Social Media Use by Physicians: A Qualitative Study of the New Frontier of Medicine
Campbell, Lauren Suzanne
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ABSTRACT Background: A growing number of physicians are using social media to communicate about health. Social media has the potential to expand communication between healthcare professionals, patients and the public. Objective: To explore the role of healthcare providers in social media through interviews with physicians. The research aims of this study included understanding physicians’ personal experiences with social media, their perceptions of others’ experiences and their expectations for the future of social media use in healthcare. Design: This was an exploratory qualitative study involving in-depth semi-structured telephone interviews of physicians who were early adopters of social media. Early adopters were defined as physicians who were currently or had previously used social media to distribute health information. Participants were recruited through snowball sampling. Interviews were transcribed verbatim via hand-type notes. The transcripts were then manually analyzed for common themes by three separate investigators, who came to common conclusions via the constant comparative method. Results: Seventeen physicians participated in this study, including 35% females, 76% pediatricians and 76% bloggers. Participants identified multiple perceived benefits and barriers to social media use by physicians and several perceived benefits and barriers to social media use by patients to access health information. In addition to the benefits and barriers, four major themes were identified. First, participants who engaged in social media often saw themselves as rugged individualists who preferred to set their own rules for communicating through social media. Second, participants expressed significant uncertainty concerning when, how and to what extent physicians should use social media as well as the impact of their use of social media on their followers. Third, participants largely used social media like traditional media, i.e. a one-way communication platform, rather than as a “social” interactive forum. Finally, participants expressed disparate views regarding the time involved in participating in social media; some felt that time spent on social media was unproblematic to fit into their day while others felt that it was an impediment. Conclusions: As the first generation of physicians using social media, it may not be surprising that these participants value their independence, ability to make autonomous decisions and importance in the field. However, uncertainty remains regarding their roles and responsibilities as medical providers within this new venue. Furthermore, few providers appeared to be using the platform to its full potential. As the next generation of physician-bloggers emerges, it will be important for the medical community to collaborate with these innovators in developing guidelines that acknowledge the significance of providing published medical counsel online while still allowing for personal creativity within this unique venue.
- Health services