While more health care providers are utilizing technology for professional purposes, there is still a stigma surrounding social media for many doctors. “‘Waste of time’ is the most common and scathing criticism leveled at social media by my physician friends and colleagues who have not yet seen the light,” writes surgeon Kathryn A. Hughes, a self-described social media convert.

In fact, those who have embraced it have found that not only can social media save time, it also may help improve patients’ perception of doctors and combat burnout. Here’s how.

Busting the ‘waste of time’ myth

Dr. Hughes admits that there is the potential to spend hours on social media sites and platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Sermo, and Doximity, to name a few of her favorites. However, when she does find herself getting carried away, it’s because she is so engrossed in the content, from blogs to journal articles to medical news.

Connecting with colleagues and discussing important topics in medicine can hardly be considered a “waste of time,” say social media-savvy doctors. In fact, it’s just a different—and, they argue, more efficient—way to consume information and stay current in your specialty.

“Social media has yielded much more value and content per unit of time spent than the same time spent rifling through a journal, or surfing the Internet, cozying up to a textbook,” writes Dr. Hughes. “I might also add that I am much more likely now to engage in reading this kind of content via social media than before, when faced with the stack of journals next to my desk.”

Her social media-savvy colleagues agree. “Forget all you’ve heard about Twitter being a waste of time. If you tweet properly, it can be a major timesaver,” writes popular anonymous blogger Skeptical Scalpel, in an editorial for a medical journal. “Twitter helps me to keep up with what is going on in the world, particularly in medicine. You can’t read everything yourself. For example, there are more than 30 journals on the subject of anesthesiology alone. If you follow the right people, they can keep you up to date.”

For more on this topic, see Tips to Make Social Media Fast and Effective for Your Practice

Humanizing doctors

Social media offers another potential benefit that many doctors haven’t considered: the opportunity to reshape the narrative about health care and humanize themselves in the process, says Kevin Pho, M.D., social media expert and founder of KevinMD.com.

Unfortunately, many people still see doctors as greedy, golf-playing egotists in medicine for the money, says Dr. Pho. He knows this from comments he’s received on his own blog posts and articles. However, he also hears from doctors who make great sacrifices and care deeply about patients, such as the 8-months-pregnant doctor scheduling extra on-call shifts to compensate for her upcoming maternity leave.

“These are the stories we need to share on social media and let the public know that doctors are human too,” he says. Doctors are the ones best suited to share the challenges of practicing medicine while raising a family, and the epidemic of physician burnout, for example. “What these stories do is humanize health care professionals. It’s a powerful way we can change public perception of the medical profession,” says Dr. Pho.

Social media is merely an extension of the doctor-patient relationship, according to cardiologist Kevin Campbell, M.D. “When physicians are active on social media sites, it affords them with an additional opportunity to reach patients and impact the daily choices that patients make,” he tells Forbes. Also, social media is a simple and fast way to reach hundreds of thousands of patients.

Understandably, many doctors are concerned about liability and patient privacy. Be sure to review your organization’s social media policy to ensure that your online activities are in compliance with HIPAA, and check out our recent post, HIPAA and Social Media: Avoiding Costly Mistakes.

The answer to burnout?

A staggering 46 percent of U.S. doctors reported feeling worn down or burned out in a 2015 Medscape survey. It may seem counterintuitive to stressed-out doctors to add one more thing—social media—to their already overloaded plates. However, research suggests that a sense of community and positive relationships with peers are important factors in combating burnout, writes Arshya Vahabzadeh, M.D., in the Huffington Post. Social media, especially networking sites for doctors, can be a good way to foster those connections.

“These social media platforms are providing physicians with robust, interactive, and engaging social networks that are helping to virtually break down the silos of institution and geography,” writes Dr. Vahabzadeh. Social media allows doctors to collaborate and get advice from each other, or just as crucially, simply chat or connect with peers who can offer understanding and moral support. As Dr. Vahabzadeh concludes, “Logging in might be a useful way to avoid burning out.”

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