We sat down with Stanford University e-Patient Scholar and founder of Healthcare Social Media South Africa (#hcsmSA), Vanessa Carter, for a quick, five minute Q&A to find out why and how doctors can leverage social media for their benefit and the benefit of patients.

Why should busy doctors pay attention to social media in the first instance?

Social media isn’t the platform to publicly give medical advice or consult patients but it is a platform for doctors to stay up-to-date with the latest healthcare research and information, technology as well as to  share their own findings with their colleagues and quality information with the public.

Why wouldn’t they just use Google?

Search engines don’t reliably index information based on the latest published research nor do they reliably curate information based on credibility of the source. Doctors often say they don’t have time to be on social media but might spend hours searching on Google which given the volume of pages returned on each keyword they enter could be like looking for a needle in a haystack. By using Twitter for example and searching for information based on Symplur’s registered hashtags (over 15,000) doctors are able to find and disseminate information in a standardised way.

What about how patients use Google to self-diagnose? Let’s talk about Dr Google vs Dr 2.0.

Patients do have more access to health information, but so do doctors. I always say to patients that they should take their research and findings to their doctor for their professional opinion because not all information online is accurate. Trustworthy information is listed however it can be difficult to find because web 1.0 search engines like Google are currently badly structured to accommodate the growing web.

However platforms in the web version 2.0 landscape such as social networks, are more dynamic because content is user-generated and you can filter out a lot of the inaccurate information by following the right Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) as well as join  reputable communities and online groups. A good example of that is the #meded community on Twitter which focuses on the integration of technologies into medical education and who average around 500 – 1,500 Tweets per day around the world.

What do you predict for healthcare in the next 5 years?

We’re now moving to web version 3.0 that encompasses the Internet of Things (IoT), where wearables will become common place and the use of technologies like genomics and the web for patients to understand their health conditions is growing. Now image this, an e-Patient walks into a doctor’s office armed with Dr Google research, saying I found this on the internet, my wearable told me this, my EHR alerted me of that – what do you think doctor, or do you know a good app for that? Doctors have to be able to have that conversation. In parallel, patients need to listen and evaluate their data accordingly. If we want to make the transition from paternal to participatory health in future, we will need to make this cultural shift.

So if doctors are going to use social media as a search engine there’s a way to do it. What are the top four factors doctors should keep in mind, especially when starting out?

  • Know and use the right health hashtags. A comprehensive index is on Symplur.
  • Follow the right influencers, like Dr Bertalan Mesko (@berci) for example. Symplur displays KOLs of each community to help users connect to the right influencers as opposed to depending on random suggestions made by Twitter.
  • One way hashtags are being used is at conferences, this also enables doctors to follow live conversations at an event they couldn’t attend if delegates use the standard hashtag. Symplur also records conference data on transcript and makes it available publicly for free.
  • Join Twitter chats to stay up-to-date with advancements in your speciality. Reputable organisations like the Mayo Clinic and the CDC often host Twitter chats and doctors can build their global and local networks quickly when participating. A comprehensive list of global health Twitter chats is listed on Symplur.

Tell us when and how doctors can join the next #hcsmSA Twitter chats?

#hcsmSA hosts a monthly Twitter chat where we invite various stakeholders to participate, which provides a platform for doctors and patients to learn and share their perspectives about digital transformation as well as other issues pertaining to sustainable health development in South Africa. Our last chat on the 28th of November focussed on Cancer in South Africa. We pin the upcoming chats to our public profile on Twitter which can be visited here: www.twitter.com/hcsmSA. After the chats we encourage members to disseminate quality information using the geo-hashtag so the community can grow.

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