked the Society to explore the possibility of sponsoring Continuing Medical Education activities on the topic..

Read the guidelines and download the full report.