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How Social Media is Changing Medicine

It is hardly news anymore to say that online communities like Facebook and Twitter are changing how the world works, but it may surprise you how these social media platforms are improving the health care that you receive. We often think that our physicians live in ivory towers that operate in a rarified atmosphere of intellectualism and rationality, but like all people they often have differences of opinion. When these arguments appear on social media, they can not only help advance the field of medicine but also provide valuable insights into how the medical community really thinks.

In most situations, physicians want to appear authoritative and assured. After all, it rarely helps patients to get medical advice from someone who seems uncertain about how best to proceed with their case. So, doctors rarely present more than one side of an issue, at least, in a clinical setting.

Unfortunately, only providing one opinion may help reassure patients, but it may not be the best way to treat a health condition. Like any field of study, medicine is constantly advancing and undergoing revision. What may have been rock-solid advice last year may be debunked by the latest investigative study. That is why listening to a wide range of medical experts on a particular topic of interest is so important—and one of leading forums for medical debate in the 21st century is social media.

How Twitter Has Changed the Medical Landscape

Before the advent of the internet, the medical community primarily reserved their spirited differences of opinion to private lounges, medical conferences and esoteric research journals. However, with new social media platforms that can bring together medical professionals from around the globe, many of these heated debates are entering a very public sphere. No longer can physicians pretend that they are a monolithic community speaking in one voice.

Is Social Media a Viable Platform for Medical Debate?

It may not seem like the ideal forum to discuss highly sophisticated medical matters with its limited character input and highly publicized interactions, but Twitter has become the platform of choice for medical debates. Like others in elite professions, the lure of abbreviated remarks easily punched in on a smart phone has made Twitter highly appealing, and like most Twitter discussions, those involving highly opinionated medical experts who are eager to tout their version of the “facts” often lead to denigrating the arguments of their adversaries—as well as them personally.

Although the language used by clinician and researcher participants may be more egalitarian than the pedestrian Twitter feud, the emotions are very similar. After being selected, trained and promoted for their intellect and passion for medicine, most physicians naturally have strong opinions on many health-related issues. That passion may translate into exceptional care in a clinical setting, but online it can be as rancorous and petty as any barroom confrontation.

Is Social Media a Viable Platform for Medical Debate?

There is considerable concern about the use of Twitter and other social media apps to discuss life and death issues that make up medicine. While many argue that these forums lower the level of debate by encouraging personal attacks and “trolling,” but there is also the undeniable fact that in the 21st century, online debate is the forum of choice for the majority of the public. It is true that much of the behavior would be considered unacceptable in other venues, but these digital spaces allow an unprecedented level of participation that foster unconventional input and honest dialogue.

Since launching in 2006, Twitter has exploded in popularity. In 2018, the total number of users on Twitter reached 336 million worldwide. While that is not as large as Facebook with it 2.2 billion users in 2018, Twitter offers real-time engagement that promotes honest and compelling discussion. This aspect of Twitter enables physicians and medical authorities from around the world to participate in emerging conversations and really influence important debates.

Doctors no longer have to travel to medical conferences to learn about the latest research or engage with prominent medical figures. Live tweeting allows speakers to disseminate their knowledge to all corners of the globe instantly and obtain feedback from the global medical community just as quickly. This can generate critical analysis in a fraction of the time it once did, as well produce cooperation on a global scale.

How Twitter Has Changed the Medical Landscape

The Downside of Twitter

While many important discussions about medicine are being conducted on Twitter, there is some concern that social media is damaging the medical community. Many of the more spirited discussions can expose fault lines in the community that may center on sexism, ageism or other underlying issues. These issues have always been present in the medical community, but the advent of social media has shone an unflattering spotlight upon them. While it may color some medical professionals as biased, consciously or unconsciously, the medical community as a whole may benefit from publicly airing some of these taboo issues.

Another troubling issue related to Twitter of other social media is that people may say virtually anything. For the typical person who doesn’t have advanced degrees in medicine or biology, it is easy to become confused and walk away with the wrong message about a pressing health matter. Often this results in ignoring a physician’s advice or taking time away from a busy doctor’s schedule when they have to correct a mistaken impression. This may even lead to serious health complications if a patient is unwilling to listen to reason.

Finally, there is the concern with patient privacy. Many patients are eager to obtain medical advice online and may divulge sensitive information in an effort to get it. This may lead to privacy infractions by a responding physician which could prove problematic if it violates HIPAA or other regulations. There is also the concern that any advice provided online may be misinterpreted by other patients, putting their health at risk and putting the advisor in legal jeopardy.

To learn more about how the medical community is using social media, please contact Boost Health Insurance and speak with a licensed health insurance agent.

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