So you want to be a physician blogger? Perspectives of a neonatal blogger on the use of social media by physicians

In response to an article published in BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making in 2016, assessing the use of social media by physicians, Dr Michael Narvey describes his experiences with using social media in a medical context as a Neonatologist.

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As a Neonatologist who also writes my own blog, I read with interest the following article published in BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making in 2016: Social media use by physicians: a qualitative study of the new frontier of medicine.

The study interviewed 17 physician users of social media, but lacked the perspective of a physician blogger. I identified with the study’s themes of Rugged Individualism, Uncertainty, Social Media as Media, and Time Constraints. We in the medical social media world are certainly learning as we go. Without clear paths drawn for us, we explore and contemplate how we will make a positive difference far beyond the reach of the typical physician in a clinic, hospital, or local community.

In this post, I want to add my perspective as a Neonatologist to the findings of the above study, share what drove me to enter this space in medicine, and discuss what I have learned about increasing my sphere of influence in social media circles.

Harnessing the combined power of multiple social media sites

When you begin blogging you soon realise that the method has its limitations in terms of reach. As the above paper suggests, polling of social media users identifies multiple potential websites for both collecting and disseminating information (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Linkedin, Google+ as examples).  Using them in combination can far enhance your reach. At the time of this writing the number of people who “follow” me on each site is quite disparate with Facebook by far leading the way in distribution power:

Site Number of Followers
Facebook 13592
Twitter 1006
WordPress (my primary blogging platform) 456

The article also raises concern over the lack of feedback people receive from their postings. With Facebook one cannot determine what was done with your post but on Twitter there is some further delineation as one receives a tally of impressions, engagements and link clicks. When it comes to real metrics though, this is where the actual blogging site provides more useful data. I recommend embracing metrics, not only to understand your reach but perhaps, just as importantly, to give you the drive to continue your writings.

My most popular post has received 5117 reads, meaning this many took the time to open this blog post to hear what I had to say on the subject. If you were to share your thoughts on an article with colleagues via email, post a new guideline in an office or clinic, or publish an article in a journal, how many people would actually see it? The same information, if cited in a blog post and shared through Facebook, can see a dramatic rise in exposure, along with your interpretation of the work. The aforementioned post for example has had a reach on Facebook of 50934 people to date and was shared 58 times multiplying the distribution many fold. If you published a journal article and were notified of such circulation I suspect you would be jubilant.

What really motivates those who participate in social media?

I believe the motivation lies in the three qualities described by Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Tipping Point. He described three types of people that are needed for something to go from an idea to widespread adoption; connectors, mavens and salesmen. The doctors out there on social media likely have a little bit of all these characteristics.

Gladwell said this about connectors: “They are people who “link us up with the world…people with a special gift for bringing the world together”. With respect to mavens he characterised them as having the ability to “start ‘word-of-mouth epidemics’ due to their knowledge, social skills, and ability to communicate”. Lastly, salesmen in his view are “persuaders”. These three traits aptly describe those that have waded into this field. They must have the confidence to put their message out there with content that captures people’s attention and certainly have the goal of persuading people that it is worth considering what they have to say. The fundamental drive though comes from a place of harnessing these traits to help people.

Whether writing original content or sharing what others have produced, the social media physician’s goal is generally pure and that is to share knowledge and generate discussion. For example, if you have a new strategy for reducing infection, the active social media physician would ask “why not share this with the world” rather than limit it to your institution or city.

This frontier like field though does come with some caveats before you dip your feet into the collective pool of the various media sites. As opposed to the more traditional medium of peer reviewed publications there is no one to assess your content prior to its release. You are your own editor and therefore may miss the mark from time to time by missing a relevant publication that might influence your conclusions. You must be prepared for the good and the bad. One can easily appreciate the positive comments that often come but not all posts will be “home runs” and on some occasions the feedback (which will be public) may not be what you had hoped for. You must constantly reflect on your own potential biases yet strive to improve base of knowledge; adding more ‘signal’ than ‘noise’. Respect for patient confidentiality is paramount and within Canada and elsewhere, organisations such as the Canadian Medical Association have set guidelines for conduct in this space that should be adhered to.

Once you enter into the fray it may surprise you how much information is in fact out there, that now flows to you through global connections. It is an evolving form of communication and one that I am happy to part of. In fact, I am a better Neonatologist for it.

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2 Comments

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Dr. Caner Baran

This is an interesting topic for me that i have a blog to share global medical knowledge and updates in Turkish language. I am a urologist but the blog is not about a special site of medicine. It is also about highlighted and important articles in every field of medicine. I agree with writer about the power of social media to disseminate the new insights of medicine and collaborate with other healthcare professionals. Such sites like Webmd or medscape provide lots of information. However debates about the articles published on these sites are quite devastating. Social media looks better to improve connections and make discussion with other physicians over the world about specific topics. Maybe a different platform or an application improved for this purpose would be great for physicians to discuss new insights and articles of medical science. I think it’s a requirement for medicine. Important topic to discuss. Great article. Thank you

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Michael Narvey

thank you for the feedback! I agree Social Media is an expanding tool that I believe will look very different in terms of acceptance by the general medical community in the years to come.

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